Greek non-interconnected islands are small isolated systems bearing the great potential to become autonomous in terms of energy, using renewable and intelligent systems. Is there a potential for small islands to drive Europe’s transition into a sustainable, low-carbon and inclusive economy? What role can Greek islands play in this process?
Greece has an extremely large number of islands, with estimates ranging from somewhere around 1.200 to 6.000, depending on the minimum size taken into account. The number of inhabited islands varies from 166 to 227, depending on the source. There are 30 larger Greek islands with a surface area of over 37 square miles (96 square kilometers).
The Greek islands are traditionally grouped into the following clusters: The Argo-Saronic Islands, the Cyclades in the central part of the Aegean Sea, the North Aegean islands, the Dodecanese in the southeast between Crete and Turkey, the Sporades off the coast of Euboea and the Ionian Islands, located in the west of the mainland in the Ionian Sea. Besides, there are many islands, islets and rocks surrounding the coast of Crete.
Non-interconnected Islands (NII)
The Hellenic Electricity Transmission System, often referred to as the “Interconnected System”, spreads over the mainland of Greece. The Ionian islands, along with certain Aegean islands in close proximity to the mainland, are also included in the Interconnected System through submarine cables.
In the Interconnected System, about a third of the generation capacity is located in northwestern Greece, in close proximity to the lignite mining areas, which are a primary fuel source in Greece. In the past two years, two new, state-of-the-art gas-fired power plants were constructed, namely Aliveri V and Megalopolis V, in the southern part of the Interconnected System, as well as the new hydroelectric power plant of Ilarion in the Aliakmonas river.
All remaining islands, which are referred to as the “non-interconnected islands”(NII), are served by autonomous oil-fired power plants. Demand is also covered by renewable energy sources (RES). The largest power plants in the non-interconnected islands are located in Crete and Rhodes. Their total thermal capacity exceeds 1.000 MW.
The non-interconnected islands are “small isolated systems”, as it is defined in the Directive 2009/72/EC of the European Union. “Small isolated system” refers to “any system with consumption of less than 3.000 GWh in the year 1996, where less than 5 % of annual consumption is obtained through interconnection with other systems” (Article 2 – Definitions, of the Directive 2009/72/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 July 2009, concerning common rules for the internal market in electricity and repealing Directive 2003/54/EC, which was incorporated in the Greek legislation with the Law 4001/11 FEK 179/22-8-2011).
As it is widely known, the economic, political and social crisis that hit Greece put an end to projects deploying sustainable energy systems, such as energy production from RES, innovative hybrid energy systems, or even projects incentivising the uptake of energy efficiency measures through demand side management and upgrading of electric grids.
This reality becomes particularly evident on the islands and even more on non-interconnected islands. Despite the huge interest for investment, such projects are rarely implemented, due to conflicts between different stakeholders representing institutional, financial, political or social interests.
We can look at the arising issues through the following lenses: First of all, the acceptance of these projects by the local communities: local authorities should be involved in the projects. It should be noted that, for various reasons, there is little acceptance in some islands for the installation of RES projects (because of misleading information for instance). Second, the projects should be accompanied by hybrid technology, so that a load base power plant can keep the balance. Third, adequate financing should be ensured through international funding sources. Fourth, these islands should be characterised as “green energy preferred touristic destinations”, in order to ensure further gains for the local economy, in addition to the environmental benefits.
Exploring new possibilities and requirements
The government and private actors have already developed proposals for the entire connection of the NIIs to the continental electricity grid. However, some issues remain under examination, such as the economic impact regarding the long term economic crisis and the time needed for the implementation of the project.
This issue is particularly important for the Greek NIIs in the Aegean Sea (which are the borders of the EU) because the production of electricity on these many islands is based on oil, with all the economic and geopolitical consequences that it entails (oil price volatility, security of supply etc.). Moreover, the environmental impact has to be considered, since the NIIs are usually popular destinations for tourists.
The Greek government does not offer specific financing incentives to these initiatives. However, the responsible authorities (i.e. the Regulatory Authority for Energy, the environmental authorities, etc.) are willing to speed up the administrative licensing procedures. In addition, the local consent for sustainable energy projects could attract private investors. A new law will be voted by the Parliament within the next few months, according to which energy projects can be concluded with a collaboration between municipalities and private investors (energy bodies). This will promote the development of such projects.
In light of the above, there is a need to investigate the new possibilities and requirements (political, economic, regulatory, technological) for the mobilisation of investments in RES, interconnections, energy supply, local energy systems or pilot projects on NIIs, and especially on small isolated islands.
The following case studies show that energy independence is possible to achieve under certain conditions. These are important good practice examples, which should be followed in the future.
The case studies of the Greek islands Kythnos and Tilos
Kythnos, Greece – An “intelligent” island
The municipality of Kythnos, in the context of a broader strategic plan to become an “intelligent island”, participated in the project WiseGRID (“Wide scale demonstration of Integrated Solutions and business models for European smartGRID”), which received funding from the European programme Horizon 2020. The initiative was supported by the Aegean Energy Agency and the Network of Sustainable Greek Islands “Dafni”.
The Smart Islands Initiative is currently supported by 70 island authorities from 13 countries across Europe. In March 2017, representatives from the islands’ local and regional authorities joined the official signing ceremony of the Smart Islands Declaration in the European Parliament and confirmed their islands’ commitment to transform into smart, inclusive and thriving societies, driving Europe’s transition into an innovative and sustainable era.
Tilos, Greece – A pioneer of the Mediterranean in terms of wind and solar power
The small island Tilos in the Dodecanese is a trailblazing nature reserve, with more than 150 species of resident and migratory birds, over 650 plant species and a permanent population of around 500 people.
Tilos is going to be the first island in the Mediterranean powered by wind and solar energy. The power supply currently relies on oil-based electricity from neighbouring Kos, via a submarine cable that is vulnerable to faults. Power cuts are frequent. Through a single wind turbine and photovoltaic parks, Tilos is developping a micro-grid capable of generating and storing energy. In ideal case, Tilos could export excess power to Kos. The project is conceived as a role model for other small islands across Europe (click here for more information).
Recently, Tilos was awarded a double distinction for Tilos Horizon 2020, winning the Energy Island’s Award and the Public Vote Award at the EU Sustainable Energy Week 2017 (EUSEW 17). Besides, the European PRISMI project – Promoting RES Integration for Smart Mediterranean Islands –, funded by the European Union within the Interreg Med 2014-2020 Programme, aims at supporting the transition of Mediterranean islands to energy independence. It gives local authorities the opportunity to assess the potential of the available renewable energy sources and helps them to plan their transition from an energy-dependent economy to increasingly self-sufficient models.
There is a need to explore new possibilities and requirements (political, economic, regulatory, technological) for the mobilisation of investments in RES, interconnections, energy supply, local energy systems or pilot projects on NIIs and especially on small (isolated) islands.
We need to debate the islands’ potential to drive Europe’s transition to a low-carbon, sustainable and inclusive economy, as well as the role Greek islands can play in this process.
Public Power Cooperation S.A., “Overview of Company’s activities”, available on: https://www.dei.gr/en/i-dei/enimerwsi-ependutwn/etairiki-eikona/tautotita-etaireias.
Panagos, Theodore, “RES: Towards a new European policy”, in: “Delivering Energy Law and Policy in the EU and the USA”, edited by R.J. Heffron and G. Little, Edinburgh University Press, 2016, pp.125.
Panagos, Theodore, “European Energy Strategy; Towards a revision of the initial objectives?”, 7 December 2015, available on: http://foreignaffairs.gr/articles/70611/theodoros-panagos/eyropaiki-energeiaki-stratigiki?page=3.
Panagos, Theodore, “European Energy Union”, 23 October 2014, available on: http://foreignaffairs.gr/articles/70028/theodoros-panagos/eyropaiki-energeiaki-enosi.
Panagos, Theodore, “RES: Assessment, Perspectives and Priorities. Towards a new model of penetration?”, Academy of Athens, Energy Commission, vol. 4: “RES: Presuppositions for a massive penetration in electricity”, Athens 2014.
European Commission Fact Sheet, “Renewables: Europe on track to reach its 20% target by 2020”, Brussels, 1 February 2017.