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How Greece became a solar leader

A small-scale solar PV facility alongside a watermelon farm in Crete, Greece. Photo: Nick Hedley/The Progress Playbook
A small-scale solar PV facility alongside a watermelon farm in Crete, Greece. Photo: Nick Hedley/The Progress Playbook

Greece has overtaken the Netherlands to become Europe’s solar PV leader, with 19% of its electricity coming directly from the sun in 2023, according to data collated by Ember.

Greening the grid: All renewable technologies now cover half of Greece’s annual electricity requirements, with a slight decline in hydro output in recent years being more than offset by the surge in solar installations and steady growth in wind (now at 22% of the mix).

As a result, coal’s share has slipped to a historic low of less than 5%, and will continue to decline with a number of plant closures scheduled in the months ahead. The Public Power Corporation aims to phase out the dirtiest fossil fuel by 2026, and policymakers have set roughly 1.4 billion euros aside to assist communities that currently rely on the sector.

Policy support for PV: While solar installations were initially driven by a feed-in tariff scheme and state-led auction programme, the country has seen a marked acceleration in deployments since 2019 thanks to a range of policy tweaks.

In particular, Ember notes, the country introduced a temporary feed-in premium for small ground-mounted solar PV systems, simplified permitting procedures, and encouraged subsidy-free power purchase agreements within the private sector.

Recent enhancements to the state’s auction process are also fuelling growth, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Under the new auction system, project subsidies are awarded via a two-way contract for difference. In essence, if market prices are below a project’s bid price, the project receives the difference as a subsidy, whereas if market prices are above the bid price, the project pays the excess.

Since May 2020, regulators have also taken steps to simplify the licensing and permitting process, per the IEA.

First, they abolished the need for generation licences, which required a lengthy application process, and replaced them with certificates that can be secured online within 20 days. In addition, a new law has sped up environmental application processing and reduced land-use restrictions for all renewable projects.

More recently, laws were passed to speed up approvals for grid-connection applications.

These support measures, in aggregate, helped double solar’s share of the national electricity mix in just two years.

More to come: Having already seen periods of 100% renewable-based power, Greece plans to get to the 80% mark on an annual basis by 2030 as its first offshore wind farms come online and the onshore wind, solar, transmission, and energy storage sectors scale up.

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