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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Catch up to Portugal: Nearly Half of Electricity from Green Sources Now!

You may quote me, conservative bloggisariat: President Obama is a wuss. But then so are the folks who tell me we just can't rely on wind and other renewables for a significant chunk of our power. And so are the rest of us lazy Americans.

President Obama has promised to set America on a path to get 25% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. Big deal. Vast superpower Portugal (remember Prince Henry? Vasco da Gama?) is already there and gone. Five years ago, Portugal got 17% of its power from renewables. They are now up to 45% green power. Almost half of their power from those wimpy wind turbines and solar panels and funky tidal generators.

Land-based wind power — this year deemed “potentially competitive” with fossil fuels by the International Energy Agency in Paris — has expanded sevenfold in that time. And Portugal expects in 2011 to become the first country to inaugurate a national network of charging stations for electric cars.

“I’ve seen all the smiles — you know: It’s a good dream. It can’t compete. It’s too expensive,” said Prime Minister José Sócrates, recalling the way Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, mockingly offered to build him an electric Ferrari. Mr. Sócrates added, “The experience of Portugal shows that it is possible to make these changes in a very short time" [Elisabeth Rosenthal, "Portugal Gives Itself a Clean-Energy Makeover," New York Times, 2010.08.09].

Who's laughing now, Silvio?

Now sure, electric rates are higher in Portugal. Folks there grumble that their electric bills have gone up 15% in the last five years. Folks here in fossil-fuel-addicted America can sympathize: Black Hills Power customers are seeing their rates jump 19%... in one year.

What's our problem?

If the United States is to catch up to countries like Portugal, energy experts say, it must overcome obstacles like a fragmented, outdated energy grid poorly suited to renewable energy; a historic reliance on plentiful and cheap supplies of fossil fuels, especially coal; powerful oil and coal industries that often oppose incentives for renewable development; and energy policy that is heavily influenced by individual states [Rosenthal, 2010.08.09].

Renewable is doable, not in some misty future, but right here, right now... if your country has the guts, like Portugal.


  1. Chris Francis8/10/2010 10:44 AM

    I still think of all the potential jobs we could create, and sustain, with a complete overhaul of our energy infrastructure. Start from the ground up, a whole new grid, smart meters, turbines, panels, geo-everything, and a mix of conservation, carbon taxes, and education too.

    Further combined with that all-american sense for innovation and discovery, and development too, we could take the world by storm with all our new energy-based economy, products, and that wealth of experience too. (How many wins is that?)

    Regardless of political perspective, that's a plan that's hard not to enact, and quickly realize the benefits. (environment, financial, sustainability, worldwide political tensions, and most of all, livability, cause it's kind of getting hot around here)

  2. I agree that we need to do this. But let’s not get into too much of a rush. Things done hastily are usually done inefficiently. You have to keep in mind that Portugal is roughly the size and population of Delaware. Comparing the time it would take to convert Portugal to the converting the entire US is like comparing converting you're single family home to converting the Empire State Building. While you could probably convert your home to 50% renewable energy over a 3 day weekend it would take months to convert a large office complex, at least if you want it done correctly.

    That said if we want to meet the current goal of 25% by 2025, we as a nation need to get moving! There is a lot of planning and setting of standards that needs to be done now to make sure that the new grid we create is robust and flexible enough to accommodate current and future technologies.


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