"Has Portugal Solved The Electric Car Problem?"

"LAGOS, Portugal -- It's a hot summer weekend and the parking lots around Lagos marina are filling quickly with the BMWs, Range Rovers and Porsche SUVs of the Portuguese yachting set.

The scene is repeated across the sun-splashed Algarve coast, but a new government plan could make the gas-guzzling race to the south coast a thing of the past.

Prime Minister Jose Socrates is seeking to make Portugal a European trendsetter in green transport. In June, he launched groundbreaking plans for a nationwide network of recharging stations that would allow battery driven electric automobiles to cruise the highways.

By 2011, Socrates' Socialist administration wants 1,300 stations around the country where environment-friendly motorists can plug-in their electric cars as part of a drive to 'liberate Portugal from its dependency on foreign oil.'

The first station in the Mobi-E network opened in Lisbon on July 23. A hundred are due to be up and running by the end of this year and 320 should be in place in 2010. In the meantime Renault-Nissan says that Portugal will be one of the first markets for the launch of its electric vehicles in 2011.

The charging network is part of a wider Portuguese plan to switch to green energy that involves investments in wind-turbines, solar panels and wave farms. The plan takes advantage of the country's location on Europe's sunny, but breezy, southwest tip.

Socrates' motives are not purely ecological. Portugal has no domestic coal, natural gas or oil and has been forced to import most of its energy. By investing in renewables, Western Europe's poorest nation is seeking to find cheaper energy alternatives for itself and to create a niche as an exporter of green technology."

Paul Ames reports for Reuters July 31, 2009.

Friday, July 31, 2009