Greece lets its renewable energy endowments go with the wind

Once upon a time, the sun and the wind used to be worshipped as gods – largely a reflection of their importance to people’s lives in ancient societies. With the ascent of renewable energy sources (RES), this importance seems to be re-emerging, albeit in a completely different setting. Despite being well endowed with both elements, Greece is late in catching up with developments in the field, ranking only 13th in among 20 countries in the Country Attractiveness Indices report by business consultants and auditors firm Ernst & Young, published last August, which evaluates infrastructure in the RES sector in general. Germany, for instance, ranks fifth in the solar energy index, with Greece taking the ninth spot. As regards wind energy, Spain ranks first, the US second, India third and Greece trails in 13th. Environmentalist Stelios Psomas told Kathimerini that Greece could cover its energy needs by tapping such inexhaustible energy sources. In a hypothetical scenario, if the island of Crete was turned into an exclusive wind park it could meet the entire electric power requirements of the original 15 European Union member states for two years. Of course, no one is prepared to cover Crete with giant wind turbines, but with proper and realistic planning, it could meet an estimated 25-30 percent of Greece’s electricity requirements. Today, only 2 percent of the country’s power production comes from the tapping of wind power. Installed wind power capacity totals 573 megawatts, against Germany’s 18,428 MW. According to obligations arising from the Kyoto Protocol, Greece has to produce 20.1 percent of its energy requirements from RES by 2010, and this means that 3,000 MW of capacity must be installed in the next three years. The grand design, according to the RES law passed last summer, is for the country to produce 29 percent of its power from RES by 2020. The country is equally lagging in solar energy, despite the relatively extensive use of solar heaters. While the total capacity of installed photovoltaic systems in Germany is 1,200 MW, the respective figure in Greece last year was just 5 MW. It has been calculated that the average annual solar radiation in this country is 1,759 kilowatt-hour (kWh) per square meter. Thus, for a photovoltaic system with nominal capacity of 3 kilowatt-peak (kWp), which occupies about 30 square meters, the annual production capacity would be 4,500 kWh, enough to meet the needs of the average household. It also corresponds to a saving of 4.5 tons of carbon dioxide. Serifos It is widely recognized that the installation of wind turbines poses aesthetic problems and expecting a scenic Greek island, for instance, to be turned into an exclusive wind park would be like seeking to have one’s cake and eating too, too. A case in point is the Cycladic island of Serifos, the northern part of which a private company has plans to turn into a vast wind park. The plan envisages the installation of 87 turbines, 100 meters high and totaling 260 MW in capacity. «This wind park would be spread over a huge area of the island, as the specific wind turbines must be 50 meters apart, which would require a total length of about 45 kilometers,» said Kriton Arsenis, head of the Aegean program of the Hellenic Society for the Protection of the Environment and Cultural Heritage. He points out that the noise pollution would be huge, besides an incalculable cost to the tourism industry, the main source of income for the island, due to the disfigurement of the landscape. On the other hand, the Municipality of Serifos would have an income of about 2 million euros from the operation of the wind park. «We all agree that the greenhouse effect is the most serious threat facing the planet and we ought to invest in RES. However, misplaced projects and huge wind parks are not the solution,» says Arsenis. «The Aegean is a ship traveling for centuries. It would be a pity to denigrate it within a generation.»