EurActiv has learned that the EU’s energy directorate general has been asked to investigate the idea’s potential, which is so far hampered by a lack of enthusiasm from EU nations.
“Several German companies have expressed interest in the idea but it would clearly be more interesting if several member states were involved,” a senior source told EurActiv.
Marlene Holzner, a spokesperson for the energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger confirmed that talks were ongoing.
“There is a task force in the European Commission where we have energy experts looking into the question of how energy could help Greece to grow economically,” she told EurActiv. “Solar is one topic, and energy efficiency is another.”
Greece enjoys 50% more solar radiation than Germany and yet its solar energy output is about 80 times smaller, according to the Greek energy ministry.
Speaking at a Brussels policy meeting last week, a top EU official told EurActiv that there was “no reason” why Greece could not benefit from investment in solar energy on its own territory – or cooperate in its export to other countries.
But “it depends whether the country or countries concerned are willing to allow Greek promoters to take advantages of their national schemes,” he said.
“There is a great need in Germany, and maybe with some other countries [involvement] it could get off the ground. It’s certainly something which we’re talking about with the Athens task force people, and they’re quite interested in it,” the EU official added.
Earlier this month, the German chancellor Angela Merkel called for her country’s solar energy subsidies to be reduced and clean energy to be imported from countries such as Greece instead.
Such a move could smooth over Germany’s transition from nuclear power in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.
'We want to take German firms to Greece': Rösler
The German economy minister Philipp Rösler subsequently visited Athens with 60 business leaders on an mission to explore investment opportunities.
“In the spirit of solidarity, it is the task of all Europeans to help Greece get back on its feet economically,” he reportedly told the German broadcaster ZDF. “And we want to take German firms to Greece,” he added.
The Greek economy has been in crisis since 2010, with a succession of multi-billion euro bailout packages and austerity measures failing to satisfy the international banking sector.
In September, Athens announced Project Helios, an optimistic plan for a quantum expansion of Greece’s solar power production from 206MW to 2.2GW by 2020, and then 10GW by 2050.
The scheme is intended to attract up to €20 billion and create between 30,000 and 60,000 jobs, but it will first need to overcome what the Greek newspaper Ekathimerini rcalled “bureaucratic and legal obstacles”.
According to Paul Van Son, the CEO of the Desertec Industrial Initiative, Project Helios could face other problems too.
“Greece is very hilly, the infrastructure is very expensive and there’s less solar irradiation than in southern Spain,” he told EurActiv.
Greek locations still had to be found “where the conditions are favourable enough to create a feasible business case, connect the electricity grids and move power from A to B,” he added.
Van Son declined to say whether Desertec was currently talking to the Greek government about investments. But a Greek firm, Terna Energy, recently bought a stake in the company, which is mostly active in North Africa.
Another leading US solar PV firm, First Solar, says it is looking at investment in Greece, partly “because Helios is coming around the corner,” Christopher Burghardt, the firm’s Vice President confirmed to EurActiv.
“The problem is that Greece has a real constraint on financing so my appeal to European governments is to provide financing guarantees to project investors, because that’s what we need,” he said.