Greek Instability – Is Sustainable Development the Way Out


Statue of Greek farmer in Edessa, Greece.   Creative Commons photo by Stefg74.



The Greeks look like their in some dire straights. Sustainable development might be the way out for them. I wrote previously on how the country promotes local, homegrown sustainable practices to sure up its economy and move on past this political strife and economic hegemony. It looks as if Greece is poised to make great strides in one of their sustainable initiatives, The Helios Project, though experiencing some potential setbacks at the same time.


Eastern and sourthern Europe exposed me to the some of the current political and economic struggles of the region.  Partly due to nostalgia I follow news of this region more than the rest of the world. Given the chance to spend a week in Greece I would take the opportunity to observe the occurrences myself. You know while I wasn't relaxing on the beautiful beaches of Crete, Lesbos or Rhodes and exploring the ancient ruins there.


There is tremendous potential for change and rebirth in Greece. Due in parts to the unprecedented activism of the citizens and forward thinking guidance of the EU.  This is not to say there exists no such striff in the region, as there most certainly is.



Great Advances


The Helios Project is set to be the worlds largest photo-voltaic (PV) power station when completed in 2020, although looking like it could be as soon as 2015. Some say 2050. Go figure. The country just set a record of 97 MW of PV installed in the month of June.



Solar dreams.  Creative Commons photo by OregonDOT.



To put this in perspective the largest PV installation in the world, currently Agua Caliente Solar Project in California is around 200MW. When completed Helios is forecast to produce 10 000 MW or 10 GW. This is also about 4 times larger than the second largest of PV installations under construction. Westlands Solar Park is slated to produce 2700MW, which is thankfully here in the United States, although not scheduled for completion till 2025???


Still, these are major advances for sustainable energy initiatives. Greece is certainly positioned among the leading pack. This appears logical for a country which has some 300 years of sunshine a year. Funny enough this is the exact amount of days a year the sun does not shine in Seattle!





How is it that one of the alleged poorest nations, in such political turmoil and monumental debt can be a world leader in production of sustainable energy? Well, in part it is due to the EU and its financial arm the European Investment Bank (EIB). Despite the restructuring of the Greek debt and a continual sluggish economy the EIB has managed to sure up investment and push the project forward.


Why would they do this you ask? Partially because of EIB policy objectives, which are thus:


  • small and medium-sized enterprises: stimulating investment by small businesses.

  • cohesion and convergence: addressing economic and social imbalances in disadvantaged regions.

  • the fight against climate change: mitigating and adapting to the effects of global warming.

  • environmental protection and sustainable communities: investing in a cleaner natural and urban environment.

  • sustainable, competitive and secure energy: producing alternative energy and reducing dependence on imports.

  • the knowledge economy: promoting an economy that stimulates knowledge and creativity through investment in information and communication technologies, and human and social capital.

  • trans-European networks: constructing cross-border networks in transport, energy and communications.



Sounds pretty sweet right? See the EIB is comprised of the member nations which choose to back it. Thus creating a harmonies marriage between state, capital and business. Well according to some and not according to others.



Project Challenges and Queer Occurrences


The main funding mechanism which drives many sustainable development projects world wide is the feed in tariff, practiced here in the US as well. This model is a way to guarantee investors, businesses and the whole lot of seemingly insecure monied interests to fund the project. It guarantees (to some extent) a modest and low risk, long term return on investment.


This funding for these feed in tariffs comes from the government, public money (usually debt right) and as such the govt. must pay back those debts. Revenue for the govt. to pay back those debts, jobs (income taxes) and corporate taxes are among the most lucrative. Although, some question how many of these 60,000 jobs will be created in Greece itself. Is it enough? Some argue yes, some argue no. Though honestly, who likes paying taxes when you have offshore tax havens?


Greece currently has one of the highest effective feed in tariffs in Europe at .55 €/kWh Promising for long term investors, but burdensome for the state. As pointed out by this IENE study, possibly damaging to the EU electricity market and long-term competitive advantage of PV energy production in Greece.


Funding for the project is also under question. The Greek state proposes a 33% share in project funding. It will use the leasing of public lands for its share. Also pointed out in the IENE study is an overvaluation of the value of these assets by the Greek state.


What better use of the land than a sustainable power grid? Are fair prices established for Greek public land leases? Maybe.


One area of contention that I have is the allotment of the energy produced form the grid which is 'portioned' for the Greek people. The major proposed buyer of the energy produced by the Helios project is Germany. Many of the assessments and financial feasibility studies of the project have been done under the assumption of a generous German market. There have been some, in truth many skeptics, to this claim.


These skeptics point to considerable lower German feed in tariffs, lowering Greek PV market competitiveness both in Germany and the wider EU. Also cited are the substantial capital investments needed to upgrade existing infrastructure. These are needed to carry the energy produced by Helios to the German and Central European markets. The inherent technical uncertainty of implementing such a complex infrastructure is also cited.


Perhaps the Greeks should be the first and foremost customers of the energy they produce? Just some thoughts. I look to this local Transition community funded sustainable energy initiative in the UK as a smaller yet viable model in the works.


If you made it this far, you probably have an interest in this kind of stuff. Why don't you check out my thoughts on visiting the initial Transition Town Kinsale, where it all started, while I visited the UK. I also encourage you to check out the Transition website. If you are in the US chances are there is a local initiative near you, particularity if you live in Seattle or Denver.



Special Note:

Did you know that the United States ranks number one in the world on renewable energy country attractiveness indices for solar, according to an EIB Ministry of Energy Report?

* This post brought to you by holidayhypermarket.

About Author

Post by Kurt Trumble
The Low Down:

Kurt grew up on Long Island in New York. He spends his time learning emerging open source technologies and social media. He runs Travel With Drupal, focused on Drupal webdesign and blogging. ( Beatnik literature and The Beatles top his list of interests when not backpacking around.