Quiet revolution in Greek alternative energy

world | Feb 07, 2008 | By Thrasy Petropoulos

Applications for wind farms that would generate more than 34,000 megawatts of electricity - almost three times the country's current generating capacity from all forms of energy - are being considered by the Regulatory Authority for Energy (RAE).

At a time when the European Union is looking to strengthen its alternative energy policies and slash greenhouse gas emissions, Greece's energy regulators are apparently pinning their hopes on wind power to help meet ambitious energy targets.

Already integrated into national law are the EU requirements to generate more than 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2010, a figure that is supposed to rise to 29 percent in 2020.

And the target will become even more ambitious if recently announced EU Commission proposals are adopted. Specifically, by 2020 a fifth of all consumed energy (including transport and heating) will - if the bloc agrees - need to be attributed to renewables, including 10 percent of all transport being run by biofuels.

Perhaps the greatest impact on the country would be visual. Based on 3MW generators, those 34,000MW of wind power equate to some 11,000 turbines - and this at a time when proposed wind farms of around 300MW are being challenged on aesthetic and environmental grounds.

Theodoros Panagos, the vice-president of RAE, which evaluates all the country's energy proposals and reports to the development ministry, acknowledges that only a third of those proposed farms (which currently exist as applications for production licences) may result in the granting of operating licences.

And even then, each application is subject to environmental, town-planning and other considerations before the process moves on to the signing of a purchasing contract with the country's transmission operator (DESMIE).

That said, with DESMIE's current generating capacity (principally derived from lignite, other coal and natural gas) at 12,500MW, the input of wind power and other renewable energy sources will, it is hoped, revolutionise the country's energy scene.

Currently, wind power generates only 734MW of energy nationwide (see table). Along with hydroelectric plants and small contributions from photovoltaic (solar) energy and biofuels, renewables account for approximately 12 percent of the nation's electricity output. And of that approximately two-thirds comes from large hydro-plants in the north of the country that can only function when water levels are right.

Guarded optimism

There are 272 applications for solar power plants in the Peloponnese - more than for any other region in Greece - lodged with the Regulatory Authority for Energy

The fate of the many wind power - and to a lesser, but by no means insignificant, extent solar - applications is, therefore, crucial to Greece's chances of meeting its EU obligations.

"The current position is good," Panagos told the Athens News. "Not as good as we would like but good nonetheless. "We may have a slight delay, but I believe we will meet the goals we have already incorporated into national law, in other words we shall have installed around 3,000MW of generating capacity from renewables by 2012. Sufficient licences will be issued. It will then be up to those involved to gain the necessary environmental approvals and ultimately take the works forward and link into the system."

That, of course, makes a notoriously complicated procedure sound simplistic, but renewable energy policies in Greece have moved on considerably from the days - less than six years ago - when a dizzying 36 different permits were required before a wind farm could see the light of day. The current number of permits required is now around nine.

Furthermore, an environment ministry land-use plan concentrating


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