Athens (Photo credit: Arian Zwegers)
I write about energy and policy issues facing the Mediterranean region
While the pain and impact of spending cuts have come to dominate the debate surrounding the fate of the Greek economy and the country’s future in Europe, a few souls in Athens
have apparently been working on the issue of what comes next, namely growth anchored in energy. And despite the country’s rather dismal status in the eyes of international investors, they appear to be finding some willing partners.
In recent weeks, Athens has begun fast-tracking energy projects in an effort to show some level of growth and job creation amid creeping unemployment and fiscal uncertainty. While some of the projects are promising only temporary jobs for locals, they are hoping they will lay a foundation for the country’s emerging energy role in the region.
Betting heavily on Greece’s enormous solar potential, possible offshore reserves and prime location as gateway between Eastern Mediterranean, Middle East hydrocarbon reserves and Europe, Athens is hoping that energy production and transport will provide clear paths to a strong recovery, not to mention easing costly imports.
Last month saw Athens speed the approval of three-dozen ground-mounted PV arrays across the country for a total of 130MW and about 500 temporary jobs. While modest and limited, the jobs represent a glimpse of the country’s solar potential overshadowed by an unemployment rate hovering just below 25 percent.
Greek officials have also begun tabling more traditional options including rolling back opposition to offshore exploration in local waters. According to a Reuters report from this week, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was presented with a study this summer suggesting as much as 3.5 trillion cubic meters of natural gas off the coast of Crete, offering an estimated $600 billion in earnings over the next 25 years
. The research showed a possible geological similarity between offshore Crete and the Levantine Basin, located between Israel and Cyprus, which was recently found to offer a way into an estimated 10 trillion cubic meters of gas, according to a U.S. Geological Survey.
In addition to helping establish Greece as an energy producer for the rest of Europe, tapping into those reserves could help the country ease its heavy dependence on foreign resources, estimated to cost about five percent of GDP a year.
Local media has also pointed to potential offshore reserves off the country’s western coast
, suggesting as much as 22 billion barrels in the Ionian Sea, though analysts are quick to point out that these studies are only predictions and will remain so until drilling begins. Still, Athens is moving forward with seismic studies of the areas and has already received 11 bids from firms eager to replicate the natural gas rush currently making waves off the coast of Israel and Cyprus.
Greece’s proximity to the Eastern Mediterranean reserves and their own Crete expansion could also help support the development of the ITGI pipeline project, which recently lost out on the chance to deliver Caspian reserves to the European market. Project managers have recently expressed interest in reconfiguring the effort to offer a more direct line for a series of regional wells to the rest of Europe by way of Greece. While earlier versions of the plan suggested an easier route from Cyprus to Turkey, political tensions between the two countries could shift development towards Athens.
Of course, this is not to say that energy project is moving forward with the same gusto. The country’s colossal Helios solar project has hit a series of roadblocks in recent months, thanks to a $25 billion price tag and the limitations of transporting the needed bulk of a 10MW project into the wider European market. Despite a vote of confidence from the European Union and support for a $69 billion “Connecting Europe” grid project that would ease transport challenges, the 77 sq. mile project has stalled thanks to political and financial uncertainty in the country and withering interest from the effort’s largest potential customer, Germany.
“If we bought at Greek prices then the cost for German consumers would soar,” German Deputy Energy Minister Juergen Becker
told the UPI earlier this year, adding that solar development would have to address local concerns before looking east for more supply.