Tilos, a Greek island on the North West of Rhodes Island, will be the first non-interconnected autonomous island in the Mediterranean to power itself through green energy, namely wind and solar power. The island of Tilos is home to around 500 residents in the winter months, which rises to approximately 3,000 in the summer.
The island’s electricity needs are currently met through a diesel plant on the host island of Kos, which is situated approximately 42 miles from Tilos. Tilos is the last island of three to be connected by underwater cables, and suffers from regular, lengthy power outages due to faults with the undersea cables. When severe outages occur, emergency diesel generators are used, which increase the island’s carbon footprint significantly. Outages have serious consequences for business owners and residents alike, with hotel owners experiencing failures with essential appliances and spoiled food. As the island’s main revenue comes from tourism, with the island seeing an average of 13,000 visitors a year, power outages affecting businesses have serious effects on livelihoods.
Resistance Against Renewable Energy
However, as a whole, Greece’s renewable energy efforts are considerably lacking when compared with those of other countries. This is due in part to the country’s dependence on lignite, a fossil fuel often referred to as brown coal, which provides around a third of Greece’s energy. However, lignite supplies are thought to run out in as little as 30 years.
The country’s slower developments in green energy is also due to resistance from the government. Scepticism over the existence of, or the extent of the effects of climate change stall efforts to progress the country’s green energy development, and residents are wary of wind farms for a number of reasons. Some such reasons include the threat to birds, which can be killed by the wind turbines, or views being spoiled, while other concerns are more superstitious, with some people expressing concerns that wind farms can affect rainfall and have detrimental health effects, especially during pregnancy.
Environmental and Human Costs of Lignite
Lignite mining and burning has serious detrimental effects on the environment and human health. It uses vast amounts of water and emits pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitric oxides, heavy metals, carbon dioxide and dust. Sulphur dioxide leads to the acidification of lakes and streams and contributes to the corrosion of buildings and monuments through acid rain, along with having destructive effects on ecosystems. Increasingly extreme temperatures during heat waves are also the source of catastrophic wild fires in Crete due to the lack of rain.
Health concerns regarding sulphur dioxide in particular include respiratory illnesses and the aggravation of cardiovascular diseases. Furthermore, Greek lignite plants consistently produce emissions above the EU limits, costing the country millions of euros per year. The dependence on lignite has also led to villages being deserted and displaced to further mining efforts.
How Does the Renewable Energy System in Tilos Work?
The hybrid system works with batteries that are recharged by an 800-kilowatt wind turbine and a photovoltaic (solar) park. Energy will be stored in the batteries and can be used by the grid when demands are heavier, such as during periods of lower production, at night, and during the tourist season where demands increase dramatically. The system can cover around 70% of the island’s local demand, with aims to reach 100% in the near future.
What are the Benefits of Running on Renewable Energy?
There are a number of clear benefits of harnessing renewable energy to meet the electricity demands of the island. In terms of environmental benefits, switching to renewable energy is thought to greatly improve biodiversity on the island of Tilos, which is believed to be home to over 150 species of bird and approximately 350 plant varieties.
Tourism, upon which the island’s revenue relies, will also benefit, with tourists experiencing fewer problems with appliances and air conditioning, which is important in the summer months when temperatures rise to over 30 degrees Celsius, or 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
For islands in general, not only the Greek island of Tilos, dependence on fossil fuels can involve high transportation costs. For Greek taxpayers, transporting imported diesel to power the Aegean islands comes at a cost of over $800 million.
The Tilos project has won numerous awards from the EU for its sustainable energy efforts, including winning in the Energy Islands and the Citizen’s Award categories in the EU Sustainable Energy Awards.