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From dud to stud, Portugal is now a global leader in renewable energy

Ten years ago energy pundits said Portugal was wasting its rich renewable energy sources; now, the country generates 35.9% of its electricity from wind and solar energy.

Portugal’s wind energy industry has led the country’s shift away from fossil fuels. Recently, the Portuguese wind industry displaced Spain as the wind industry that provides the second-largest amount of wind power to its electric grid in the world–following only Denmark. 15% of Portugal’s energy is derived from wind power, while Denmark generates 20% and Spain 14.3%.

In 2009, Portugal’s wind capacity grew over 30%, and the government is pushing for this growth trend to continue. Currently, the federal government is making a promotional push for the adoption of private, small wind turbines at businesses and homes.

Not to be forgotten in Portugal’s renewable energy story is solar power. In the last three years solar power has grown an astounding 315%. Although the country’s capacity is still relatively low, this is a phenomenal growth spurt, and one that does not look to be eased any time soon.

Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates wants 45% of the country’s power to come from renewable energy sources in 2010; this will require continued growth in the wind, solar, and hydroelectric industries. Not only a leader in renewable energy development, Portugal has also emerged as a leader in the fight against climate change. Recently, the country pledged to cut its carbon dioxide emissions 70% by 2020.

Portugal’s development of renewable energy highlights how a concerted effort backed by committed policy can allow for a shift away from fossil fuels.