Who would imagine that a picturesque whitewashed Greek island against the deep blue of the Aegean Sea would be the site of a cutting-edge electric vehicle project led by the Hellenic Republic in cooperation with the Volkswagen Group? As Greece decidedly moves toward an era of economic transformation, innovation and sustainable development, our recent agreement on the Astypalaia project is just one of many examples of our “new normal.”
The small island of Astypalaia in the southern Aegean will soon become the first smart and sustainable island with energy autonomy in the Mediterranean. By 2025, the island will achieve zero-emission mobility. This emblematic project aspires to create an entirely new transport system with digital mobility services including an all-electric year-round ridesharing service designed to completely revamp the current limited local bus service. Working with local stakeholders, the leading partners in this project will transform the traditional vehicle rental business into a vehicle-sharing service offering e-scooters, e-bikes and electric cars. Conventionally fueled commercial and utility vehicles on the island will be replaced: In total, roughly 1,000 electric vehicles will take the place of about 1,500 vehicles with internal combustion engines. At the same time, the infrastructure for more than 200 charging points will be put in place.
In parallel, the Greek government will help the island transition to complete energy autonomy through the use of renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar power, in the form of an advanced stand-alone hybrid system. Astypalaia possesses significant untapped potential in terms of green energy, making it the ideal island choice for this project. Renewable energy sources alone will cover the additional electricity demand arising from the introduction of e-mobility. Of equal importance is the commitment of the local community to achieving the sustainable development goals. In turn, the project will help improve the everyday quality of life on the island, as well as its long-term economic prospects.
Obtaining signatures on a solid memorandum of understanding between Greece and Volkswagen was obviously no easy feat: A colossal corporate giant partnering with an array of government ministries and local authorities may have seemed unrealistic at the outset. But we did it. As Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis remarked during the signing ceremony: “I remember very well when we first discussed the broad context of this project. At the time, this seemed like a fascinating idea. But I would like to really commend our teams for working very hard to reach the point where we will be signing today an MOU, committing all parties to actually making what was a great idea a real project that will significantly change – I dare say transform – this beautiful island of Astypalaia.”
Greece can be proud of other similar achievements. In the past six months alone, the government has enacted sweeping sustainable development legislation and introduced a €100 million subsidy program to promote electric vehicles. We are presently working on a new 10-year tourism plan that will emphasize eco-friendly development. Meanwhile, Greece’s new €44 billion national energy program, adopted last year, foresees €9 billion worth of investments in renewable energy over the next decade and the complete phasing out of lignite-fired power plants by 2028.
Greece’s natural beauty, its clean air and seas, its landscape and its biodiversity are among the country’s greatest assets. Sustainable development that will help protect them is essential to Greece’s long-term growth prospects. Innovation and investment in new technologies is also central to that strategy. This green and sustainable island project is a prime example of our efforts to leverage innovative technologies to achieve sustainable and environmentally friendly growth.
It is also one of the many initiatives taken by the government to implement a national strategy based on conservation and clean energy with new regulations and technologies to protect the environment. The Astypalaia Project speaks a thousand words, but means just three: Greece is changing. Our country has become an attractive destination for investment. Challenges are being overcome. Greece is standing up and moving forward.
Kostas Fragkogiannis is Greece’s deputy minister of foreign affairs.