Portugal goes green, so why can’t we?

If one of the PIGS is able to be a world leader in renewable energy production, then why can’t Britain attempt to do the same?

The Portuguese are seeking to harness the power of the oceans, despite economic austerity

Last week, a report on the BBC’s The World Tonight by Charlotte Ashton, charted the difficulties faced by Portugal in implementing a fully green system of energy production in a time of economic turmoil.

Portugal, as one of the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain), remains embroiled in the Eurozone crisis. Unemployment stands at 15%, a 78bn euro bailout from the IMF and EU last May forced drastic cuts to public spending and in January this year Moody’s cut the nation’s credit rating to Ba3.

However, Portugal still manages to lead the way in renewable energy production. The country possesses the world’s largest solar farm, Europe’s largest wind farm and plenty of hydroelectric dams. Now, as described the report, a Finnish energy company is building a huge WaveRoller machine off the coast of Piniche. Such a wave power machine is no small investment. It includes three fibreglass panels, each 100 sq m in size, which swing on large hinges thanks to the power of the ocean.

Economic austerity means Portugal is unable to unleash the full potential of this green infrastructure. The country is producing excess green energy that it can’t store, particularly overnight. Investment is needed in electric cars and ways to utilise this extra green energy.

Perhaps the BBC headline is misleading: “Could Portugal ever run entirely on green energy again?” After all, I imagine that green energy isn’t all that powers Portugal. Yet, it is clearly a leader in the field, even if austerity has removed some dynamism.

My question is why can’t Britain take some initiative and do the same? We’ve still got an AAA credit rating, unemployment at 8.2% (having fallen over the last quarter) and our austerity programme is not as brutal as the one faced in Portugal. Furthermore, we retain control over that package as we never received the golden elixir of a bailout.

The huge wave panels for the WaveRoller scheme arrived by boat in January

The benefits of investing in green energy infrastructure are myriad. In the report, Jussi Akerberg, project manager of the Piniche wave power scheme, said: “If we can provide Portugal with the means to utilise its huge coastal energy resource there will be jobs in energy production, maintenance and the sale of the energy itself.”

Also, schemes to help individual households reduce their energy usage, such as public marketing campaigns and subsidies for households who want to go green, can also help the consumer save their hard-earned cash. This final point is particularly important in our age of stagnant growth.

Britain is more comfortable economically than Portugal and many other European countries. By investing in substantial renewable energy programmes, not just half-baked wind farm schemes, Britain can receive tangible economic rewards, lead the world in renewable energy and secure a more sustainable future for Britons and the whole world.

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