Often we hear about Greece in the context of some of the tremendous challenges it is facing, such as the financial or the refugee crises. But the Greek spirit, the one which served as the cradle of our Western civilisation, of democratic principles, and even of many of our sportive traditions - is also at the cornerstone of some of the most strategic European projects, including the Energy Union.
The descendants of the ancient Hellenic city states are well accustomed to building efficient networks across the Aegean and the Mediterranean seas. Both the ancient and the modern Greeks very much appreciate and recognise their natural resources and are committed to protecting them. And perhaps most importantly, from antiquity to modernity, the Greeks have shown great resilience to change, and the courage to bring it about. Let me explain.
Situated at the crossroads between Europe, Asia, and Africa, Greece's location gives it a rare advantage in the global energy market and the Energy Union we're bringing about.
Greece can play a major role in Europe's most important regional energy networks, whether it's the Central and South Eastern Europe Gas Connectivity, as part of the Southern Gas Corridor, and of course as a new entry port of liquefied natural gas (LNG) through the new projects in Alexandroupoli and Revithoussa which I recently visited with Minister Skourletis.
The above three projects are of tremendous strategic importance for the EU and hold great potential for the Greek economy as it could turn the country into a major regional hub. It is therefore no wonder that it is the city of Thessaloniki which will soon host the ground-breaking ceremony for the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP).
But the Greek government doesn’t stop there. Its highly ambitious plans with the governments of Cyprus and Israel to create the Eastern Mediterranean (or East Med) natural gas pipeline would inject additional sources from the newly-found gas reserves. This goes hand in hand with the EU Energy Security Strategy which aims to diversify Europe's energy sources in order to increase competition in the energy market.
GR for green
Like many other words, the term 'ecology' is of Greek origin; oikologia (οικολογία) can be roughly translated into the science of nature planning. It is perhaps no wonder that this particular word came from Greek, given that as early as the sixth century BC, the Greeks in various cities along the coast of Asia Minor and the Aegean islands began to investigate the basic materials and laws of nature, and reaching tremendous knowledge of its impact on human health.
But some 24 centuries after Hippocrates wrote his famous "On Airs, Waters, and Places", the modern Greeks are showing impressive performance when it comes to preserving the environment. In my recent meeting with Prime Minister Tsipras and Minister Skourletis I presented to them the Commission's in-depth analysis of the Greek energy market and congratulated them for the fact that Greece is already well on track on meeting their 2020 targets on energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, and renewable energy.
We also discussed what is still left to be done and some of the benefits Greece could see from the Energy Union, such as further integration into the regional market, increased investment in energy efficiency in the transport and building sectors, and supporting green research and innovation. I stressed the importance of further reforms in the Greek energy market and completing the connection of the islands to the mainland's electricity grids - both which would ensure consumers see reduced bills.
Connecting the islands' electricity to the mainland would save Greece (and Greek consumers) no less than €800 million every year!
In fact, the Greek contribution to the fight against climate change is quite innovative. Take for example the island of Tilos which is currently developing a prototype battery storage system to be integrated into its smart island microgrid, with the help of Horizon2020 funding. This will turn Tilos into the first energy-autonomous island in the Mediterranean!
Two other Greek renewable energy projects were recently awarded co-financing of some €87 million on the NER300 programme. The Minos project will be the first commercial-scale plant relying on superheated steam as heat transfer fluid - producing 50MW concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in Southeast of Crete. The Maximus solar power project aims at developing a large-scale power plant with a total installed capacity of 75.3MW. I hope their permitting process will be complete by the end of 2016 so that they can keep their NER300 funding.
Video of Maroš Šefčovič Energy Union Tour visit to Greece, 10 March 2016
Talking about a revolution
Whether you call it an Industrial Revolution, a digital transformation, the technological leap of the 21st century - by now we all realise that our entire societal model is being re-defined by the introduction of new digital technologies like 'big data' and 'internet of things'. This was one of the main themes of this year's World Economic Forum in Davos as world leaders are increasingly embracing the concept of this radical change.
These capabilities are obviously highly relevant in the field of energy. I like to refer to this transition as the “5Ds model”, as it revolves around the (1) Decarbonisation of our economies, bring even more (2) Democratisation into energy production and consumption, profit from its (3) Digitisation to optimise energy use and efficiency, improve the (4) Diversification of our energy supplies and help our innovators to deliver on new technologies to speed up the whole process by progressive (5) Disruption of traditional energy cycles.
Something tells me that the Greeks will excel in each of the five Ds; the people of Plato recognised the advantages of democracy and the importance of preserving the environment, long before the rest of us. Their descendants are highly enthusiastic about reaping the current benefits of digitalisation and diversification. But perhaps most importantly, when it comes to embracing change, no one could phrase it better than they do:
Or in the words of a modern Greek philosopher, Cornelius Castoriadis: "Revolution does not mean torrents of blood, the taking of the Winter Palace, and so on. Revolution means a radical transformation of society's institutions. In this sense, I certainly am a revolutionary." So am I.
Post scriptum: It is not easy to return to work or write my blog after the horrendous news that came out of Brussels last week. As our thoughts and prayers are still with the victims, their families, and all the people of Belgium, it is also imperative that we go back to our routine; that we do not surrender to terrorists who attempt to paralyse our daily lives.