After garnering strong support from Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger this week at an Athens conference on the $25 billion Helios solar project, the effort was given a cold shoulder by German Deputy Energy Minister Juergen Becker.
The project, which is envisioned to produce 10 gigawatts of electricity from sunny Greece, is contingent on finding Western European customers and Germany, which has the most potential customers, is the logical choice.
But Becker said at the gathering his country is more interested in spending resources on its own clean energy sector than in purchasing more expensive imported energy, the Athens daily Katherimini reported.
"If we bought at Greek prices then the cost for German consumers would soar," he said.
With Greece wracked by debt and mired in a deep recession, Papademos said at the conference the country is pinning its hopes on the development of the alternative energy sector as an economic driver, with the country's abundant solar potential one of its cornerstones.
The Helios project, which would cover 77 square miles with panels, would boost Greece's solar electricity output 50 fold and would be less expensive to build than elsewhere because of Greece's intense sunshine. Solar radiation in the country averages 40 percent higher than in Germany.
"Energy should be produced where it costs less," he said. "Were the same investment to take place in Central Europe, where sunshine hours are fewer, it would cost ($7.9 billion) more. In a period of austerity we cannot afford such a luxury."
The Helios project was also praised by Oettinger, who said it had "the potential to be groundbreaking."
"Helios is … a unique opportunity to demonstrate that renewable energy technologies like photovoltaics are becoming competitive in the near future through European cooperation," Oettinger said. "It could be the showcase project on the way to a truly integrated European market for electricity from renewable sources, while simultaneously helping the Greek economy to recover."
But Becker dashed hopes for steady market for Greek solar energy in Germany, saying Berlin's main goal is to reduce the need for imported energy by concentrating on its own renewables industry, the Greek news Web site GRReporter.com said.
"Imports of electricity from solar collectors in Greece will only add to the German program," Becker stated.
Oettinger also said north-south transmission links throughout Europe must be improved to handle the additional capacity generated by new renewable energy projects such as Helios.
The European Commission has proposed the creation of a $69 billion "Connecting Europe" financing facility -- $12 billion of which would be used to encourage energy grid projects the EU deems necessary to contribute to the growth of a trans-European infrastructure.
Such infrastructure efforts, would help to close the "missing links" in Europe's infrastructure. Planners have identified 11 energy corridors that cover all parts of the European Union, including efforts related to a new "southern corridor" natural gas pipeline and offshore wind farms in the North Sea.
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