The solarization of Greece

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Amidst zero new PV installations in Greece, an ongoing economic and political crisis and an ever shining sun, Greenpeace Greece has launched an inspiring crowd-funding campaign to solarize the country. The overall mood remains far from uplifting though, and the domestic PV sector has tuned its hopes to net metering.

From austerity to abundance

"Greece is home to heroes and goddesses, mythical creatures and jeweled beaches, damn fine olives, and the most sun-kissed skin in Europe," says Greenpeace Greece, the local arm of the international non-governmental organization Greenpeace. Unfortunately though, Greenpeace Greece adds, the impression of Greece in recent years has been synonymous with austerity, with economic problems overshadowing its abundance of sun.

The environmental organization aims to change this by rolling out an imaginative crowd-funding campaign to solarize Greece. Initially, Greenpeace Greece aims to raise $1 million in order to build solar PV roofs in energy poor households on the island of Rhodes.

"With energy poverty being one of the most dramatic symptoms of the Greek crisis (six out of 10 households are struggling to pay their energy bills), investing in the abundant sun, the country’s biggest asset, will be key to a Greek recovery," remarks Greenpeace Greece.

Specifically in Rhodes, Greenpeace says, vast amounts of money are wasted every year importing expensive oil for its power generation while a new oil power plant is likewise under construction. The same more or less happens in all Greek islands, which are powered with expensive diesel machines costing about €800 million in subsidies every year, according to Greenpeace.

This is the main reason Greece last year signed contracts with French, Swedish, Italian and Greek companies to install underground and subsea cabling to connect the Cyclades islands to the mainland grid.

Greenpeace’s crowd-funding campaign lags far behind its target, having gathered only a tiny portion of the money it aims for. There are, however, 22 days left for donations. The link to the “Solarization of Greece” campaign is here. Greenpeace Greece will send donor interesting mementos for their contributions.

Gloomy statistics

According to the latest statistics published by Greece’s electricity market operator LAGIE, Greece installed 7 MW of new photovoltaics from January to June. These were all ground-mounted installations added in January and February. From March to June there was no installation activity at all, while the rooftop PV segment stalled altogether.

According to the LAGIE report, at the end of June, Greece had a cumulative photovoltaic capacity of 2,228 MW of ground-mounted systems and 375 MW of rooftop installations.

In 2014, Greece added a tiny 13 MW of new photovoltaic capacity compared to 1,047 MW and 890 MW of solar PV installed in 2013 and 2012, respectively.

Net metering hopes

Under these circumstances, Greece’s PV businesses are eyeing net metering developments and hoping for good news to emerge. In fact, some initial good news has emerged.

Net metering was only legislated at the end of December and the inaugural net metering application call this year attracted about 1,000 applications, mainly for commercial and business net metering PV systems.

Unfortunately though, "due to Greece imposing capital controls on its economy, the implementation of these projects is now delayed," Stelios Psomas, policy advisor at the Hellenic Association of Photovoltaic Companies (HELAPCO), told pv magazine.

Another piece of good news is that even under the partially liberalized electricity market of Greece and given the current retail electricity market prices, net metering in Greece is financially viable and competitive, says HELAPCO.

Specifically in the business and commercial segment, the payback period for a net metering PV system is about seven to eight years, while for residential systems this might increase up to 11 years, said Psomas. Given that retail electricity prices might increase further, it is most possible that Greece’s net metering scheme will become even more economically attractive.

What Greece needs urgently is political stability and a government that is determined to reform the economy and boost the private sector. The first half of this year, following the January elections (and net metering’s legislation in December), was disastrous for Greece’s economy, with the worst point being restricting the flow of capital and imposing strict capital control rules starting in June. In August, the Greek government called for snap elections to be held on September 20.

“Given the country’s current economy and with capital controls still in place, it is very difficult to predict accurately the size of Greece’s net metering installations in the coming years,” said Psomas. “In 2016, net metering will add only a few megawatts. However, we estimate net metering installations to increase once the economy improves."

Until then, Greece’s sun will continue burning as strong as ever.