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Can solar energy help save Greece?

Renewable energy programs, particularly solar, may provide part of the answer to Greece’s debt crisis if the public can be won over, according to new research from LSE and Durham University.

Solar energy could lower both crippling domestic energy costs in Greece and also provide the debt-ridden country with a valuable export commodity to help ameliorate its financial crisis, says Dr Daniel Knight from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

In a paper published this week in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, Dr Knight and his research colleague Dr Sandra Bell of Durham University argue that renewable energy may be more relevant than ever in Greece, but only if public concerns are addressed.

Drs Knight and Bell claim that one of the major unmet challenges facing the solar industry in Greece is a public that has become dubious of programs that involve international companies, foreign government and banking forces outside their borders.

“It is necessary to understand not only the role of government policy but also to think about social relations and historical consciousness among Greeks,” Dr Knight said.

“When the global recession spilled over into a full-scale national debt crisis in 2010, Greece was squeezed by oil and gas prices that were reaching record highs, while household incomes were falling fast. Parts of the country were returned to pre-modernity almost overnight.”

Dr Knight – who lived with locals in central Greece for extended periods over two years to undertake his research – said the impacts of the financial crisis have been profound.

“Today many Greeks can no longer afford to run cars, cook dinner or heat their homes and last winter people regularly burned old furniture, clothes and plastics just to stay warm. The illegal harvesting of firewood is rampant and environmentally-destructive lignite (“dirty coal”) is the primary source of energy in Greece,” he added.

Drs Knight and Bell interviewed homeowners, farmers, local government officials, engineers and renewable energy entrepreneurs during their time in Greece.

“Many of the people we spoke with, including some energy providers and wholesalers, acknowledged that Greek solar initiatives in their current form are unsustainable and that policy changes are needed.

“But the Greek Government and the European Union as a whole are very poor at communicating policy at the local level, leaving people to discover energy initiatives by word of mouth,” Dr Knight said.

Historically, this has led to “a cloud of suspicion” over solar energy as many mainstream Greeks fear they would be exploited by a rapidly privatising energy sector.

Strict austerity measures by the EU, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank had already compelled some locals to install solar panels on their agricultural land, the researchers said.

“These sorts of fears are not helped by overlapping national and EU policies that are changing constantly,” Dr Knight added, “and a general failure to communicate such changes to people at a local level.”

“Resistance to renewable energy programs and policies is often deeply rooted in local history and culture. This context must be appreciated if solar initiatives are to be successful and sustained in the long term,” he said.

For more information, contact Dr Daniel Knight at D.M.Knight@lse.ac.uk,             07580044 022 or Candy Gibson, LSE Press Office, 0207849 4624 or c.gibson@lse.ac.uk


The article, “Pandora’s Box: photovoltaic energy and economic crisis in Greece” by Daniel Knight and Sandra Bell appears in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, published by the American Institute of Physics.

The Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy is an interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal produced by AIP Publishing that covers all areas of renewable and sustainable energy-related fields that apply to the physical science and engineering communities.

Dr Daniel Knight is a National Bank of Greece Postdoctoral Fellow in the European Institute at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from Durham University and is a member of numerous anthropological associations and renewable energy research groups, and an Associate of the Higher Education Academy.

16 August 2013