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Pathways to climate neutrality in Europe with a spotlight in Greece - a Stakeholder Workshop in Athens
The PARIS REINFORCE project hosted a stakeholder workshop in Athens, on 30 June 2022, to discuss and refine the project’s modelling results on low-carbon pathways for Greece, with Greek stakeholders from the public and private sector as well as academia. The workshop, which was held back-to-back with the final project meeting of another H2020 project, SENTINEL (link), aimed to receive feedback for the Greek whole-energy system low-carbon pathways modelling that the consortium had already undertaken. In addition, we wanted to identify bottlenecks hampering the decarbonisation pathways in Greece and to co-create elements of a transformative policy mix that could overcome those bottlenecks, with a particular focus on the Greek power sector.
The introduction to the PARIS REINFORCE project was presented by project coordinator Prof. Haris Doukas (National Technical University of Athens) while Dr. Alexandros Nikas (National Technical University of Athens) gave a brief introduction on the modelling results for Greece. He presented three scenarios: one reference scenario following the 2019 Greek national plan (NECP), one following the recently legislated Climate Law, and one high ambition scenario that reaches 100% decarbonisation by 2035 due to drastic measures, such as 100% RES penetration (with an 80% intermediate target for 2030), as well as faster electrification in transport and buildings, including bolder energy savings.
Following this, Konstantinos Koasidis (National Technical University of Athens) and Philine Warnke (Fraunhofer ISI) presented insights from the PARIS REINFORECE qualitative analysis of the Greek power sector. In particular, the high employment potential of renewable energies but also the challenge of reskilling of people from carbon-based sectors were highlighted. The presentation finished with a first tentative list of bottlenecks for decarbonisation derived from the PARIS REINFOCE analysis: opposition to wind power expansion; target of the coal & NG phase-out not shared by all actors; regulatory hurdles to small-scale renewable electricity generation and inclusion of prosumers; potential Lock in due to high investment into (L)NG infrastructure; upscaling of technologies in unprecedented way required; solutions for non-interconnected islands needed; lack of green hydrogen infrastructure for storage; maturity & uptake of novel RES solutions (CSP, Ocean energy, offshore wind ...); high costs of grid adaption to RES requirements; expected job losses, esp. in lignite dependent regions; required reskilling of labour forces; and potential negative impacts of RES expansion on ecosystems.
In the following lively discussion stakeholders confirmed many of the bottlenecks and complemented this list with further aspects, notably including access to finance, lifestyle changes/mentality, enhancement of international grid interconnection for better reliability, and land use constraints for renewables. Rising energy prices and subsequent energy poverty was deemed a highly important driver and framework condition that would need to be considered for any policy mix. Accordingly it was added as a crosscutting aspect.
Participants were asked to mark the three bottlenecks with highest relevance from their perspective. As a result the following bottlenecks were singled out for further discussion:
- High costs of grid adaption to RES requirements (11 Votes)
- Access to finance (6 votes)
- Potential Lock in due to high investment into (L)NG infrastructure (7 Votes)
- Opposition to wind power expansion (7 Votes)
- RES Ecosystem impact (3 Votes)
- Land use constraints for RES (1 Vote)
- Storage Maturity (6 Votes)
The second part of the workshop was held in a World Cafe format. In three rounds, participants specified the bottlenecks and then discussed how they can be effectively addressed by a future policy mix.
Table 1 (Philine Warnke, Fraunhofer ISI; Alexandros Nikas, NTUA)
(A) Opposition to wind power expansion (incl. RES ecosystem impact and land use constraints for RES)
Wind turbines are widely disliked in Greece especially by people highly attached to nature. One common narrative is e.g. that forests are burned down in order to erect them. There are some legitimate concerns about impacts on ecosystems such as change of microclimate in some mountain areas and interference with beauty of some untouched nature (even though it was agreed that the sense of beauty is highly subjective). Also some wind power projects were indeed poorly conducted. At the same time in recent forest fires public authorities failed spectacularly. For some solar projects land was unnecessarily wasted. Unfortunately however, this legitimate frustration about few failures that could be easily overcome with proper planning of RES projects is used by populists and actors with interests (e.g. other forms of land use) to demonise wind power. The problems are generalised and several political actors including on local level try to capitalise on the resistance. The subsequent negative image has already slowed down the ramp up. Another problematic narrative is the connection of high energy prices and renewables. Nobody talks about the obvious fact that renewables are low cost energy and help to bring the price down.
There is an urgent need to find balanced solutions. Education about climate change and renewable energy should be started already in primary school (now often students learn about it at university for the first time), a change of mentality could be achieved through positive narratives about renewables. Community-based business models that give back to communities such as the energy cooperatives spearheaded in Germany would certainly enhance buy-in; it is important, however, to make sure that energy communities are adequately set up as there is already misuse in party politics. This ties to the wider issue of climate democracy—i.e., including citizens in decision-making and communicating reasons for decisions in a transparent manner. The state needs to do its homework, by launching evidence-based, scientifically guided transparent decisions on RES projects. Environmental impact assessment and sustainable forest management would accompany each project along with strategies for dismantling, recycling and restoration. This would result, e.g., in sensitive placing of RSE projects (for example, along highways and with care to avoid offensive views as well as close to cities where the energy is needed and rather than in remote places with untouched nature).
(B) Storage Maturity
Alternatives to rare earth-based storage technologies are urgently needed. There are many promising approaches such as kinetic storage and green hydrogen but the technologies are currently immature. There is a severe lack of data and evidence about storage alternatives. Costs seem to be extremely high. Also in Greece the development is stalled but recently a law was passed that should foster storage development.
This, first, includes promoting integrated regional smart grid solutions that use the grid as the storage; in such decentral microgrids devices provide storage. Also, energy could be transferred and stored across communities. Then, massive R&D funding must be undertaken to increase maturity of technologies, although it is important to mind the cost. Storage and demand solutions must be considered together, and it is vital to specify exactly which part of the demand requires storage. Finally, there should be efforts in distinguishing small- from large-scale solutions.
Table 2 (Ben McWilliams, Bruegel; Konstantinos Koasidis, NTUA)
(A) Expansion/improvement of the electricity grid (including access to finance)
From a virtual microgrid perspective, and considering the importance for engaging consumers, digitalisation and the rollout of smart meters in Greece is very slow; this is a bottleneck to creating a digital grid and demand-side response from consumers. At the same time, ese of market-based incentives for promoting self-generation (e.g., roof PV) in Greece (example of the UK FiT scheme in 2010) have been weak. Much like in many other EU countries, the Greek scheme collapsed, along with the expansion of the market. There is an unclear direction for TSO investments today in the power grid due to high uncertainties in the future; there is also a risk of ending up with stranded assets (i.e., interconnectors, if a decentralised grid emerges). Islands still consume diesel, which they should have replaced with renewables years ago from an economic perspective, while interconnection with the mainland is still pending; stakeholders also discussed special interest groups with vested interest in the export of diesel to the islands. There is an urgent need for power-sector system changes, mainly orienting towards market and institutional design (including role of actors in the grid). Stakeholders appeared not as concerned about the reliability of power supply in a decentralised grid, although access to finance was vividly discussed, particularly with regard to the lack in new low-TRL technologies (e.g., power storage) and the role of the public sector in de-risking and bringing in private finance.
(B) Lock-in to fossil fuel infrastructure (lignite/LNG)
New LNG terminals are controversial, particularly because they will largely serve Greece’s neighbours in an attempt to wean them off Russian gas. Existing lignite plants are supposed to be ramped down, and that must be eventually completed to avoid lock-in. Stakeholder response to this bottleneck was to list many others, with a notable mention of fossil investments creating special interests, which in turn slow green policies (‘we are full of (lobbying) monsters’). Finally, stakeholders wondered who will pay for building out the different stages of the hydrogen value chain; they also identified a coordination problem of ramping supply, demand, and pipelines at the same time.
All workshop presentations can be found here:
Introduction to PARIS REINFORCE - Haris Doukas (NTUA)
Greek NECP & Climate Law: Are they ambitious enough? - Alexandros Nikas (NTUA)
Bottlenecks to the decarbonisation of the Greek power sector - Philine Warnke (Fraunhofer ISI) & Konstantinos Koasidis (NTUA)
Gas or electrification in the Greek residential sector? - Vassilis Stavrakas (UPRC)
Net-zero building sector: a European dream? - Souran Chatterjee (CEU)