Tiny Greek island starts green energy revolution

Tilos island

Tilos, a tiny Greek island nestled between Kos and Rhodes, is at the vanguard of a renewable energy revolution thanks to an initiative by the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the University of Applied Sciences in Piraeus that has just been recognised by two important EU Commission awards.

“The island’s population is only around 200 in the winter but rises to more than 1,500 in the summer when the tourists arrive,” said Dr Konstantinos Chalvatzis, senior lecturer in business and climate change at UEA’s Norwich Business School. “Energy supply is a major issue, with frequent black-outs and power surges. But while its remote location makes traditional ways of providing power so challenging, it also makes Tilos ideal for our pioneering work.”

The project has just won two major EU Sustainable Energy Awards for its clean, secure and efficient energy production – the Energy Island Award and the Citizen’s Award, for which Tilos received more than half of the 21,000 public vote.

“We were delighted to receive such recognition for this project,” said Dr Chalvatzis. “Tilos is called Greece’s ‘green island’ and will now be the first island in the Mediterranean to be powered by wind and solar energy alone, with zero carbon emissions. At the moment it relies on unreliable oil fuel electricity supplied via cables from Kos but the island is about to be self-sufficient – or even to exchange energy with Kos.

“Most Greek and other Mediterranean islands also depend on unreliable, oil-based electricity, so our goal is to roll the model out to them, as well as to small islands across Europe and beyond.”

The project is receiving a lot of attention for its unique system, which uses wind turbines and solar panels to store energy in batteries, enabling it to provide everything from lighting and hot water to, ultimately, electric cars and bikes. 

“The uniqueness is not in the way we generate the electricity but in the way we’ve developed the technology to make it cost-effective, reliable and completely green,” said Dr Chalvatzis. “For example, normal batteries will last around five years and are filled with non-recyclable chemicals, but ours have a much lengthier lifespan and are completely recyclable.”

Two years into its four-year schedule, the scheme has received 11 million euros in funding from Horizon 2020, the EU’s biggest Research and Innovation programme, three million euros from industry and a further million euros in private investment.

“Tilos is ahead of its time - the islanders welcome new ideas and were open to our initiative,” said Dr Chalvatzis. “As a result, we now have a blueprint for generating sustainable energy in a profitable and scalable way, so the benefits can be felt across the world, whether that’s other islands, faraway communities or even by providing clean and efficient energy for refugee camps or remote hospitals. This technology could truly change people’s lives.”