Emerging Water Industries in Greece

Author : Ioannis Michaletos | Tuesday, June 23, 2009
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Water management is attracting the attention of businessmen in Greece, especially when it is related to the water cycle and energy production. Dams, water transmission pipelines, water depots, and seawater desalination plants are all included in the five-year plan that the Karamanlis administration has relayed recently to the press, as a plan to develop this very lucrative sector.

Greece’s national plan was drafted by the Ministry of Public Works, along with the national Directorate of Hydro-management and the Athens National Technical University.

This national program includes both large and small hydro-projects, since Greece has significant hydrodynamic potential, most of which is concentrated in the western and northern sections of the country, where major rivers such as the Acheloos, Arachthos, Aoos, Haliakmon, Stymonas and Nestos flow. At the same time, Greece makes excessive use of electricity, almost 40% more than any of its Balkan neighbors. Greece also imports substantial amounts of electricity per annum, especially from Bulgaria.

Most European countries have reached the highest potential of their hydrodynamic reserves. Greece is an exception; only one-third of the economically exploitable hydrodynamic resources are being exploited. Therefore, the country has significant unused domestic reserves, and can thus create a long-term strategy in this field.

The National Program Management and Protection of Water Resources includes measures for better distribution of water in the 14 designated water departments in the country, which, as announced by Minister George Souflias, include large and small projects for water diversions or transfers and for electricity production. These projects include around 22 large hydroelectric structures and about 300 small hydropower ones.

In order to meet the needs of the more arid regions of the country, a system of small and large dams along the rivers and pipelines transporting water from one water compartment to another will be constructed. For coastal areas and islands, seawater desalination plants have already started to be built, some of them using hybrid technology, meaning they are powered by renewable energy resources such as solar and wind power.

These major projects will be designed so as not to disturb the water balance areas. Yet all the evidence suggests that this is inevitable, as water in the coming years will become a more precious and expensive commodity than oil.

The diversion of the Acheloos River to the Thessaly region has almost been completed, at a cost of over 700 million euros. As a consequence Thessaly’s farmers will enjoy a significant boost in their production (mostly wheat, corn, potato and cotton), with a 300 MW electricity production facility.

The water department with the largest surplus is West Central Greece, while the deficit is evident in Thessaly. Other departments with water deficit are the Eastern Peloponnese and the Aegean islands.

With Greece’s current pace of growth, it is calculated that by 2030 the northern Peloponnese, eastern and central Greece, Attica, central Macedonia and Thrace will start facing problems, if the government’s envisioned plans are not implemented. For the time being, the wet winter of 2008-09 has resulted in a spectacular increase in water reserves to such an extent that there are plans to export water to the Middle East. Last year Greece exported water to Cyprus when the latter faced a drought.

Today, the main issues associated with water management in Greece are:

-unequal distribution of water resources in western Greece due to heavy rainfall in comparison with the eastern parts;

-the uneven seasonal distribution of water resources, winter being the only significant rainy period;

unequal distribution of water demand in the country, with Attica, Thessaloniki and Patras requiring most of the resources during winter, in addition to the most visited tourist islands of the Aegean in the summer;

-leaks in water distribution networks, affecting up to 20% of pipeline networks, pose an additional problem and require new pipeline infrastructure.

Already, Greece has reached scientific and bi-governmental agreements with the EU countries plus Iceland in order to import much needed know-how regarding water management issues.

It is telling that the country is ranked in the last place among 24 European and Mediterranean countries, having at present only 46 large dams. Spain (ranked 1st) has 1196, followed by Turkey with 625, France with 569, and Italy with 524.

The Greek government moreover is now geared to privatize segments of the hydro-infrastructure. The water and sewerage companies in both Athens and Thessaloniki are high on the list next to privatization.

The Ministry of Finance seems to be planning a gradual reduction in the percentage held and in the state companies EYDAP (Athens) and EYATH (Thessaloniki). Currently, the government holds 70% of the share capital of EYDAP (60% government and 10% of the ATE state bank) and over 70% of EYATH. According to all available information those percentages will fall to 40% by next year. The capitalization of the former is around 400 million euros, and of EYATH, around 200 million euros.

Already, French multinational Suez Environment has expressed keen interest to invest in Greek companies. Since both of them hold significant real estate along the two biggest Greek cities, there are ample opportunities for investing in the sewage management sector, the next big thing in the contemporary “Green business” trend. Certainly, the water business is going to become a well known feature in Greece and elsewhere in the Balkans, as major investors start to move into an emerging and very lucrative sector.

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