ECONOMY

Funds urgently required for a place in the sun

Costas Liapis often feels exasperated. «Greek banks show no interest in financing new technology. I even had to pull strings to put my plan to the venture capital subsidiary of one of them. The same section of another bank told me they were interested in investing in foodstuffs – not technology. They think you are only in for the investment subsidy,» he says. His Lion Energy company could, in seven years, build power stations totaling a capacity of 700 MW which would only use sunrays, he asserts. «Our solar plants, with short-term thermal storage and long-term hydrogen-based energy storage, have overcome the traditional handicaps of higher cost in relation to fossil fuel-based technologies and the fluctuating nature of the output when the sun is only intermittently available. We can ensure continuous, 24-hour output,» Liapis explains. What is more, Lion Energy technology, using applications initially developed in the former Soviet bloc, can produce electricity around 60 percent cheaper than conventional stations, he says. Far-fetched? After meeting with considerable incredulity and bureaucratic obstacles, Liapis now believes he is on course to confounding the disbelievers. He expects the Technical University of Crete and the Center for Renewable Energy Sources (KAPE) to complete a feasibility study soon on a 10 MW station he plans to build near the village of Armeni, in the prefecture of Hania, Crete, which he will then submit to the Energy Regulatory Authority (RAE) to obtain a license. He said the new, open-minded policy towards innovative entrepreneurial ideas promoted by former Minister of Development – and now of Economy – Nikos Christodoulakis was instrumental in enabling him to put his plan to KAPE, whose chairman, Dimosthenis Agoris, he also credits for lending him a receptive ear. The plant, capable of meeting the energy needs of 12,000 households, could be ready in 10 months’ time. Being the first, its budget will have to include untoward expenses and is estimated at $25 million, which will come down to $15 million or even lower for any subsequent stations – much lower than for any station of equal capacity using other technology, Liapis said. He estimates, for instance, that a wind park of the same capacity would require about 80 wind generators on a mountain range 3.5 km long, access to which would also require a considerable amount of environmentally harmful infrastructure work. Lion Energy technology, he adds, is also wholly flexible; capacity can range anywhere from 5 KW for a household installation to a 50 MW station. Also, the low operating temperature required by Lion’s converter (40C-90C) makes it suitable for tapping geothermal energy. «Our main competitive advantage lies in our innovative and cheaper technology. In contrast to the panels of other solar plants, where they represent the main fixed capital item, ours account for only about 10 percent of total cost due to the high percentage of recyclable polymer components. These have high long-term resistance to light and thermal degradation and are also easy to ship and replace,» he said. The system uses an electrochemical thermal converter which turns heat into electricity with the continuous regeneration of electrolytes. The cost of Lion’s electrochemical generator is about 30 percent of the cost of a gas turbine for the same power output, he adds. A heat accumulator stores enough thermal energy during 6-10 hours of sun so that the system can continue to operate for the rest of the day. At 95C operating temperature, the efficiency of the conversion of thermal energy into electricity is 80-85 percent. Part of the power generated is directed at producing hydrogen for long-term storage or transportation of energy, using a support substance – such as kerosene. The system, including the support substance tank, is configured so that they can ensure operation in the absence of sunlight for 10-20 days, depending on weather patterns. Such a plant only needs five people to operate it, Liapis says. The power produced will be distributed through the grid of the Public Power Corporation, which will buy it at the rate set for private producers by RAE. Part of the revenue will go to the municipality of Armeni. The financing problem is crucial. Liapis is confident that a demonstration he plans to hold when the plant has reached a 2 MW capacity will convince investors to participate in completing the scheme. He also hopes to obtain a subsidy from the European Union’s Third Community Support Framework investment plan which would amount to 30-40 percent. But what if RAE won’t be persuaded to grant him a license? «There are other countries thirsting for new technologies,» he says with some bitterness. – Lion Energy (www.lionenergy.net), tel +30 010 6848882.