With Portugal being the home of the global tech event Web Summit for the past five years, it seems only natural that Portugal should also be at the forefront of Europe’s digital transformation.
But at a time when the climate crisis is the most pressing issue of the day, addressing environmental concerns is key to how the country is using technology to fulfill those digital ambitions.
“The way to accelerate the green transition is, of course, to invest in digital technologies,” Portuguese Minister of State for Economy and Digital Change, Pedro Siza Vieira, told Euronews Next at the Web Summit in Lisbon.
“They [digital technologies] help you better manage resources, make better use of your water, and manage complex energy networks,” he said.
We cannot have a digital economy if people overall are unable to use these technologies,
Pedro Siza Vieira
Minister of State for Economy and Digital Change
“The more renewable energies penetrate, the more decentralized self-consumption in your houses or factories, the more you have to use digital technologies.”
Portugal has invested heavily in renewable energies since 2015 with new solar and floating wind turbines. Currently around 65 percent of the country’s total electricity consumption comes from renewable sources.
“I think we have a very large share of renewable electricity, which not only helped us meet our emissions targets, but also helped us reduce the volatility in electricity prices,” said Siza Vieira.
The minister added that electricity prices in Portugal will actually be lower over the next year as the country is much less dependent on the cost of raw materials like oil and gas.
“Europe’s start-up nation”
New technologies not only help fight climate change, but also improve the way the Portuguese government works.
“I think the government has many advantages in using digital technologies to become more transparent, effective and efficient,” said Siza Vieira, adding that there is still more to be done.
“We realized that we need to work on a number of issues such as infrastructure and 5G technology to make sure we have the artificial intelligence, data science and supercomputing capabilities developed in the country, as that would catalyze transformation.”
He said the government introduced this technology and the European Union’s Next Generation Fund has accelerated the country’s progress.
The government is also working on developing a so-called “European Start-up Nations Standard” for the Portuguese EU Council Presidency.
“We have committed ourselves to harmonize the standards, the basic framework, legally, visa-wise and taxation, which recognize countries with a very lively start-up scene, and we are developing this European start-up nation standard and we have the European start-up up alliance based in Lisbon and will try to use this to become a start-up continent across Europe, ”said Siza Vieira.
He says that Portugal has succeeded on the digital front because of its entrepreneurship.
“We currently have five unicorns and I think we will get a larger number in the next few weeks, which is way above the weight of Portugal in the European economy when compared to around 300 unicorns across Europe,” added Siza Vieria .
Another reason the country is thriving is because it has been successful in attracting investment from companies looking to harness the skills of the people of Portugal.
“The younger people are exceptionally well educated. You are fluent in different languages and enjoy working in an international environment, ”he said.
How is Portugal trying to lead the digital transformation?
But Portugal also focuses on the older generation and those who are less tech-savvy.
The government published its digital transformation action plan in April 2020, shortly before the effects of the pandemic fully gripped Europe.
The focus of the plan is the digital empowerment of people, the digital transformation of companies and the digitalization of the state.
“I would say that the most critical issues are skills and people, and not just because we still have a lack of education compared to other European countries, especially for the older generations,” said Siza Vieira.
To ensure that all citizens can reap the benefits of the technology, the government is trying to teach basic digital skills such as paying bills online through training, among other things.