In the farewell report for our country, Henri Bonnet, the outgoing head of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Athens (for Greece and Cyprus), refers to the Astypalaia experiment for electrification. Its title is “Holidays on the island of dreams: emission-free soon?” and it is co-signed by the scientific partner of the Vassilis Karydas-Yfantis Foundation, notes APE-MPE.
The following is the report of the Adenauer Foundation in Athens:
“What does an experiment on a remote Greek island have to do with the future of mobility and our holiday plans? Greece is known for its sun, sandy beaches and the blue waters of the Aegean. But not yet for electric mobility, green energy and sustainable tourism. Astypalaia, a small island in the Aegean, wants to change that. It was chosen by the Greek government and the Volkswagen Group for a special “experiment”. Zero-emission holidays in Greece could soon become a reality there, and the island could provide evidence of how small-scale electrification can work years before the decided phase-out of the internal combustion engine across Europe.
The cooperation between Greece and Germany is highly symbolic
In 2021, the starting signal was given for a highly symbolic partnership concluded by the government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis with the Volkswagen Group. Greek-German relations were seriously burdened during the ten years of the Greek economic crisis. Despite the fact that cooperation between Athens and Berlin has improved, Germany’s economic activity in Greece is not perceived at all by public opinion. Although Germany is the largest trading partner, there is clearly more publicity given to investments from the US or other countries. That is why it is now even more important for bilateral relations this promising project to make Astypalaia the first smart and sustainable island with energy autonomy.
“Smart and sustainable island”
This can be achieved in four steps. The first step concerns the replacement of the island’s cars and public transport with electric cars. The island’s only ambulance will be electric. To do this, the Greek government has launched the “e-astypalea” program, which subsidizes the purchase of an electric car at the production price, while at the same time covering the cost of installing charging stations in homes and businesses.
The second step aims to restructure traffic on the island. Using a new mobile phone app, ride hailing and ride-sharing will be introduced exclusively for e-cars. At the same time, the use of private cars will be minimized thanks to this.
A further step will be the transition of energy production and storage almost entirely to green technologies, through the installation of extensive solar and wind energy systems, but also energy storage in batteries. By 2026, it will be possible to cover more than 80% of the island’s needs through renewable energy sources.
Finally, the fourth step concerns the overall improvement of the road network with the aim of preparing for the transition to driverless vehicles.
Public-Private Partnership for Innovative Ideas
On June 2, 2022, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Volkswagen CEO Dr. Herbert Dies, visited Astypalaia, to assess the progress of the project. Mr. Mitsotakis emphasized the importance of public and private sector partnership: “Our governments cannot be successful on their own and the private sector does not have all the answers to the questions (of the green transformation). In the fight against climate change, Greece wants to lead, not follow.”
The CEO of Volkswagen added: “Politics, the economy and society share a responsibility to combat climate change. Our long-term goal is 100% climate-neutral mobility for everyone. And Astypalea will show that this is already possible today. Electrification and smart mobility will improve the quality of life and at the same time contribute to a climate-neutral future.”
Hence the verbally effective performances in front of a paradisiacal setting and the attention that the work now gathers not only at home but also abroad. But will the financial success of the project have a visible impact on the development of the Greek economy? Will Volkswagen sell significantly more cars? The importance of the project in Astypalaia lies primarily in the fact that it opens a window to a greener and cleaner future. It is an important example of the Greek government’s efforts to use innovative technologies, create an innovative legal framework to enhance sustainable and environmentally friendly development and at the same time achieve the implementation of a green initiative for energy supply and energy security. In this way, the island could become the starting point for the development of larger projects that are not limited to one part of the Aegean.
“Top Down” instead of “Bottom Up”
But how do the islanders see the project, which was organized in the classic “top-down” way?
Nikos Komeneas, mayor of the island, points out: “In the midst of the energy crisis, the eyes of the world are on us. History is being written in Astypalaia, because the perspective of sustainability can be a path to the future for any travel destination.” And local surveys of the nearly 1,500 residents show a basic willingness to switch to electric mobility, but as in Germany and elsewhere, the cost of buying a new car and the lack of charging options are the most important objections raised. And local businesses, such as car rental companies, as well as hotel and restaurant owners, are concerned about how they can offset the potential losses caused by the transition to electric vehicles. There are currently no ideas from the municipality for possible relief measures. However, in particular the sharp increase in energy costs worldwide, which disproportionately affects the inhabitants of the remote island without a cable power connection to the mainland, could be the decisive factor in the successful implementation of the project. With an average of over three hundred days of sunshine a year and strong winds in the Aegean, the starting point for the expansion of solar, wind and possibly wave energy is promising almost everywhere in Greece.
Dream holidays without a guilty conscience
Last but not least, the prospect of emissions-free holidays for climate-conscious Europeans could boost Astypalaia’s tourism and therefore also all the islanders, who are almost entirely dependent on tourism. Who wouldn’t want to spend their next holiday in Astypalaia associated with the classic image of sun, beach and sea, white Cycladic cubic houses and deep blue sky undisturbed by noisy mopeds or the blue clouds of old diesel engines replaced by some state-of-the-art well air-conditioned and quiet electronic vehicles? The pilot project proves that it takes not only the creativity of the private sector, but also politics, but also the receptivity of the inhabitants to approach the goal of climate neutrality. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis emphasizes: “We are at the forefront of innovation and technology for smart mobility and the corresponding adaptation of the legal framework.”