At one time we could have been world leaders in renewable energy, now we will be lucky if we start playing catch up. At this point it seems more likely, that we will soon be consumers of renewable energy technologies, rather than also being innovators and purveyors. Some nation or nations will reap considerable economic windfalls from developing and marketing these technologies. Too bad, it won't be us...
Portugal, without its own oil, coal or gas and with no expertise in nuclear power, is pitching to lead Europe's clean-tech revolution with some of the most ambitious targets and timetables for renewables. Its intention, the economics minister, Manuel Pinho, said, is to wean itself off oil and within a decade set up a low carbon economy in response to high oil prices and climate change.
"We have to reduce our dependence on oil and gas," said Pinho. "What seemed extravagant in 2004 when we decided to go for renewables now seems to have been a very good decision."
He expects Portugal to generate 31% of all its energy from clean sources by 2020. This means lifting its renewable electricity share from 20% in 2005 to 60% in 2020, compared with Britain's target of 15% of all energy by 2020. Having passed its target for 2010 it could soon top the EU renewables league.
It is the start of a potentially giant global industry with Portuguese firm Enersis planning to invest more than £1bn in a series of farms that together would power 450,000 homes.
Pinho dismisses nuclear power. "When you have a programme like this there is no need for nuclear power. Wind and water are our nuclear power. The relative price of renewables is now much lower, so the incentives are there to invest. My advice to countries like the UK is to move as fast as they can to renewables. With climate change and the increase in oil prices, renewables will become more and more important.
"Countries that do not invest in renewables will pay a high price in future. The cost of inaction is very high indeed. The perception that renewable energy is very expensive is changing every day as the oil price goes up."
He added: "Energy and environment are the biggest challenge of our generation. We need to develop a low-carbon model for the world economy. The present situation is dangerous."