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Can Greece Shine Its Way out of Default with Solar?

Leon Kaye | Tuesday October 11th, 2011 | 0 Comments
Solar energy business fair, Syntagma Square Station, Athens, Nov. 2010 (by Leon Kaye)

Solar energy business fair, Syntagma Square Station, Athens, Nov. 2010 (by Leon Kaye)

Greece is a financial mess and many Greeks are beside themselves that Germany is coming to the rescue.  History between the two countries aside, Germany, a global leader in solar energy, is considering a path for Greece to emerge out of its fiscal misery.  With its economy contracting about five percent this year, a huge lifeline is needed if the country avoids default on all of its loan obligations.  Last week Germany’s economy minister Phillip Rösler, his aides, and solar energy business leaders descended on Athens to discuss potential solar projects that in an ideal setting could provide as many as 60,000 Greeks with jobs.  With unemployment approaching 15 percent and young Greeks believing their government has failed them, a huge job boost is certainly tantalizing.  A country with a sector that already benefits from Greece’s sun and warmth (tourism) could benefit from another industry that provides long-term opportunities.

But as The Guardian’s Helena Smith reported last week, the devil is in the details:

But while rampant corruption, a notorious bureaucracy and a weak justice system have also played a major part in keeping foreign firms out of the European Union state, the ruling socialists are also hoping the country’s abundant sunshine can attract German renewable energy companies. Among the 60 business leaders traveling with Rösler are several from the alternative energy sector, which, if expanded, could see foreign lenders help kickstart Greece’s recession-hit economy along with tourism and food processing.

Usually oil and gas pipelines cause ruckuses between neighboring and regional countries, but Germany’s desire for solar makes Greece a compelling partner.  Considering Germany’s successful track record in generating solar energy, future success could be a template for how other countries, or American states, can harvest clean energy to its fullest potential.  Southeastern Europe could become a robust economic engine after all.  Of course, there will be some challenges, as Bloomberg’s Pietro Radoia points out:

Is the future of Greece here? Piraeus, Greece, Nov. 2010, by Leon Kaye

Is the future of Greece here? Piraeus, Greece, Nov. 2010, by Leon Kaye

How would Greece export that energy to Germany?  In the U.S., for example, T. Boone Pickens’ dream of gigantic wind power farms withered on the vine in part because of the impracticality of transmitting that energy from the rural prairies to the heavily populated coasts.

  • With 20 gigawatts of domestic peak solar capacity already generated, would the addition of more power from the sun be feasible?
  • At a time of budgetary constraints, whether the government could afford additional incentives like feed-in tariffs would be a potential hurdle.
  • Greece would have to reduce its own feed-in tariffs to allow serious investors to scale their technologies.
  • A country that ranks lower on the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” index than Bangladesh, Yemen, and Ethiopia will raise some huge red flags.

Nevertheless, Greece has a long history of entrepreneurship and even if its people are discouraged, they are still determined.  If Athens can get its act together and its people are genuine stakeholders, this sun-drenched corner of Europe could surprise us and show us how to build that green economy we talk about be have yet to see.

Photos are courtesy of Leon Kaye’s trip to the Balkans last year.

Leon Kaye is a consultant, writer, and editor of GreenGoPost.com and also contributes to The Guardian Sustainable Business; you can follow him on Twitter.  He lives in Silicon Valley.


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