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Renewables for Greek Islands - Perspectives on decarbonisation by Eleni Zafeiratou

The Greek part of the Aegean Sea is home to almost 80 inhabited islands, from which only 32[1] are interconnected. Although there is a big interest for renewable energy investments in the area, still 80% [2] of the electricity demand is currently produced from oil. This translates into more than 450 ktoe of oil fuel consumption, costing 480€ Mil to the Greek tax-payers per year. The non-interconnected islands operate under the ‘Operational Management Code for the Greek Non interconnected islands’ which was put in place in 2014, without being successfully integrated into the Greek energy market.

Along the lines of the energy decarbonisation objectives, set at European level, two directives: 2010/75/EU and 2015/2193/EU have imposed power generation limitations to highly pollutant energy fuels such as oil, across Europe, including islands. These policies are expected to have a strong impact on the future of the Greek islands as of 2020. Recently, the European Commission launched the ‘Clean Energy for EU Islands’ initiative and succeeded to increase political awareness in Europe and Greece with regards to the protection of islands vulnerable systems. As such, new sustainable solutions including smart grids, coupled with energy storage and renewable energy systems as well as High Voltage transmission infrastructure are aimed to be deployed on 26 islands (including three Greek islands).

The first phase of the flagship Cycladic islands interconnection was completed in 2018 (401€ Mil). This was co-funded by the European Union and national funds. Prospects for renewable energy deployment in the area arose and the private sector started showing interest to invest. Estimations showed that 150 MW of wind and solar projects should be deployed in the region by 2020. For the time being, renewable energy capacity does not exceed 35 MW. However, prospects and plans look flourishing, if certain barriers related to social acceptance and complex licencing procedures are resolved. This interconnection project is estimated to be expanded into the western part of the Cycladic islands by 2023-2024 enabling the whole region to become oil fuel independent.

A key, upcoming project is the submarine interconnection of Crete island. The immersion of the first cable connecting the western part of Crete with the Peloponnese will be realised by 2021, with a cost of approximately 328€ Mil, avoiding the risk of multiple power outages on the island. Preceding long negotiations which lasted for more than 8 months, it has been decided by the Greek government to realise the second phase of the project by 2024. The project will consist of two 500 MW DC cables, budget at roughly 1.1€ Bil, expected to bring multimillion investments of renewable energy on Crete island. The rest of the Greek islands, mainly in the Dodecanese and North Aegean regions are estimated to be interconnected with the mainland by the late 2020s according to recent announcements from the Regulation Authority of Energy (RAE) in order to ensure smooth power supply in the future.

In light of those reforms, the Greek government should not miss the momentum and work on the development of an effective ‘Renewable Energy Acceleration Action Plan’ dedicated to the Greek Islanding Region; with renewable energy potential which exceeds 3 GW and remains unexploited. This strategy will accelerate private renewable energy investments, which could potentially co-fund energy storage systems, local transmission upgrades as well as submarine grid extensions possibly extended to neighbouring countries. Last but not least, an improved maritime spatial planning to allow onshore and offshore development across the Aegean Sea will facilitate the development of sustainable business models, where both the state and the local population will benefit from.

[1] Until recently 22 interconnected islands

[2] With reference to the non-interconnected part, 460 MW of renewable energy is installed

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