By Gopal R. Rao
(From the New York Times)
The August 9, 2010, issue of the New York Times has an interesting analysis of Portugal's attempt to harness their renewable energy resources to reduce dependence on foreign oil imports. The report articulates how while these efforts by Portugal have been very successful, with 45% of its electricity currently generated by renewable sources, at the same time, it has paid a price for this rapid transition within a period of five years in terms of higher electricity prices as well as significant changes to their power grid.
Excerpt: LISBON — Five years ago, the leaders of this sun-scorched, wind-swept nation made a bet: To reduce Portugal’s dependence on imported fossil fuels, they embarked on an array of ambitious renewable energy projects — primarily harnessing the country’s wind and hydropower, but also its sunlight and ocean waves.
Today, Lisbon’s trendy bars, Porto’s factories and the Algarve’s glamorous resorts are powered substantially by clean energy. Nearly 45 percent of the electricity in Portugal’s grid will come from renewable sources this year, up from 17 percent just five years ago.
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.
While Portugal’s experience shows that rapid progress is achievable, it also highlights the price of such a transition. Portuguese households have long paid about twice what Americans pay for electricity, and prices have risen 15 percent in the last five years, probably partly because of the renewable energy program, the International Energy Agency says.
Although a 2009 report by the agency called Portugal’s renewable energy transition a “remarkable success,” it added, “It is not fully clear that their costs, both financial and economic, as well as their impact on final consumer energy prices, are well understood and appreciated.”
Gopal R. Rao, Ph.D.
Web Science Editor
Materials Research Society (MRS)