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Earth Power

Portugal Gives Itself a Clean-Energy Makeover 368

Posted by samzenpus
from the fresh-start dept.
daem0n1x writes "It appears that some countries in oil-poor Europe are making a successful transition to renewable energy at a fast and steady pace. This article talks about the small country of Portugal on the West Coast of Europe, known for its white sand beaches, oranges, fish, and wines. Portugal has no oil, but lots of sun and wind. Five years ago, the government decided, against many dissenting voices, to invest massively in taking advantage of the country's natural resources in clean energy. The results are here. It used to be a heavy energy importer, but now it exports it."
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Portugal Gives Itself a Clean-Energy Makeover

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  • the best part is... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by laktech (998064) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @12:48AM (#33225012)
    "The United States, which last year generated less than 5 percent of its power from newer forms of renewable energy, will lag behind..." Drill baby, drill.
  • Well maybe not, electricity is still cheap in the US. Keep burning coal it has been working for me rather well so far.

    • by Avin22 (1438931) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @12:59AM (#33225064)
      That is the issue though. The summary mentions how Portugal is poor in oil but has a great deal of potential for solar and wind. This implies that by using sun and wind to create electricity somehow oil usage will drop. While I heavily support the switch to alternative fuels, this is just not true. Most oil is used for transportation rather than electricity. So the only way to save oil by switching to solar or wind is to use electric cars, which in general are not popular enough to be a heavy drain on the power grid. People really do need to learn the difference between electricity generation and oil usage, if nothing else just to make an informed decision when creating policy.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by t0y (700664)
        Working on it. FTA:

        And Portugal expects in 2011 to become the first country to inaugurate a national network of charging stations for electric cars.

        A difficult step, yes, but without creating the market private companies won't jump in and invest.

      • by macshit (157376) <miles@@@gnu...org> on Thursday August 12, 2010 @01:13AM (#33225118) Homepage

        This implies that by using sun and wind to create electricity somehow oil usage will drop. While I heavily support the switch to alternative fuels, this is just not true. Most oil is used for transportation rather than electricity. So the only way to save oil by switching to solar or wind is to use electric car.

        Or, even better, just don't use cars at all. Rail, after all, works splendidly with electricity.

        Ok, so quitting the car habit is a hard task in the sprawltastic U.S., but much of Europe is quite suited to better transportation mechanisms.

        • by pspahn (1175617)
          ...which creates an even more ample and cheaper supply of oil for others. I think there has been talk of building a high speed rail line between SF and LA for at least 20 years.
          • ...which creates an even more ample and cheaper supply of oil for others. I think there has been talk of building a high speed rail line between SF and LA for at least 20 years.

            ...assuming OPEC doesn't decide outright to produce less, and there aren't any other countries that want to take up that supply (I'm looking at you, China).

          • by Martin Blank (154261) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @02:46AM (#33225546) Journal

            And it's probably still going to be talk 20 years from now.

            A couple of years ago, voters passed a $10 billion bond measure to get it started. What many of them missed was that this was the first $10 billion of a $40 billion total cost, much of which is expected to be federally-funded even though nobody bothered to ask the federal government for the money. If the state has to cover the entire amount, it will cost $80 billion once the bonds are paid off.

            Sure, it's planned to go from San Diego to San Francisco, but it's running into enormous political problems. City after city in Orange County alone are saying that they don't want it running through their land because of the financial and political costs that go with it. That means a longer run through Riverside County -- if cities in that county let it happen -- making it more expensive. San Francisco goes back and forth on whether they'll let it actually end in the city, or force it over to Oakland.

            Then there's the time it's expected to take to get from San Diego to San Francisco, a trip of about 500 miles. The low end times are quoted at about four hours, which might be acceptable, but that's for an express train, which are rare to non-existent in most plans that have been made public. Every plan I've seen has the train making numerous stops along the way -- as many as a dozen along the 45 mile-path through Orange County, let alone San Diego and Los Angeles Counties and the Bay Area -- and some reports have suggested that it would take eight to ten hours for the train to make the trip, with it spending as much time accelerating and decelerating as it does in a cruise speed -- which wouldn't be that high in the urban areas to begin with.

            It's also not expected to be up and running until 2030 at the earliest. Most of the realistic estimates put it at 2040. It's a total fiasco. We can't even get a simple light rail project that runs 30 miles in place in part because the costs ballooned to more than $1 billion despite plans to run most of the line running down the center medians of the streets (hence its name, CenterLine).

            Absent a minor revolution, California will never be governable enough to get something like a high-speed-rail line in place.

            • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @07:07AM (#33226440) Journal

              Then there's the time it's expected to take to get from San Diego to San Francisco, a trip of about 500 miles. The low end times are quoted at about four hours

              Seriously? That works out at 125 miles per hour, which is the speed of the UK InterCity trains. They were state of the art in 1976, but in comparison with modern trains (which aren't being deployed in the UK, because we've been systematically crippling our rail infrastructure since the '80s) they're laughably antiquated. France and China, for example, have trains that maintain an average speed of almost 300 miles per hour, and the maglev version of the Shinkansen can reach 360 miles per hour. On a brand new 500 mile route, with entirely new track and rolling stock, there's no excuse for taking more than two hours, and I'd expect it to be closer to one and a half. Once you factor in check-in times, it should be faster than flying.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by guacamole (24270)

          Or, even better, just don't use cars at all. Rail, after all, works splendidly with electricity.

          This would work only for people who confine themselves to staying forever in cities and suburbs, but it certainly won't work for me. Train will not take me from Bat Area to Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Central Coast, Redwood Forest, Point Reyes, Monterey, Death Valley, Mojave Desert, Grand Canyon (both rims), Mount Shasta, and tons of other places in California and Oregon I enjoy going to on weekends the day and time I

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by tehcyder (746570)

            Neither could train bring bags full of groceries to my doorstep

            Most people could quite easily walk to the shops. Obviously there are some people who live 50 miles away from the nearest grocery store, but these are a tiny minority.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Or, even better, just don't use cars at all. Rail, after all, works splendidly with electricity.

          Actually, rail does not. Rail uses electricity when the driver wants it to. That often means peak times of electricity use. An electric car can get charged basically at any time - at night (or mid day in the case of solar) - whenever there is excess electricity in the grid. Rail also uses just as much electricity as an electric car. There's a slight difference but the time of use control makes up this difference. Public transport exposed [templetons.com] (article is a graph with nice numbers from a bureau of transportatio

      • by grahamwest (30174) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @01:13AM (#33225120) Homepage

        The article says Portugal is going to roll out a national network of electric vehicle charging stations in 2011. They needed the power infrastructure first.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jbssm (961115)

        Actually most of the public transportation in the big urban areas (mind you big urban areas in here is about 5 only) run exclusively in natural gas or, in some few cases hydrogen.

        One of the most important facts for that was actually not energetic consumption, but air pollution. We have many old monuments, and it's not nice to be burning oil around them.

      • elecric cars (Score:4, Informative)

        by zogger (617870) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @01:40AM (#33225222) Homepage Journal

        Portugal has been working on this for some years now. They will be getting some of the first shipments of the Nissan/Renault electric Leafs I presume.

        http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSL0934720820080709 [reuters.com]

    • Sure.

      till you a) run out of coal, or b) kill too many people with the output of the reaction that there's nobody left to continue the supply of new coal into the reaction.
  • Summary (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    "This article talks about the small country of Portugal on the West Coast of Europe" (As opposed to the other Portugal)
    • Re:Summary (Score:5, Funny)

      by blackraven14250 (902843) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @02:49AM (#33225562)
      /.'s target audience is American. You know, the ones who are great at geography.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ebuck (585470)

        /.'s target audience is American. You know, the ones who are great at geography.

        Slashdotter: Yep, I'm American.

        European: North America or South America?

        Slashdotter: South! I'm from Louisiana.

  • Ahh, the NYT (Score:5, Insightful)

    by copponex (13876) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @12:57AM (#33225050) Homepage

    You can always find the truth buried near the end of the article:

    But a decade ago in Portugal, as in many places in the United States today, power companies owned not only power generating plants, but also transmission lines. Those companies have little incentive to welcome new sources of renewable energy, which compete with their investment in fossil fuels. So in 2000, Portugal’s first step was to separate making electricity from transporting it, through a mandatory purchase by the government of all transmission lines for electricity and gas at what were deemed fair market prices.

    Fox News translation: Obama bin Laden wants steal our energy and kill your grandmother! Let freedom ring for... um... dirty coal power.

    • Stink, if nobody was able to get wealthier by condemning the world's people to live in the past, wouldn't it?
    • Re:Ahh, the NYT (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jedi Alec (258881) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @02:29AM (#33225454)

      This is going on in pretty much all of Europe. Following the spree of "privatize! privatize!" from the Reagan/Thatcher era, we've discovered the hard way that:

      1. Some infrastructure is too important to subject to the ups and downs of the free market, or to allow it to fall into foreign hands(same thing really).
      2. If you want to create a *true* free market for electricity, ADSL, cable, etc. you need to separate the hardware from the product. The infrastructure is public property, the product that gets sold over it is private.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by drinkypoo (153816)

        1. Some infrastructure is too important to subject to the ups and downs of the free market, or to allow it to fall into foreign hands(same thing really).

        That's not the same thing at all, unless they're sending troops to secure it. Any corporation clearly working against the USA (purchased by foreigners and used as a DoS component of some larger attack, say) is going to be nationalized right away anyway, by ANY nation.

        2. If you want to create a *true* free market for electricity, ADSL, cable, etc. you need to separate the hardware from the product. The infrastructure is public property, the product that gets sold over it is private.

        Agreed.

  • Totally worth it. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FrameRotBlues (1082971) <framerotblues.gmail@com> on Thursday August 12, 2010 @12:59AM (#33225062) Homepage Journal
    It's hard. It's expensive. It won't please everyone. But it is totally worth it for future generations. It takes vision, vision beyond the end of our noses, to realize that.
    • It's expensive. It won't please everyone. But it is totally worth it for future generations.

      For the most part, the "expensive" countries all have dying cultures, since they don't reproduce enough [wikipedia.org] to survive. (Remember "replacement rate" is 2.1)

      Don't worry, somebody will fill those empty countries, and the "future generations" don't look like they will be the types of high-tech folk who will keep things green, care about your culture, or be high-tech enough to get homo sapiens "off this rock".
      • by astar (203020)

        Pooh, not high tech enough? Last I looked, Asia was building over a hundred nukes. US is bringing up one that was mothballed decades ago. Europe, hmm, I think Italy just did a nuke deal with Russia? Otherwise, nothing. All stupid "green energy" stuff instead. Mostly, it takes more energy to make than it will produce over its lifetime. Asia is at least trying to have a future, even if Portugal is not.

        Too bad the article is not about Spain. Big investments in green. Big government subsidies. Oops, n

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TubeSteak (669689)

      And here's why it'll never happen in the USA

      So in 2000, Portugal's first step was to separate making electricity from transporting it, through a mandatory purchase by the government of all transmission lines for electricity and gas at what were deemed fair market prices.

      It's utterly *mandatory, in order to create true competition within natural monopolies, but is politically impossible in the USA.

      *Breaking up the vertical monopoly, not necessarly the mandatory government purchase

  • Hydro FTW (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gabriel (2115)

    Sun and wind?
    Don't make me laugh. Those are hardly a blip compared to good ol' Hydroelectric production in Portugal.
    But as an out of fashion techology (no one likes big dams anyway) I guess it's not worh mentioning.

    or maybe this is all related to the fact Portugal is pushing really hard to export their wind tech to the US..

    • Re:Hydro FTW (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jbssm (961115) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @01:35AM (#33225196)

      Well, the hydros in the new energetic plan were made and are being made to store the solar and wind energy by pumping the water. Because during the night you cannot use solar power and the wind power reduces a lot.

      The hydros are not being made to produce energy by themselves.

      Mind you, I'm against hydros, but unless we embrace nuclear or someone comes up with huge and efficient energy storing methods, hydros are unavoidable in this scenario. And between burning oil and hydros ... we choose the less of the 2 evils.

  • by geomark (932537) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @02:44AM (#33225532) Homepage
    Developing countries also leading the way. Thailand broke ground this month on two large solar PV installations, a 38 MW plant and a 73 MW plant, the latter will be the world's largest when it goes into operation November 2011. Thailand is not poor but it isn't rich either, yet it can figure out how to finance and build renewable energy systems on a large scale. More on the solar race in Thailand http://geomark.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/solar-race-is-on-in-thailand/ [wordpress.com]
  • I'm all for renewable energy, but building energy plants for the purposes of exporting rather than importing power is not a good global solution for everyone. So my question is where did they build them?

    In my last travels around Europe I could not help but notice wind turbines dotted all over the beautiful Austrian country side. I noticed wind turbines in the mountains in the south part of France. I went skiing on the edge of the Swiss alps and there were wind turbines on the fucking mountain tops. I mea
    • Wind turbines are a nice "intermediate technology" while we look for something better in the long term, because when it comes they can just be removed, whereas the mess left by coal or nuclear plants stays around for a long time. So it does not harm to put them in "scenic" areas, in the long term. Whereas, if we don't do something positive, in the long term you won't be doing any skiing in the Alps, because they'll look like Pikes Peak.

      As for Australia, yes. What are you personally doing about it? (Asks he,

  • by fantomas (94850) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @04:49AM (#33225948)

    Thanks for pointing out that Portugal is "a small country .... on the West Coast of Europe, known for its white sand beaches, oranges, fish, and wines".

    For us non-USA folk, could you Americans give us geographical guidance when referring to US states, e.g. rather than just saying "New England", could you provide similar context, for example, say "New England is a small state on the East Coast of the USA, known for its historical districts, American Football team and ..." (umm well I don't know anything else so this is why I could do with some help).

    This kind of context would be really helpful for us non-Americans! ;-)

    I think Americans knowledge of European countries is about the same as Europeans knowledge of US states. Probably in both cases knowledge is biased to places which feature more in movies.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 12, 2010 @06:23AM (#33226274)

      For us non-USA folk, could you Americans give us geographical guidance when referring to US states, e.g. rather than just saying "New England", could you provide similar context, for example, say "New England is a small state on the East Coast of the USA, known for its historical districts, American Football team and ..." (umm well I don't know anything else so this is why I could do with some help).

      New England isn't actually a state, it's a region in the northeastern part of the country. It pretty much encapsulates upstate New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

      Is that the type of context you were looking for?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Actually that would probably be a great idea, for example, "New Jersey a state on the East Coast of the United States that is similar in size and population to Portugal." Such things would go a long way towards helping people understand the differences in scale between countries in Europe and the U.S.. For example, one can look at what Portugal is doing and consider ways to do something similar in New Jersey a state of similar size to Potugal. However it is impractical to consider trying to apply the exampl
  • salient quotes (Score:3, Informative)

    by buddyglass (925859) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @09:33AM (#33227388)

    "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..."

    "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."

    "To lure private companies into Portugal’s new market, the government gave them contracts locking in a stable price for 15 years — a subsidy that varied by technology and was initially high but decreased with each new contract round."

    "The relative costs of an energy transition would inevitably be higher in the United States than in Portugal."

    "Denmark, another country that relies heavily on wind power, frequently imports electricity from its energy-rich neighbor Norway when the wind dies down..."

  • Not so simple. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MaWeiTao (908546) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @10:57AM (#33228266)

    Portugal has distinct geographic advantages which allows them to benefit from renewable energy sources. Many parts of the country fairly mountainous. So there are countless ideal locations for wind turbines and there are already a ton out there. But what the article fails to mention is that the majority of Portugal's power generation actually comes from hydroelectric.

    In fact, in a region much of my family hails from there has been talk, for decades, of building a dam. It looks like it's finally going through and it's going to have a fairly profound affect on the area. I mean that negatively, people losing land and it possibly changing the nature of commerce in the area. A concern I've been hearing for years is that dams increase humidity. From personal observation summers seemed dryer when I visited as a kid to more recently. They get a lot of the hazy humidity I experience in the states. One of the concerns is that it affects the quality of grapes for wine production but admittedly I've seen no evidence to support that.

    One thing that's certain is that it hasn't made electricity any cheaper. And from the way people talk, it seems to have gotten a good bit more expensive. But again, Portugal is ideally situation. They've got consistent strong winds blowing off the ocean and mountains. Perfect for wind turbines and they could easily set up tidal generation along the coast. It also helps that a lot of people have left the countryside for the cities. There have been some moving back, but there's still plenty of land, even if a lot of it is farmland, to erect turbines or sacrifice for reservoirs. The country is also quite small making it rather easy to keep the grid up-to-date.

    The US is a far larger country and not every state has ideal geography for renewable energy. Certain areas are far too densely populated to realistically build anything like this. In my area there was furor over something as simple as how to run power lines across a few counties. And really, while individual states are comparable to any European nation the fact is that they've come to be far too dependent on the federal government. They don't have the resources or sufficiently knowledgeable state employees to be able to be able to do any of this for themselves. Hell, a a bunch of trees go down and a city will run to FEMA asking handouts.

    The NIMBY crowds seem to be much stronger in the US than in most other countries. Choose from the right checklist of concerns, historical preservation or environmental issues, and you can block anything or at least put it in limbo. I'm not sure if it's because other governments walk all over their citizens with impunity, which in some cases they seem to, or if the people can look beyond their self-centered and unrealistic desires to protect their communities from change.

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