A small island sits in the southeastern Aegean Sea. Santorini, one of the top travel destinations in the world, may be located just 50 miles to the west, but its tourists have not overflowed to this quaint and quiet island.
While the rocky island boasts natural beauty with its crystal clear waters and hillside footpaths, one travel website described the island’s attractions as “limited.” And yet, this island, just 11 miles in length, is set to become a beacon of sustainable development for the entire world to follow.
This is the island of Astypalea.
On November 4, 2020, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis unveiled Greece’s latest project — Smart & Sustainable Island. This is a partnership with Volkswagen Group that intends to transform Astypalea into a shining example of how renewable energy and clean technology can benefit people and the environment simultaneously.
Astypalea, a modest island, is home to some 1,300 residents. The island was chosen for this project because of the population’s appropriate scale and because the island’s energy system can be completely transformed, due to its size. In addition, Astypalea maintains a sufficient road network and, most importantly, the residents of Astypalea have been outspoken in their support of this project.
Volkswagen has committed to a green future and the international car company has plans to completely remove gasoline engines from its development. Allegedly, Volkswagen will stop producing gas-powered cars by 2026, after which the company will fully embrace the electric vehicle. Volkswagen intends to use this project on Astypalea to test how climate-smart networks operate and understand how they are received by those who use them.
Astypalea is currently powered by diesel generators. The Smart & Sustainable Island Project will replace those generators with sources of renewable energy (wind and solar), paired with a network of batteries, to store power for peak-demand.
The project will use a phased approach and retain the diesel generators until the renewable electric network is established and successful. Astypalea will no longer rely on shipments of fuel for power, rather, the island will be energy-independent. And no one embraces independence quite like the Greeks!
The goal of the project is to replace internal combustion engines with electric motors and to completely electrify the island. Astypalea’s 1,500 vehicles will be replaced by 1,000 electric cars, as well as other mobility services such as electric cars, scooters and bike sharing services. Volkswagen would like to show that it is possible to reduce the number of vehicles on the island, while at the same time, achieve a higher level of individual mobility. Residents will benefit from reduced traffic and noise, as well as cleaner air.
Throughout history, the Greek people worked with the land they inhabited. This is most notably seen with terraces built into Greece’s rugged hills and mountains, to prevent soil erosion and increase the amount of arable land. Another example can be found on nearly every island in Greece — the windmill.
Windmills were innovations of their time and allowed for wheat to be milled by utilizing the strong coastal winds. This not only provided flour and other materials, it also served as an important source of income for residents, which allowed settlements to grow and prosper.
The Smart & Sustainable Island Project builds on this great cultural heritage by once again harnessing energy from the wind to bring prosperity to the residents of Astypalea.
In unveiling the project, Mitsotakis made reference to Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher, who believed that most people live as if they are asleep. Mitsotakis noted that “the world has been asleep to the issue of climate change” and has only recently awoken to confront “the most important challenge of our generation.”
Indeed, the world has awoken to face climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an intergovernmental body of the United Nations, made up of thousands of scientists and other leading experts, established in 2013 that climate change is unequivocal and can say with 95% certainty that human activity has caused it.
We do not have to look far to see the impact of the changing climate on our planet. Ongoing catastrophic wildfires rage in the western United States and a record number of hurricanes, bolstered by increased ocean temperatures, continue to plague the Atlantic coast.
Fully understanding the present and future risks of climate change, the Greek government has committed to reducing its environmental impact. In addition to the work on Astypalea, Greece plans to phase out coal by 2028. The government intends to decommission coal power plants as early as 2023 and transition to wind, solar, and other climate-friendly technologies.
Mitsotakis also noted that change starts small and grows over time. This is precisely the goal of the Astypalea project.
The small island will serve as a model and study site, the success of which will then be scaled up to larger municipalities. Astypalea will be an example for the world to follow. The island will be the focus of global interest, as people will want to not only learn from Astypalea but also visit and experience a fully green transportation network and electric grid.
Astypalea will be a model to other islands and to the entire world. The Smart & Sustainable Island Project will exemplify green living and show its ability to help people and the planet. Greece, a persistent nation of innovation, once again, will show the world that our problems can be solved through the application of our creativity.
To those who say renewable energy is not reliable, Astypalea says, “just you watch!”
About the author
Stephan Maranian holds a BA from Saint Anselm College and a MS from the University of Massachusetts Boston, both in Environmental Science, and is currently a first year law student at Suffolk University.
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