Greeks gradually warming to natural gas

As consumers dig deeper into their pockets this year for heating fuel, many are giving more serious consideration to switching over to natural gas. Over the past two months the Attica Gas Supply Corporation (EPA) received over 10,825 applications – up from 4,039 last year. In Thessaloniki the figure was 4,268 and in Thessaly 1,463. Most natural gas sold in Greece is for heating purposes rather than for cooking or hot water, but it still makes a difference to household budgets and consumers appear satisfied with its efficiency. Dimitris Dousaitis, 65, was the first in his neighborhood of Kifissia, northern Athens, to link up to the natural gas network. «I live in a detached home and this will be our third winter with natural gas,» he said. «I was going to get a new burner anyway, so I thought it would be an opportunity to get natural gas.» The changeover cost him 4,000 euros, but he has had no regrets. «I think that I have made a saving of 15-20 percent.» In nearby Pefki, Nasia Skoufa, 34, was also satisfied. «Last year when we used natural gas for the first time, we warmed the house very quickly and adequately. Last year I paid 70-80 euros a month, compared to 100 euros a month in the winter of 2005-2006 for heating fuel. It took at most three months from when we made the application to when we got the approval. For the next six to eight months we saved the money and in the summer of 2006 the burner was installed. Altogether it cost about 11,000 euros.» At the moment in Greece, a natural gas network is being installed in Attica, Thessaloniki and Thessaly. In Attica, the network is 2,200 kilometers long, soon to be extended a further 500 kilometers at a cost of 65.7 million euros, and 250 kilometers at a cost of 37.8 million euros in northern and northeastern Attica and 250 kilometers at a cost of 29.8 million euros in 15 municipalities in the east and south of Attica. These extensions will bring natural gas to an additional 415,000 households. EPA figures show that in Attica, the network already reaches 478,000 households, but only 155,000 have been linked to the grid, along with 2,500 businesses and 330 major industrial and commercial customers. In Thessaloniki, there were 720 kilometers at the end of September; another 20 kilometers will be completed by the end of the year. During next year a further 31 kilometers have been scheduled for completion to reach 20 municipalities in the city. The potential customer base is 774,420, but less than half have signed contracts and only 85,026 have been linked; these include businesses, industries and public buildings. In Thessaly there are 439 kilometers. Another 14 will be ready by the end of the year. During the course of next year, another 52.5 kilometers will be laid in seven municipalities in four prefectures, to reach 215,664 people. Already 114,000 have signed up and 24,512 are receiving natural gas. A blogger’s tale Not everyone’s experience has been positive. The following excerpt is from the Indiblog website of September 24, 2007. «The procedures were simple and quick. We began around March with an application and the following steps were taken: The plumbers came and dismantled the exterior pipes (mandatory in new buildings since the early 1990s but naturally the specifications were wrong). Then more plumbers came to install the new pipes, then the inspectors, who found problems with the piping. The plumbers returned to make the adjustments. About one month later the plumbers came back to install the interior pipes (almost knocking the house down in the process) and installed the burner. Then the electrician came and about two months later there was yet another inspection (naturally finding more problems, this time with the burner) and that had to be rectified. After that was done, the inspectors came back and installed the meter. Five days ago the final team came in to link the burner with the household power grid, installing thermostats and sensors. Now we should be ready, but is that all? Not by a long shot. In five out of the total 12 apartments, the heaters just don’t work. They said there was no problem, and told us to call back the plumbers who installed them to dismantle the boiler and if we were lucky, the heaters would warm up. If not, we’d have to change the configuration of the pipes (which had been approved four months earlier). When that is finished, we’ll have to bring the painters in to make the place habitable again.» Others have had similar experiences. «Certainly shoddy work is done, mainly in the interior installations,» said Evangelos Papatzitzes, the owner of a firm that installs heating equipment and natural gas. Until last year he taught heating gas technicians at the state vocational college (IEK) in Aghioi Anargyroi. (The college has its own natural gas installations for home use.) «There is a legal vacuum, because anyone can carry out interior installations. Although there will be demand over the next 20 years for natural gas technicians, we give the profession a bad name when we don’t do the job properly. It has to be done by licensed individuals and engineers with experience in natural gas, both for safety reasons and for the installations to work efficiently and economically,» he said. According to a survey by EPA (Attica) last July among apartment building owners and managers aged 30-64, living in areas with an operational natural gas network, 93 percent know that natural gas is more economical, that it is an energy source which is environmentally friendly, according to a company executive. The price of natural gas is set to be 20 percent cheaper than petroleum fuels every month. «An obstacle is the cost of installing the equipment,» said EPA’s public relations director, Errika Xirouhaki, «and it also requires the assent of 50 percent plus one of the building’s owners.» These are not the only obstacles. «In my experience, people are not informed. Most confuse natural gas with liquid gas,» explains Papatzitzes. Athanasios Moutsis, a staff member of a firm that installs the interior equipment, has had similar experience. «There are some who believe natural gas is not really cheaper and will even get more expensive, or that if there is a crisis abroad and supplies are cut off, they won’t be able to heat their homes.»