renewable energy alternatives, including wind power, biomass, and solar power. An analysis of the potential for solar energy applications in Greece is followed by an assessment of the impact of the current economic crisis taking place in Greece on solar energy initiatives today and in the future. A summary of the literature review concludes this chapter.
Overview of Renewable Energy Alternatives
A general definition of alternative energy provided by Kramarae and Spender (2000) states that this term includes systems such as hydroelectric power plants, wind generators, solar power, and biomass (in the form of wood fuel, crop, municipal and industrial waste, as well as animal manure). In many ways, these alternative energy sources are certainly not new, but have rather been used by humankind for thousands of years. In this regard, Kramarae and Spender note that, “From time immemorial the power of the sun, forests, wind, tides, and water has been harnessed. Only since the industrial revolution have the energy-hungry nations of the world used large quantities of coal and oil in their raw states to generate the quintessential modern fuel: electricity. Coal and oil are now considered the mainstream sources of energy and are used to power the economies of the industrialized world” (2000, p. 41).
Fossil fuels such as coal and oil, though, are finite in supply while alternative energy sources are renewable and can be sustained over time. Indeed, many experts predict that peak oil (the point at which oil supplies will begin to be permanently depleted) may be as soon as the mid-21st century (Rosentreter 2000) or between 2070-2120 in a best case scenario (Nath, Hens, Compton & Devuyst 1999). In this regard, Gressor and Cusomano emphasize that, “Despite years of generous government subsidies and continuing worldwide investments by the global oil industry to accelerate technological innovation, the rate of discovery of new oil sources began declining decades ago and has never recovered” (2005, p. 20). As a result, the rush to identify replacements for an increasingly energy-hungry world has driven research into alternative energy resources.
During periods of relatively cheap oil and gas, though, the corresponding interest and investment levels in alternative energy resources are diminished. For example, Farrell cautions that, “The problem is that our default mode appears to dictate a halt in the development of alternative technologies as soon as the price of a barrel of oil falls within tolerable parameters. This inevitable knee-jerk response to an easing of an oil crisis has got to go” (2008, p. 6). Despite the waxing and waning of interest levels in alternative energies resources over the years, some progress has been made (Nath et al. 1999). Solar, biomass and wind power are all making a positive contribution to global energy needs (Nath et al. 1999) and these alternative energy resources are discussed further below.
Solar power is probably the oldest renewable energy resource available to humankind today. The sun’s energy has been harnessed for millennia to light fires and passively heat dwellings, but some significant progress in the use of solar power has been achieved over the course of the last 200 years or so. According to Katsioloudis, Bondi and Deal, “Although Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure is credited with making the first solar collector in 1767, the first person to patent solar thermal electric technology to produce power from the sun’s thermal energy was Robert Sterling in 1816 in Edinburgh, Scotland” (2009, p. 12). Moreover, in 1839, a French experimental physicist, Edmund Becqurel, determined that solar power could be used to generate electricity, an accomplishment that predated the introduction of internal combustion engines by nearly half a century (Rosentreter 2000). During the 19th century, solar power was used to generate hot water throughout the United States (Rosentreter 2000).
Despite this extensive use of solar power, it was not until 1954 that scientists at Bell Laboratories developed the first photovoltaic cells (Rosentreter 2000). Photovoltaic cells allow the conversion of sunlight into electricity (Katsioloudis et al. 2009). According to Rosentreter, “Considering that photovoltaic cells have been the exclusive power source for satellites since the 1960s, and how rapidly television evolved during an era known as the Atomic Age, it is a wonder that solar technology hasn’t advanced further” (2000, p. 8). Researchers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as well as their Russian counterparts have traditionally viewed solar power as a stopgap measure only while they searched for more powerful sources of renewable energy for their satellites and other space mission needs (Katsioloudis et al. 2009). Recent innovations in nanotechnologies and organic materials that can be used in solar cell arrays, though, may provide superior performance of these systems in the near future (Cunningham 2007).
Although commercial solar-powered plants are still costly to implement initially, their costs are lower during the later operating life span of the plants (McKee 1999). According to McKee, “Therefore, solar power is more attractive to municipal utilities. The relative attractiveness of solar power is substantially influenced by fuel escalation [and] solar power is now economically competitive for municipal utilities. Solar power is a backstop technology and, as such, oil and gas price increases will be moderated by the existence of this new, relatively cheap energy source” (1999, pp. 122-123). Clearly, there is an inextricable relationship between the costs of fossil fuels and the amount of interest that is directed at alternative energy resources such as solar power. This point is made by Dorn who notes that, “During the 1990s, cheap fossil fuels, combined with a loss of state and Federal incentives, put a damper on solar thermal power development. However, recent increases in energy prices, escalating concerns about global climate change, and fresh economic incentives are renewing interest in this technology” (2009, p. 33). While a relatively reliable energy source (the sun does not always shine of course and some regions of the earth receive far less sunlight than others), biomass systems represent a reliable resource and this technology is discussed further below.
Biomass is an umbrella term that is used to describe any type of organic substance that can be used to generate energy, including industrial, commercial and agricultural wood and plant residues, municipal organic waste, animal manure, and crops that are grow specifically for energy-generation purposes (Cleveland & Morris 2006). According to Cleveland and Morris, like solar energy, biomass energy has been around for some time as well. “Biomass energy,” they advise, “was utilized in 1860 to meet over 70% of the world’s total energy needs, mainly through the conventional combustion of wood fuel for heating and cooking. By 2000, the percentage contribution of biomass energy to the world’s energy demands had decreased to about 10%” (Cleveland & Morris 2006, p. 42). Innovations in technology using advanced combustion, gasification, and liquefaction processes, though, have made biomass systems more efficient in recent years (Cleveland & Morris 2006). In reality, though, because the organic sources of biomass production ultimately rely on sunlight as well, it is reasonable to relate this alternative energy approach to solar power in a larger sense. Moreover, the wind is also driven by the sun and this alternative energy resource is discussed further below.
According to Elliott, wind power is a significant alternative energy resource already. This author adds that, “The winds are an indirect form of solar power and they have been used for centuries as a source of energy. More recently wind power has become one of the more successful renewable energy technologies” (Elliott 1999, p. 88). Likewise, Hollander reports that, “As a renewable resource, wind power has much to commend it. The large wind farms can supply significant amounts of electricity to the main grid systems when the wind blows, while smaller turbines can be used by farms, homes, and businesses in windy locations, such as along coasts, and also can be used in remote areas to which bringing power lines would be prohibitively expensive” (2003, p. 149).
Wind turbines are increasingly being grouped together in so-called “wind farms” so that connections with the power grid, control systems and road access can be shared that have been installed throughout the United States and Europe, providing a substantial contribution to the energy needs of these regions (Elliott 1999). According to Elliott, “Typically a separation of between 5 and 15 blade diameters is needed between individual wind turbines, to prevent turbulent interactions in wind farm arrays. This means that wind farms can take up quite a lot of space, even though the machines themselves only take up a small fraction of it, and this has led to some objections. It is argued that there would be insufficient room in countries like the UK to generate significant amounts of power” (1999, p. 89). Although wind farms have a number of attributes, including the fact that they do not require any fuel or water to operate and they do not generate any pollutants, greenhouse gases, or toxic wastes, the downside includes the aforementioned space requirements, they are noisy, many observers suggest they are an eyesore and represent a threat to migrating birds (Hollander 2003).
Notwithstanding these disadvantages, some regions of the European Union, though, are particularly well suited to the installation of wind farms. For example, a 5-megawatt wind farm featuring 10 wind turbines with 500 kW capacity each, has already been constructed in Crete (Greece: Renewable Energy Fact Sheet, 2007, p. 3). Although this wind farm facility is generating electricity, it is also serving as an experimental operation that uses two kinds of wind turbines that were provided by different manufacturers to assess their efficiency and to identify other locations in Europe that might be suitable for such operations (Greece: Renewable Energy Fact Sheet 2007). Although it is reasonable to suggest that Greece could benefit from any and all of the foregoing alternative energy resources, the potential for solar energy application in the country appears to represent one of the more viable approaches for the future, and these issues are discussed further below.
Potential for Solar Energy Applications in Greece
Solar energy would appear to be a natural for Greece; after all, the Greek people have used solar power for millennia. For example, Rosentreter reports that, “The application of solar power is not a new idea. The ancient Greeks developed mirrors that would direct the sun’s rays and cause a target to burst into flames within seconds” (2000, p. 8). Current policies concerning renewable energy resources in Greece are based in part on the need to conform to the larger European energy policy concerning the mandate to develop sustainable, competitive and secure energy supplies. In this regard, in January 2007, the European Commission adopted an energy policy for Europe that was supported by several documents on different aspects of energy and included an action plan to meet the major energy challenges faced by the European Union (Greece: Renewable Energy Fact Sheet, 2007).
While hydropower has been a significant source of alternative energy for Greece for some time, there have been increasing applications of wind power, geothermal and active solar thermal systems in recent years as well. Legislation passed by the Greek government has also helped to promote interest and research into alternative energy resources by eliminating many of the administrative burdens on the renewable energy sector (Greece: Renewable Energy Fact Sheet, 2007). A number of ambitious national goals for the use of various alternative energy resources have been established in Greece pursuant to the European Union Directive, but present trends indicate that these goals may not be achieved without significantly more support from the government and interest on the part of the private sector (Greece: Renewable Energy Fact Sheet, 2007).
Some of the recent initiatives undertaken by the Greek government to stimulate interest in alternative energy resources include a 20% reduction of taxable income on expenses for domestic appliances or systems that use renewable energy sources as well as revised bidding procedures to promote the use of geothermal energy. In addition, Greece has introduced the following mechanisms to help stimulate the growth of renewable energy resources throughout the country:
1. Feed-in tariffs were introduced in 1994 and amended by the recently approved Feed-in Law. Tariffs are now technology specific, instead of uniform, and a guarantee of 12 years is given, with a possibility of extension to up to 20 years.
2. Liberalisation of RES-E development is the subject of Law 2773/1999.
3. Fossil fuel taxes are not applied to biofuels.
4. Tax incentives were in place to promote RES-H, but these have been suspended for budgetary reasons.
According to Richardson (2008), the feed-in tariffs described above are a financial incentive that has been used by the governments of Spain, the United States, Greece and Portugal to attract new investment in solar-powered technologies. As described by Richardson, “Typically the feed-in tariff operates so that customers of large utility firms receive a fixed price for the surplus energy diat their renewable resource generates over a fixed period, and for every unit of energy it produces, the local government provides an additional revenue stream as an incentive” (2008, p. 31).
Currently, electricity generated by renewable energy resources such as hydropower and onshore wind power remain the most important, with 4,369 GWh and 1,041 GWh in 2004, respectively, having grown at an average annual rate of 61% and 27% between 1997 and 2004, respectively (Greece: Renewable Energy Fact Sheet, 2007). A breakdown of electricity generation in Greece using alternative energy resources during the period 1997 to 2004 is provided in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1. Electricity generation in Greece from renewable energy sources by type (GWh): 1991-2004
Source: Greece: Renewable Energy Fact Sheet, 2007
At present, biomass provides the majority of heating from renewable energy resources in Greece (920 ktoe out of 1051 ktoe in 2004); however, there have also been increases in the solar thermal sector, and the highest average annual growth has been from geothermal sources which increased 28% during the period 1997 to 2004 (Greece: Renewable Energy Fact Sheet, 2007). The respective penetration rates of biomass heat, solar thermal heat and geothermal heat are set forth in Table 1 and graphically depicted in Figure 2 below.
Alternative energy resource penetration in Greece: 1997-2004
Penetration 1997 (ktoe)
Penetration 2004 (ktoe)
Average annual growth (%)
Solar thermal heat
Geothermal heat incl. heat pumps
Source: Greece: Renewable Energy Fact Sheet, 2007
Figure 2. Alternative energy resource penetration in Greece: 1997-2004
Source: Based on tabular data in Greece: Renewable Energy Fact Sheet, 2007
The respective annual growth rates for these alternative energy resources for the period 1997 to 2004 is shown in Figure 3 below.
Figure 3. Average Annual Growth Rate for Alternative Energy Resources in Greece: 1997 to 2004
Source: Based on tabular data in Greece: Renewable Energy Fact Sheet, 2007
As can be seen in Figure 3 above, although an important contributor to heating applications in Greece, biomass growth remained stagnated during the period 1997 to 2004 while solar thermal and geothermal enjoyed modest to significant growth. There are some other indications, though, that indicate solar power is an especially viable alternative energy resource for Greece in the coming years. For instance, the Centre for Renewable Energy Sources and Saving (CRES), Greece’s national agency tasked with promoting renewable energy sources has funded a number of solar energy initiatives in neighboring countries, including those described in Table 2 below.
Summary of CRES Solar Energy Initiatives
Renewable Energy Sources — Development and Implementation of Solar Energy in Armenia: â‚¬360,000
â€¢ Development of new solar market and reinforcement of the cooperation in the sector of Renewable Energy Sources (RES) and Energy Saving (EE) in Armenia.
â€¢ Reinforced of the use of RES in Public Buildings, decrease of energy consumption, protection of the environment and strengthening of the national / local economy.
â€¢ Development of a scientific, technological and business cooperation.
Technical Object of the Project
â€¢ in Narcologic Clinic of the State Medical Centre for Psychiatry, 180m2 of combi solar thermal systems will be installed, for covering sanitary hot water and heating demands.
â€¢ in elder’s foundation “Nork” 180m2 of combi solar thermal systems will be installed, for covering sanitary hot water and heating demands.
Expected results from the technical object
â€¢ in elder’s foundation “Nork” the annual savings in energy will be up to 65%.
â€¢ in Narcologic Clinic of the State Medical Centre for Psychiatry the annual savings in energy will be up to 70%.
Applications of Renewable Energy and Energy Saving methods in the affected regions of Lebanon: â‚¬700,000.00
â€¢ Enhancement of the business and scientific co-operation between Greece and Lebanon in the sector of RES Technologies.
â€¢ Reinforced of the use of RES in households, decrease of energy consumption, protection of the environment and strengthening of the national / local economy.
â€¢ Emergence of Greece as a leading country in RES in Mediterranean area.
Technical Object of the Project
â€¢ Solar systems, of 2,50m2 collector’s surface and a boiler of 150lt, which correspond to a typical five member family for sanitary hot water needs, will be installed in about 350 households in affected regions of South Lebanon.
â€¢ Supply of 90.000 low consumption lamps, mainly of 15W each and installation of them in about 10.000 houses and small foundations.
â€¢ Supply and installation of testing and measurements equipment for the solar collectors with aim the creation of a permanent centre of solar testing.
Expected results from the technical object
â€¢ the projects regarding the installation of solar systems and the low consumption lamps will save significant amounts of energy and will provide preconditions for social, environmental and economic gains for the whole population and specifically for the lowest income/affected social groups.
â€¢ the project regarding the installation of testing and measurements equipment for the solar collectors will assist the local market, with the improvement of Lebanese standards, which are based on European standards for solar collectors.
Utilization of Alternative Energy Sources through the installation of Solar Water-Heating Systems in the Municipality of Cacak (Central Serbia): â‚¬173,300.00
â€¢ Development of cooperation in the sector of Solar Energy and in general the Renewable Energy Sources (RES) in Serbia,
â€¢ Reinforced of the use of RES in the public Buildings, decrease of energy consumption, protection of the environment and strengthening of the national / local economy.
Technical Object of the Project
â€¢ in school-house of Prehrambeno Ugostiteljska, at Cacak, in central Serbia 200m2 of solar systems will be installed, for covering sanitary hot water demands due to sport activities.
Expected results from the technical object
â€¢ in school-house of Prehrambeno Ugostiteljska, at Cacak the annual savings in energy will be up to 56%.
Action Plan Development for the Reinforcement of Cooperation with Turkey in the Field of Renewable Energy Sources: â‚¬456,665
â€¢ Development of co-operation in the Solar Energy sector and in general in the Renewable Energy Sources in Turkey,
â€¢ Contribution of Greece to the efforts of Turkey for harmonizing its Legal Framework of RES to the E.U. acquisition, â€¢ Development of collaboration in the Scientific, Technological and Enterprising Sector.
Technical Object of the Project
â€¢ Installation of solar cooling (power 35KW with 160m2 solar collectors) & energy savings systems on the building envelope (external wall and roof insulation & external shading devices at southern openings) in office buildings of the Faculty of Agriculture, Ankara University.
Expected results from the technical object
â€¢ the office buildings of Faculty of Agriculture, Ankara University will need less energy for heating and cooling by 58%, namely they will save 348 MWh annually, which is equivalent to decrease of the CO2 emissions of these buildings by 88tn annually.
Source: CRES 2011 at http://www.cres.gr/kape/projects_0_uk.htm
Clearly, the CRES has gained significant and valuable experience and expertise in developing and sustaining solar energy initiatives in recent years. In fact, the relatively modest budgets allotted for these projects have paid major long-term dividends, suggesting that the same approach can be applied on a much larger scale across the country. Nevertheless, all such initiatives have been adversely affected by the economic crisis that has rocked the country in recent months and these issues are discussed further below.
Impact of Economic Crisis on Solar Energy Initiatives
Today, Greece is classified as an emerging market but the country is embroiled in a financial crisis that threatens to destabilize the nation and the region (Blanchard, Das & Faruqee 2010). The Greek economy is a capitalist model and the country’s public sector represents approximately 40% of its GDP with per capita GDP average approximately 66% of the leading euro-zone economies (Greece economy 2011). In addition, Greece also receives significant amounts of financial assistance from the European Union, accounting for approximately 3.3% of the country’s annual GDP (Greece economy 2011).
Despite the current fiscal crisis, the Greek economy experienced healthy growth during the period from 2003 and 2007, increasing by almost 4.0% annually; this growth, though, was due in large part to infrastructural spending in support of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games as well as the increased availability of credit that helped to fuel unprecedented consumer spending (Greece economy 2011). Despite these gains, the Greek economy began a downward spiral beginning with a recession in 2009 that was due in large part to the large global economic crisis (Greece economy 2011). Analysts with the U.S. government indicate that other factors were also at work in worsening the financial crisis in Greece, including reduced credit availability as well as the Greek government’s unresponsiveness in taking steps to address the myriad problems facing the country at the time, including increased governmental spending during a period when state revenues were decreasing (Greece economy 2011). Other analysts agree that the financial crisis rocking the Greek economy is a combination of factors, including funding for the Olympics and infrastructural investments, but cite other reasons as well (Skidelsky 2010; Dam 2010; Cofnas 2010; Horwitz 2010; Mason 2010). For instance, according to Downs:
The financial chaos now gripping the birthplace of democracy is perceived as evidence of a deeper malaise. Yet the Greeks were ruined partly by their need to borrow money to stage the 2004 Olympics and also to pay for the massive project to redevelop Athens. What had been a frenetic city, blighted by delayed construction, choked with pollution and imperiled by madcap taxi drivers, became a 21st-century Euro-capital the equal of anything north of the Alps. But financial problems escalated due to poor tax-collection and the reluctance of the wealthy to pay tax (2010, p. 19).
While the capital city has in fact been transformed as a result of this massive influx of resources, other problems remain firmly in place that will require more fundamental reform measures to help stabilize the Greek economy in the future. In this regard, Smith emphasizes that, “No amount of cleaning up can hide the scale of the crisis engulfing Greece. Economically, politically, socially and, some say, even spiritually, the country has reached a dead end. The failings of a near-bankrupt state built on cronyism, corruption, nepotism and greed have been exposed” (2010, p. 33). The demand for material goods and a high quality consumer lifestyle have also contributed to the financial malaise gripping Greece today. For instance, Smith adds that, “Greeks always knew that things were going this way — a culture in which citizens strove to have at least two houses and three cars, but evaded tax collectors and often the law, couldn’t be maintained for ever. The state had become as overstretched as its citizens; the bloated public sector, used by successive governments to trade jobs for votes, was always going to prove unsustainable” (2010, p. 33).
Despite the handwriting being on the wall for all to see, Smith notes that the current financial crisis came as a shock to many observers. The surprise element involved the revelation that the Greek government had been less than forthcoming about the situation. In this regard, Smith reports that, “Financial turmoil hit soon after the socialist government revealed the real size of the public deficit in late 2009. At 12.7 per cent of GDP, the hole in Greece’s finances is almost twice as big as the conservative government had claimed before its electoral defeat last October. This discovery and what it may mean for the euro-zone’s stability have left many Greeks reeling” (2010, p. 33). As a result, Greece has been singled out by the global mainstream media as being a virtual fiscal basket case that is incapable of managing its financial affairs (Smith 2010). Moreover, other EU member states have indicated that the Greek leadership intentionally prevaricated concerning the country’s financial status in the past just to gain access to the euro-zone in the first place (Smith 2010). As bad as all of these outcomes have been, Smith suggests that, “Worse still, the crisis has exposed the inner workings of a society with little concern for meritocracy. Not since the collapse in 1974 of Greece’s military government, the ‘colonels’ regime,’ has the body politic been so shaken” (2010, p. 33).
While some element of conjecture and uncertainty are involved in these events, what is known for certain is that Greece in fact ran afoul of the EU’s Growth and Stability Pact budget deficit criterion of no more than 3% of GDP during the period between 2001 and 2006; however, the country succeeded in satisfying that requirement in 2007 and 2008; however, by 2009, Greece once again violated this criterion by running a deficit of 15.4% of its GDP (Greece economy 2011). In 2010, the Greek government implemented austerity measures that succeeded in reducing the deficit to 9.4% of GDP, but inflation, public debt, and unemployment remain higher than the euro-zone average and per capita income remains below these averages; indeed, by 2010, unemployment in Greece had reached as troubling 12% (Greece economy 2010). In fact, the unemployment rate in Greece has hovered around 9% and 10% for several years as shown in Table 3 below.
Unemployment Rate in Greece: 2003 to 2010
Source: Index Mundi 2011 at http://www.indexmundi.com/greece/unemployment_rate.html (2003-2009) and Greece economy 2011 (2010)
As can be seen from the unemployment rates in Table 3 above, the percentage change that followed the onset of the economic crisis has been severe. In sum, “Eroding public finances, a credibility gap stemming from inaccurate and misreported statistics, and consistent underperformance on following through with reforms prompted major credit rating agencies in late 2009 to downgrade Greece’s international debt rating, and has led the country into a financial crisis” (Greece economy 2011, p. 3). In response to growing pressure from the EU and the international market, the Greek government has implemented a medium-term austerity measures that involve the following reforms:
1. Reducing government spending;
2. Reducing the size of the public sector;
3. Decreasing tax evasion;
4. Reforming the health care and pension systems; and,
5. Improving the country’s competitiveness through structural reforms to the labor and product markets (Greece economy 2011).
The question remains, however, whether these measures will be sufficient to reverse recent downward spiraling trends, and whether the government can succeed in making them stick in the face of growing social unrest from the general public and the country’s influential labor unions (Greece economy 2011). In fact, in response to these austerity measures, the powerful Greek labor unions engaged in a series of strikes, but these have not had any discernible effect on the Greek government’s insistence on the need for such reforms (Greece economy 2011). As a result, the country has become a veritable powder keg that just needs a spark to set it off. As U.S. government analysts point out, “An uptick in widespread unrest, however, could challenge the government’s ability to implement reforms and meet budget targets, and could also lead to rioting or violence” (Greece economy 2011, p. 4). This assessment has been borne out on the streets of the capital city as well. According to Smith, “In Athens, the mood has become increasingly edgy, at times even violent. On 5 March, 2010, after a particularly nasty rally, protesters tried to storm the parliament” (2010, p. 33). As if these events were not bad enough, other signs that social unrest will follow include Smith’s observations that, “There are concerns that armed extremists, exploiting the economic tumult, will also strike. In the same week, police narrowly thwarted an attack in a shoot-out with a man believed to be a prominent member of the far-left guerrilla group Revolutionary Struggle. Over the past few years, Greece’s network of terrorists has grown” (2010, p. 33).
Compounding problems for the Greek government has been its assignment of the lowest possible credit rating by a leading credit agency in April 2010, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Eurozone governments were forced to provide almost $150 billion in bailout funds just to keep the country afloat and allow it to remain current on debt payments to creditors (Greece economy 2011). Adding to the fiscal miasma is the upward revisions of Greece’s deficit and debt amounts for 2009 and 2010 by Eurostat and stringent fiscal targets established by the EU and IMF as conditions for the bailout funds (Greece economy 2011). Indeed, economic analysts project that Greece faces another 2 years of recession at a minimum. According to analysts at Oxford, “With peripheral countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal now facing least two more years of recession, Eurozone GDP is now forecast to grow by just 0.8% this year, 1 .3% in 201 1 and by only around 2% in the following few years. Given this low-growth profile, there are increasing concerns about whether governments in the most fiscally challenged countries can implement the promised budget cuts in the face of inevitable social unrest” (Implications of the Eurozone Debt Crisis for the World Economy 2010, p. 10). Just as troubling is the fact that the Greek government has historically created more environmental problems than it has solved. In this regard, Close emphasizes that, “Governmental inefficiency has also led directly to environmental conflict. For example, the waste of water and electricity resources by state-owned utilities has intensified their need to build more polluting power stations or divert more rivers to the metropolis, so damaging the environment of local communities” (1999, p. 52).
In this fragile economic environment, the need for alternative energy resources in general and solar power initiatives in particular has assumed new importance and relevance. As the price of oil and gas continue to skyrocket in response to instabilities in the Middle East and increasingly, North Africa as well, the need for alternative energy resources is apparent. As Rosentreter puts it, “We must learn how to function on the energy we receive daily from the sun” (2000, p. 8). In fact, vitally important national security interests are involved in this debate. To the extent that demand for fossil fuels in Greece is lessened will be the extent to which the country is forced to import oil and gas from countries that are not friendly to its interests. Reduced demand for fossil fuels through solar energy initiatives would help to lower the national budget, improve the balance of payments deficient and reduce the amount of money being sent abroad, in many cases to countries that are hostile to democratic nations (Farrell 2008).
Despite the advantages that accrue to the use of renewable energy resources such as solar power, the start-up costs are significant, but vary according to the type of solar power collectors that are used. For instance, a 100,000-solar panel array being that is currently being installed in California will cost at least $100,000,000 to bring online and will require about 2 years to complete. In addition, the solar power farm will require almost 1,060 acres of land to contain the array (Soto 2011). The solar panel farm, though, features highly efficient solar collectors that do not resemble the flat-panel photovoltaic types that are typically found installed on residences, but are rather parabolic, so-called “concentrix,” panels that track the sun automatically as it moves across the sky. The solar panel farm therefore begins generating electricity as soon as the sun rises with peak electricity generation taking place around noon and diminishing thereafter. The solar power farm, located near San Diego, will generate 150 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the needs of about 55,000 American households (Soto 2011).
Some of the benefits of these types of solar power farms include the following:
1. Reduce electricity costs for large-scale solar power plants
2. Create thousands of jobs and generate millions of revenue dollars
3. Provide a hedge against fuel price volatility
4. Produce societal and environmental benefits (National Renewable Energy Laboratory 2011).
Besides the relatively high start-up costs that are involved, though, there are some tradeoffs to these benefits, including the large amounts of suitable land that is required (solar power farms must be situated on flat terrain) and the loss of potentially arable land that could be used for agricultural purposes (Soto 2011). Nevertheless, the amount of land that is required for a typically solar power farm is less than comparable hydroelectric plants when the land that is flooded in factored in, as well as coal-powered electricity plants when the amount of land required for mining is taken into account (Dorn 2009). Moreover, solar-powered farms can create new jobs, a benefit that is especially important for Greece today given its inordinately high unemployment rate. Despite the advantages of solar-powered plants, the land requirements are important concerns for nations such as Greece which may lack a sufficient amount of terrain that is suitable for large-scale solar power arrays. Offsetting these disadvantages, though, is the fact that solar power farms typically use less water than agricultural pursuits, generate more income and create more jobs (National Renewable Energy Laboratory 2011).
Given the significant tradeoffs that are involved in deploying parabolic solar power collectors which are cheaper and more efficient, the most viable alternative for Greece would likely be photovoltaic collectors which can be deployed in smaller configurations (National Renewable Energy Laboratory 2011). According to the researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory:
1. Parabolic trough solar power systems are well suited for central, large-scale generation plants that connect to the electric transmission systems. These large-scale systems typically offer the least-cost solar option.
2. For a large-scale system, the increased cost for transmission — including losses in the transmission and distribution system — is small compared to the cost savings of building a large plant and the performance improvement of siting a plant in the best resources locations.
3. Electricity from large-scale parabolic trough power plants is 50% to 75% cheaper than electricity from photovoltaic systems; however, photovoltaics can be more cost effective for small, modular solar electric applications.
4. While large-scale solar power plants serve many customers, distributed solar power provides small, modular systems for on-site delivery of electricity. Because they are on the customer side of the meter, modular solar systems in many cases offers a higher value and reduces demand charges. The system also can take advantage of net metering (National Renewable Energy Laboratory 2011, p. 4).
The question remains, though, whether any further investments in Greece’s alternative energy initiatives can be garnered during a period of lingering global economic downturn, particularly in view of the problems described above (Miller 2010). Indeed, international investors and the European Union appear reluctant to pursue any further initiatives in the country unless and until the nation sorts out its internal financial problems which will likely involve further draconian steps that are already being met with stiff social resistance (Wambu 2010; Mason 2010).
This chapter provided a review of the relevant juried and scholarly literature to provide overviews of alternative energy resources, including wind power, biomass, and solar power. The research showed that innovations in the supporting technologies are making these renewable energy resources viable alternatives to fossil fuels, but the research was consistent in emphasizing that the need for further research and development remains. These overviews were followed by an assessment of the potential for solar energy applications in Greece and an analysis of the effects of the ongoing fiscal crisis that has rocked the Greek economy and some of its implications for the country’s stakeholders. The study’s methodology is more fully described in chapter three below.
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