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Portugal needs to invest in biomass and nuclear energy

By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

Portugal needs a new energy policy focusing on biomass technology and a nuclear venture with Spain to reduce its reliance on imported oil and natural gas.

Addressing a lunch organised by the French, South African, German and Belgian-Luxemburg chambers of commerce last week, Engineer Clemente Pedro Nunes, an energy expert from Lisbon’s Higher Technical Institute, warned that the current government’s renewable energy policy wasn’t sufficient to reduce Portugal’s dependence on oil and gas imports.

And he said it was important that Portugal and its European Union partners developed a Europe-wide energy strategy for the coming decades “in case the Kyoto Treaty was abandoned”.

The close friend and adviser to President Cavaco Silva added that Portugal’s current energy policy was outdated and unsustainable in terms of a competitive economy.

He pointed out that oil and gas reserves worldwide, while still sufficient, were inexorably falling as fewer new economically viable oil and gas fields were discovered.

Eng. Clemente also warned that falling reserves coincided with increased demand from emerging economies like China, India, Brazil and other tiger economies in the Far East.

“We have to have a Plan B if the Kyoto Treaty falls flat on its face and be ready to change policy and change it radically,” he added.

The academic said that since the Cavaco Silva government in the 1990s, petrol consumption had only fallen slightly while natural gas imports had skyrocketed to meet Portugal’s energy demands.

He also pointed out that the current government had overplayed its investments in renewable energy sources and had massaged the figures by not mentioning one million tonnes of petrol purchased from Spain since 2005/6, which had “not appeared in the statistics”.

The energy expert said that while developing eolic or wind energy sources in Portugal was to be applauded, the source was unreliable because of fluctuations in power of around 2,000 megawatts.

This meant that the country was having to increasingly invest in natural gas power plants to pick up the slack and “make up for government failures”, which meant that more gas had to be purchased from abroad.

Since 1998 Portugal had spent an average of €1.4 billion per annum on imported gas while that figure had climbed to €5 billion per annum since 2008.

More alarmingly, €7 billion per year in energy purchasing was “wasted” as Portugal’s energy import bills skyrocketed by a massive increase of 238% since the late 1990s.

Slamming the current government’s “false propaganda”, he made it clear that the future had to be partly nuclear driven, with a joint-venture project with Spain and perhaps France developed for the next 20 to 30 years.

“Petrol and gas reserves will last years and years but new sources of energy will have to be found if we are to reduce our current fossil fuel dependency in Portugal and Europe, which will rise from 40% to 70% by 2050 with or without renewables,” he said.

“We may have to think the unthinkable if Kyoto fails and fall back on nuclear power,” he said, which in turn would reduce the West’s dependency on Russian gas and Middle Eastern oil.

“We have to have a basic objective taking into consideration advanced energy technology since eolic energy only works for 22% of the time,” he added.

And unless Portugal’s economy grew and exports rose significantly, projected expenditure on fossil fuel imports was unsustainable.

Instead Eng. Clemente Pedro Nunes pointed out that 38% of Portugal’s landmass was covered in forests and a further 20% could sustain forests planted especially for biomass fuel production.

“We could be producing 1,500 megawatts of energy from biomass by 2020 in theory, so we need an urgent energy policy decision taken between the government and industrial partners on this and other sources of energy within the next 18 months,” he said.

Do you have a view on this story? Please email Editor Inês Lopes at [email protected]