Debt-choked Greece seeks solar bonanza

ATHENS Mon Sep 5, 2011 10:00am EDT

ATHENS (Reuters) - Sun-baked and debt-choked Greece presented on Monday a plan to become Europe's solar energy powerhouse, attracting up to 20 billion euros of investment in the decades to come to lift its economy out of the doldrums.

The cash-strapped country regards clean energy as one of the few advantages of its uncompetitive economy, which is going through its longest and deepest recession in decades as a result of a debt crisis.

The ambitious plan, called "Project Helios," involves multiplying Greek solar power production from 206 megawatts(MW) in 2010 to 2.2 gigawatts (GW) by 2020 and up to 10 GW by 2050, according to an Energy Ministry presentation.

"Greece enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year, almost 50 percent more sun radiation than Germany, the global leader in solar photovoltaics," said the presentation held by Energy Minister George Papaconstantinou at an energy conference in Hamburg, Germany.

Cash-strapped Greece needs foreign investors to finance the plan, which includes leasing state land, free of any administrative or legal burdens, to investors to install solar panels.

Red tape is the biggest obstacle to renewable energy in Greece. Its solar energy output is about 80 times smaller than Germany's and ten times smaller than the Czech Republic's, according to data included in the presentation.

If successful, the project could help other EU countries meet their 2020 renewable energy targets, Papaconstantinou said. Germany, in particular, is looking for ways to plug an energy gap created by its decision to drop out of nuclear energy earlier than planned.

"Helios" was discussed last month in Athens between the Greek government and a high-ranking delegation of German officials headed by State Secretary of Economy Ministry Stefan Kapferer and the CEO of Germany's industrialists' union BDI, Markus Kerber.

Transmitting up to 2.5 GWs of solar power from Greece to central Europe was already feasible today, the presentation said.

Renewables, mostly wind, currently cover about 8 percent of total power demand in Greece. But they account for less than 1 percent of the output of dominant, state-controlled electricity utility PPC, which is one of Europe's biggest polluters.

(Corrects second date to 2020 in paragraph three)

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