ManagEnergy spoke with Nikolas Zografakis, director of the Regional Energy Agency of Crete (REAC), ahead of Greece’s inauguration for the EU Presidency1 this month. REAC is one of the oldest energy agencies in Europe, and the first in Greece, established in 1993.
According to Zografakis, the EU’s creation and support of regional energy agencies2 was a ‘decisive point’ for the energy sector in Europe. ‘It permitted agencies like ours to demonstrate the importance of regional energy planning, which is not always so obvious. For countries like Greece, which are very centralized, having regional actors like REAC is a great benefit for the management of energy policy.’
Now, with upwards of EUR 20 billion allocated to the low carbon economy in the ‘14–‘20 cohesion policy period—and with Greece a priority recipient of those funds—the role of regional energy agencies continues to be vital.
‘I think that energy agencies have an important role to play in delivering the Operational Programmes as permanent supporters, catalyzers, and promoters of sustainable energy at a local and regional level,’ said Zografakis.
On Crete, 11 of the island’s 20 municipalities have signed the Covenant of Mayors—several of which have completed SEAPs—which is largely a result of REAC’s efforts. Crete has also developed an island-level SEAP through the ISLE-PACT.
‘We are now actively encouraging our municipalities to prepare plans for how their SEAP actions might be integrated into the new [cohesion policy] programming period. We’re also urging them to work with other local and regional organizations like chambers of commerce to promote energy innovation and energy entrepreneurship. And with the regions we’re helping to simplify the administrative procedures for investments. All this within the framework of the new programming period until 2020.’
In September of last year, ManagEnergy spoke with energy agencies on their responses to tightening public budgets. Some energy agencies have adapted to these changes by shifting their focus from technical solutions to financial innovation—most notably through energy performance contracting. This change is seeing some agencies working with economists and lawyers to carry out innovative funding mechanisms.
REAC, too, is working to adapt and develop expertise on new financial tools—crowd funding, ELENA facilities, etc. Still, like so many energy agencies, they remain more oriented towards offering technical solutions, information and awareness. According to Zografakis, though, ‘we are increasingly playing a role in informing our municipalities about the availability of these new financing tools and how they should be used.’
Finally, on the subject of the Greek presidency, Zografakis was cautiously optimistic: ‘At last you’re starting to see sustainable energy being recognised as one of the tools to face the economic and social crisis. We look forward to hearing a strong position from the Greek presidency concerning the promotion of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and the 2020 targets and—why not—2030.’
In an article appearing in Parliament magazine last week, Yannis Maniatis, Greek minister for environment, energy and climate change, seemed to answer this call, arguing that ‘green growth and resource efficiency is key to addressing Europe's economic and financial situations’:
The Greek presidency will seek to move forward the EU's energy and climate policies post 2020 and the adaptation of a 2030 framework for climate and energy policies. The timely establishment of a 2030 framework is vital in order to give investors security regarding the objectives and policies which will be in effect, to mobilise funding and ensure that the corresponding research and innovation is undertaken to support these new goals.
1 This is the fifth time the country holds the EU Presidency since its accession to the EU in 1981.
2 The SAVE Programme was a European Commission initiative that started in the 1990s to support local authorities in the energy field. The aim of this programme was to stimulate, for the first time a 'bottom up' approach to energy management by encouraging local and regional action on energy efficiency including the use of local energy resources and sustainable development at the local level. To achieve this aim, SAVE co-funded the creation of autonomous Energy Management Agencies at local and regional levels. Since 2004, energy agencies have been created under the Intelligent Energy Europe - Programme.