Astypalea shows the way to introduce alternative energy options
The small Aegean island of Astypalea has embarked on a course to switch from diesel to electric in road traffic, wind and solar power. It is a joint project between the Greek government and the German Volkswagen Group.
Astypalea (Αστυπάλαια), with about 100 square kilometers and about 350 km from Athens, is one of the 15 larger plus 150 smaller Greek islands of the Dodecanese group in the southeastern Aegean. A 2011 census puts the population at 1,334 and the previous influx of tourists at around 70,000 per year. The plan is to replace around 1,500 vehicles with combustion engines with 1,000 electric cars.
Four diesel generators now provide the energy supply. These will be deactivated within two years and replaced by wind and solar power generation.
The Deputy Greek Foreign Minister Konstantinos Fragogiannis said in an interview: “Through our cooperation we want to show how an international business enterprise, a local community and a European state can work together for the benefit of the people.”
The overriding goal is to make Astypalea a model for climate-friendly mobility. Why was this island chosen?
“A relatively humble island offers two important advantages. On the one hand, we can completely convert the energy system and mobility options. Second, we can see how the project changes the community. We have excluded large islands such as Crete or Rhodes for cost reasons. Even very small islands with a few hundred people are out of the question, as the results would not be representative. Astypalea with 1,300 inhabitants has the appropriate scale. The road network is sufficient to test e-vehicles and mobility services. Another important argument was the support among the residents. “
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Fragogiannis explained Astypalea’s role in Greece’s ambitious climate targets: “Greece will get out of coal by 2028. Most of the power plants will be shut down as early as 2023. Instead, the government is promoting wind turbines, solar systems and other “climate-friendly” technologies. The cooperation with the Volkswagen Group is a beacon here. Astypalea can become an ecological model for many islands – worldwide. “
By 2023, a new solar park will deliver around 3 megawatts of green energy, thus covering 100 percent of the energy required to charge the electric vehicles and more than 50 percent of the island’s total energy requirements.
The new energy system is to be expanded to over 80 percent of the total energy requirement by 2026. In addition, a battery storage system should help to balance the grid and fully utilize the solar park. This will significantly reduce CO2 emissions from the island’s energy system, while reducing energy costs by at least 25 percent.
Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitstotakis took part in the official opening of the transformation, at which the CEO of the German auto giant VW, Herbert Diess, handed over eight electrically powered VW ID.4 cars for use by the island police. The island’s port police, the airport authority and the administration should also go into full swing.
The police also received two SEAT MÓ e-scooters. SEAT is a VW subsidiary.
These are the first electric vehicles on Astypalea, with many more to follow. Sales to private and business customers are scheduled to begin at the end of this month.
A fully electric car sharing system and ridesharing service are planned next. These will radically modernize public transport and replace the old bus service that did not cover the whole island.
Experts from the University of Strathclyde, Scotland, and the Lesbos-based University of the Aegean will conduct regular surveys to get feedback from islanders on the changes. The study will help to better understand the transformation process.
The politicians hope that one day the project will stimulate a tourism boom on the island, as it is widely known that it is emission-free.
Ideally, its new green image could spread to the rest of the country. The Greek government has not escaped the fact that public opinion is clearly turning away from mass tourism and showing a greater awareness of the associated ecological risks.
Some Astypeans are skeptical. There is concern that wind turbines could deface the island, despite government officials promising to build only two on the island.
“If wind turbines are really installed, it will ruin the island’s beauty,” one islander told a German magazine, “… unless they are installed in a remote location.”
One shopkeeper said he supports climate protection but fears the island will lose its unique character.
Others expressed doubts that the Prime Minister from Athens and the powerful auto boss from Germany would actually keep their promises.
“We heard a lot of big talk in Greece,” said the operators of an island ice cream parlor who have lived on the island for 11 years. “Maybe it’s different this time. But so far we haven’t seen much more than charging stations and a few cars. “
The Greek government has recognized that it needs to launch a charm offensive. Convincing the islanders of the promised green turnaround is “the next big challenge,” said Mitsotakis in the presence of reporters. He wanted to prove to them “that they need these changes”.
A group of German tourists who were also following the proceedings were a little baffled. “Why does VW choose a Greek island and not a German one?” Asked one of them.
Another saw his holiday idyll endangered. He liked the idea of zero emissions, “but I’m afraid that this will attract mass tourism.”