Traveling Classroom Foundation
Saturday November 18th 2017

Energy and the Environment

Visiting Greece over the past fourteen years, we have always been impressed by the hot water heating systems installed on the roofs of nearly every building. These are solar water heaters.

Rooftop solar water systems at our apartment complex

In a country with so much sunshine, it makes perfect sense to use solar energy to heat water. More recently, we have also seen the emergence of other earth friendly technologies powered by the sun and wind power.

Old windmills on a mountain ridge in Crete

Wind energy has been around since the middle of the 1800’s in the form of windmills. Most of the Aegean islands built windmills to mill grains into flour. We have seen abandoned windmills lined up along Crete’s mountain ridges and places the wind blows all the time.

Some wind-powered water pumps are still in use
Some wind-powered water pumps are still in use

On the Lasithi plateau, high in the mountains, small antique windmills pump water to irrigate the lush farmlands. There were many hundreds of these wind-powered machines fifty years ago, but they were replaced by new technology – electric and diesel pumps. However, with the rising cost of energy (electricity and petroleum), more farmers have returned to clean, reliable wind.

Large wind turbines now line the ridges where old windmills once stood. These turbines generate electricity that powers towns and villages across the island.

Wind turbines convert the mountain winds into energy

Although Greece has tremendous solar potential, it has been criticized for bureaucratic hurdles that may be holding back development of the renewable resource. The government recently enacted legislation to encourage development of environmentally friendly technology, particularly photovoltaic (PV) energy systems.

The new PV law offers tax advantages to persuade business and individual investment in clean, renewable energy. Just since last year, we see evidence that this law is working. We watched from our balcony as a new PV solar array was installed on the roof of a small apartment building across the lane. The job was done in little more than a week. Mihalis and his wife Ioanna, the building owners, say the PV system will provide all their electrical needs – plus they will sell surplus energy to the state-owned electric company.

New photovoltaic array on our neighbor's roof

Not far from here, in Neapoli, we recently spotted a solar array spread across a hillside. It is many times larger than the one on our neighbor’s roof. Whether it powers municipal or private business needs, we do not know.  However, it appears to be big enough to provide electricity for a small town.

Commercial photovoltaic array in Neapoli

The Greek government recently revealed a plan for the world’s largest solar park. It will be built on over 520 hectares (1,285 acres) of depleted lignite mines owned by the state-run power company (lignite coal is still the main fuel for power plants in Greece). When operational, the photovoltaic system will be capable of producing 200 megawatts (MW) of clean electricity – more than any other solar park in the world.

To translate that number into something understandable, assume a photovoltaic array only works when the sun is shining. Greece has 3,000 hours of sunshine per year. Multiply this times system capacity (3,000 x 200) and you get working energy output: 600,000 megawatt hours (MWh) or 600,000,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year. Divide this number by the amount of electricity used by the average Greek (5,723 kWh per year) and you find out how many people can be served by the new solar park: 108,840.  That amounts to 34,840 homes using electricity made from sunlight.

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