Green Talk: Sustainability

Written by  //  February 8, 2012  //  latest  //  2 Comments

Is alternative energy a luxury? Portugal’s performance on sustainability is inevitably effected by the financial crisis. The current government has no visible environmental policy and conclusions can be drawn on this year’s raising of IVA on alternative energy products from 13% to 23%.

Will the industry be crushed or is it protected because renewable energy is still a niche market for people who can put the environment before financial concerns?

When I contacted Simon Sharp of Raiz Verde for this interview, he postponed for a week because he was too busy: quite the opposite of what I’d expected, given the economic climate.

“These are clients who purchased before the IVA rise,” he admitted. Nonetheless, the recession has not particularly affected sales, but shifted the client base away from people who are attracted to alternative energy for the immediate ‘free hot water’ factor.


“Our clients are people who think in the longer term about their household energy requirements and who are concerned with quality above anything else,” says Simon.

It doesn’t sound like the average Portuguese, then.

“No it’s not. As far as renewables are concerned, the average Portuguese consumer cares about price and how much they can save. With the drastic rise in IVA and the absence of tax breaks and grants, the incentive for the average Portuguese to buy renewables has been removed. Same applies to businesses, they are only interested in doing something when there’s something in it for them and that is understandable given the extreme tax and social security burden that the average employer has”, he says.

“Expats often move to a country like Portugal for a cleaner, greener life. As such they have an interest in renewables and associated products and are better informed about the choices.” They are also generally planning to stay and “don’t want to install something cheap only to need to do it again in 5 years time.”

Portugal’s use of alternative energy is evident throughout the country in hydro-electric dams and wind farms. According to the Association of Renewable Energies (APREN), 47% of all electricity used last year came from renewable sources. But what is Portugal’s performance really like when you scratch below the surface?

“Portugal imports the vast majority of alternative energy products. The emphasis seems to be on thinking big – huge windfarms for example – from which a German company has done very nicely. There is a dislocation between sustainability for Portugal, which is what many people want, and those trying to profit from sustainability. I’m talking about government and larger corporations in this sense. It should not be about exploiting people’s desire for a sustainable Portugal.”

The last incentive scheme for domestic solar introduced by the former government was a failure for consumers. Initially it strictly limited what products were available and who the installers could be. When the scheme was finally opened to all the systems already included on the approved supplier list in Portugal, the damage was already done. Caixa Geral de Depositos benefitted as a Government partner in the scheme.

Yet, there is some political willingness to participate – Portugal has one of the highest targets in the EU for the reduction in CO2 emissions. What’s lacking is any sincere commitment to the environment at a policy level and a creative strategy.

“Portugal has plenty of resources which could be exploited to provide energy, for example, the unused water mills throughout the Minho. Investment in small microgeneration projects on a local level are a better way forward and will directly benefit people at a local level, not the government, not huge corporations like EDP.” says Simon. But the current system is bogged down by “cronyism and dreadful tax legislation which handcuffs entrepreneurial spirit and penalises those who try and approach things the right way.”

“Portugal’s strength is in the attitude to get their head down and get on with it, whatever the cards dealt. People need to make more noise at a local level and demand local, microgeneration installations and incentives. The same applies throughout Europe, but if we allow the government to take us for a ride, then they surely will. This is not a time for apathy, with apathy comes lack of choice and lack of benefit. I’m impressed with the young Portuguese knowledge of and interest in politics (they’re far more aware and motivated than the UK youth for example), something happens between school and university and the workplace though. If Portugal can harness this youth in the right way, instead of making them give up, then I’m optimistic about the future of sustainability in Portugal.”

Simon Sharp is the owner of Raiz Verde, suppliers and installers of home energy solutions, committed to exceptional customer service and with experienced, qualified and skilled staff in renewable energy and heating solutions.

2 Comments on "Green Talk: Sustainability"

  1. Emma February 15, 2012 at 8:16 pm · Reply

    “…dreadful tax legislation which handcuffs entrepreneurial spirit and penalises those who try and approach things the right way.”

    This can be seen across the board. Which is a shame as there are so many Portuguese with so many brilliant ideas. I thought there were some wave power experiments going on?

  2. Chris November 11, 2012 at 10:54 am · Reply

    Thank you for an interesting article which touches on some of the problems related to sustainability and Portugal.Possibly the presence of cronyism (should that be corruption?) is the biggest barrier to Portugal’s overall sustainability without which there can be little thought of sustainability at the grass roots levels. Without going through several layers of “interested parties”, it is impossible to make any progress, email is not responded to, phones are unanswered, however, the hint of “incentives” or high paid jobs for relatives,soon gets things moving.
    The question is always, “sustainability at any price” or “common sense?”, the massive subsidies awarded to the wind power Industry are rightly being cut back, these governmental subsidies assured substantial guaranteed profits for the financial Institutions who funded these wind power developments, subsidized with tax payer money. However, with the EU debt crisis it just piled up more Sovereign Debt .
    How many people actually understand the word sustainability?, originated by The Bruntland Report of 1987, amongst some well known definitions, sustainability is just that, not green,eco, ethical, etc, sustainability is about measuring the impacts of the processes we implement to produce goods and services it does not comment or discourse upon the actual end product. Therefore sustainability is about achieving balance, matching environmental conservation with social needs and with wiser stewardship of Natural Capital, ( natural resources). We have to match conservation with common sense, jobs and people feeding their families are just as important as environmental conservation, sustainability means matching the two needs equally.

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