‘Smart islands’ in Greece


Amazon Web Services has launched a pilot “smart island” project on the Greek island of Naxos. It aims to offer digital services on the island in cooperation with 20 domestic and foreign companies and the support of the Greek government.

In a press release, Amazon Web Services said that “existing infrastructure such as the local marina, the energy grid, and water management systems will be upgraded through internet of things (IoT) solutions and smart infrastructure management systems.” Naxos has about 22,000 permanent residents, but it hosts more than 130,000 tourists during the summer.

However, “sustainable energy” is missing from the current list of actions on the island. At present, the project mainly aims to change the transport of goods. The only exception to this is a number of electric-vehicle chargers installed on the island in collaboration with Greece's Eunice Energy Group.

Pilot project

Volkswagen, meanwhile, has launched a smart mobility pilot project on the Greek island of Astypalaia. The German automotive giant is using the island as a testbed for its mobility business model. It has replaced public vehicles with EVs, and in cooperation with the Greek government, is helping inhabitants to replace their private cars with electric models. It is also running a car-sharing service based on a fully electric fleet powered by renewables. 

Volkswagen and the Greek government first agreed to cooperate in November 2020. They launched the pilot the following year, with plans to run it for at least six years. In June, Volkswagen said it had started operating a ride-sharing service and a vehicle-sharing service using electric vehicles. It also started running a second solar system to power EVs.

In 2026, Astypalaia will switch to smart, sustainable mobility and a modern energy system. At the moment, the island – which home to about 1,500 permanent residents – gets most of its electricity from diesel generators.

Separately, the Greek government launched the Halki project in 2021. It features a 1 MW solar array, electric vehicles, and a 5G telecoms network on the island of Halki, which has about 500 permanent residents. The 1 MW solar array is the first operational green energy community project in the Greek islands. It operates under the country’s virtual net metering scheme.

What was striking about this project is that all hardware – the solar panels, the EV fleet, the chargers, 5G network, for example – was donated to the local community by Greek and foreign companies. The energy community, which is the owner of the project, is therefore receiving free electricity and various smart services.

Innovative initiative

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However, the small island of Tilos is running Greece’s most innovative electricity project to date. The Tilos energy storage project features a smart microgrid, a 160 kW solar array, an 800 kW wind turbine, and two 1.44 MWh/400 kW battery systems. The island is connected via a subsea cable to the nearby island of Kos. Together with other neighboring islands – Kalymnos, Nisyros and Leros – they form a standalone electricity network, independent of the mainland Greek grid.

The Tilos microgrid and smart platform, which is owned by Eunice Energy Group, calculates the output of its generation units, as well as the stored energy and individual end-consumer loads at all times. It deploys demand-side management techniques at the local, end-user, and aggregator levels, facilitating higher renewables penetration, better operations, and grid-supporting services.

Therefore, using a number of smart devices, software and strategies, Tilos – which is home to about 800 people – is able to eliminate power blackouts, while also supporting the local independent grid. The Greek government released a comprehensive energy storage policy framework for the first time in the summer, but Tilos has proven successful since 2018.

These are all important projects. The Aegean Sea has hundreds of islands and the national energy policy aims to connect the bigger ones to the mainland electricity network, while developing smart energy solutions for smaller, more remote islands that have independent grids. 

Diesel dependence

Greece’s small islands are predominantly powered by diesel generators. Their electrification costs are at least 20 times higher than in mainland Greece. The financial and environmental burden of powering the islands with diesel is shared by all Greek consumers. 

A year ago, the Greek government launched the “Gr-Eco Islands Initiative,” which aims to green the Aegean Sea archipelago. The initiative included a broad map of intended sustainable actions and a €100 million ($99 million) investment pot. The government promised to follow up with a list of small, remote islands that would follow the example of Halki’s energy community. 

Greece needs a series of competitive tenders for small island smart energy systems, in order to build on the example of Tilos. There are plenty of Greek and international companies that could bid in such tenders, offering sustainable and smart solutions. The government could tender clusters of islands or perhaps provide some sort of financial backing.

Most often, it is the synergy of the private and the public sectors that leads to optimal results, while tendering the projects is the most transparent solution. The pilot projects offer politicians the attention they seek, but they are far from the paradigm shift that the country and the islands actually need.

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