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Decommissioning of lignite and expansion of RES: an important political sign from Greece

Greece was among the first countries to support the new European Union’s reduction target of 55 per cent and the country’s National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) for 2020-2030 is in line with these new goals.

Indeed, Greece was recognised as the country that has made the most impressive progress in accelerating its coal phase-out. As underlined by László Szabó, Director of the Regional Centre for Energy Policy Research (REKK), Greece is setting to leave only 660 megawatts (MW) of lignite capacity after 2023.

Lignite and coal phase-out: a top priority for Greece

“Decommissioning of lignite is our top priority together with a parallel expansion of renewable energy sources up to 60 per cent of our energy mix,” underlined Alexandra Sdoukou, Secretary General for Energy & Mineral Resources during the Athens Energy Dialogues that took virtually place on 17-18 February. “It is something not negotiable and it is going to happen.”

Also, Mrs Sdoukou recognised the challenges that a lignite phase-out would entail, as the effects on the local economy and the need for greater flexibility in the electricity system. In this regard, the government has an investment programme of 3.5 billion euros for the upgrade of the network so that it can cope with any conditions.

“Our plan for both the national transmission and distribution systems is based on four pillars,” she said. “The utilisation of natural gas, increasing of digitalisation for smart electricity networks (together with the development of a national strategy for energy storage), the electricity connection of all our islands by 2040 and finally supporting the upgrading of both the existing and new international electricity interconnectors, including the ones with Bulgaria, Cyprus and Egypt.”

“It is an important political sign for future investments in the region and in line with the EU Green Deal,” commented Nicolas Kuen, International Relations Officer of the Director-General for Energy at the European Commission. “There will be obstacles and a coal phase-out must be planned well in advance coupled with investments in renewables.”

The attractiveness of renewables

“Solar and wind are very attractive now worldwide for producing electricity especially when it comes to photovoltaic as its cost has become 90 per cent lower compared to 5-6 years ago and it is very easy to be installed compared to other technologies,” commented Sotiris Kapellos, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Hellenic Association of PV companies (HELAPCO). “Thus, RES can substitute for lignite production.”

Greece is going to be home to one of the biggest PV projects in Europe, after the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) decided to invest 75 million euros to build the largest-scale RES initiative project in Greece with a total planned installed capacity of 204 MW. 

Regarding wind energy, according to the statistics published by the Hellenic Wind Energy Scientific Association (ELETAEN), Greece connected 110 new wind turbines with a total output capacity of 287.3 MW to its grid in the first half of 2020, which accounts for an 8 per cent increase compared to the end of 2019, bringing the country’s cumulative installed capacity to 3,884 MW.

“Technology must be implemented,” continued Mr Kapellos. “We cannot predict how much energy RES will infuse to the system so we need to solve storage-related issues through batteries and hydrogen.”

The role of hydrogen and alternative fuels

The government has a plan to support electromobility and a hydrogen-based economy especially for those energy-intensive industries where the use of green electricity might be unlikely to fully meet their needs.

“Electromobility cannot cover itself the decarbonisation of the transport sector so we will support low-carbon and other fuels for transport like hydrogen, fuel cells and LNG also in maritime and heavy-duty road transportation,” Alexandra Sdoukou explained.

The hydrogen strategy is currently being prepared and it might be ready by September.

“Overall, in Europe, we need to ramp up hydrogen to 80 gigawatts (GW) by 2040: 40 GW in the EU and 40 outside the EU, in countries like Morocco or Ukraine,” said Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, Secretary General of Hydrogen Europe. “Greece is important because of its coal and lignite phase-out projects.”

Mr Chatzimarkakis reminded that only two countries in the EU have access to both wind and solar energy: Portugal and Greece, another good news for the production of green hydrogen.

Needless to say, everything must happen under the just transition mechanics without leaving anyone behind, especially those social groups which are more sensitive and more vulnerable.

“The coal phase-out is a just transition project,” said Mr Kuen from the European Commission. “We take everybody on board, shifting the jobs from one sector to another. By setting the example, we can reach the goal for the entire region.”

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