Not a lot happens in the winter months on Astypalea, a butterfly-shaped Greek island in the Aegean Sea.
The thousands of summertime tourists have gone: the locals – there are about 1,300 of them – work the land and busy themselves painting their neat white houses and tidying up ready for the next holiday season.
But this year life on the island is set to be a little different.
In what’s considered as a groundbreaking experiment with implications for the battle against climate change, the Greek government has teamed up with the Volkswagen car group to establish a complete system of sustainable energy on Astypalea.
Under the scheme, VW will provide the island with 1,000 of its electric vehicles (EVs), replacing 1,500 internal combustion vehicles.
Police cars, ambulances and the island bus service will all become electric. The more than 70,000 tourists who visit Astypalea each year will be encouraged to hire EVs and electric scooters and motorbikes.
The Greek government is said to be giving considerable state aid and tax incentives to the project.
“Politics, business and society have a common responsibility to limit climate change”, said Herbert Diess, the VW group CEO.
“Our long-term goal is climate-neutral mobility for everyone – and with the Astypalea project, we will explore how to realise that vision.”
Astypalea, part of the Dodecanese group of islands in the south-east Aegean, is 18 kms long and 12 kms wide at its broadest point.
VW says it will install more than 200 private and public charging points on the island. The government says Astypalea will become a pioneer for sustainable tourism throughout the country.
At present four diesel generators supply the island’s power. Within two years, the government says, Astypalea will become completely self-sufficient in energy, with wind turbines and solar panels replacing the ageing and inefficient generators.
“Electric transport and a holistic, green and sustainable action plan will have a positive impact on the everyday life of the island’s inhabitants”
“Today is a great day for Astypalea and all of Greece”, said Konstantinos Fragogiannis, Greek deputy foreign minister.
“We are launching the first ‘smart green island’ project in our country, which marks a major change in our outlook.
“Electric transport and a holistic, green and sustainable action plan will have a positive impact on the everyday life of the island’s inhabitants. Combined with a pioneering public transport system, we are turning futuristic ideas into reality.”
Tourism plays a central role in the economy of Greece: the country has a population of under 11 million but in recent times more than three times that number have visited each year, putting considerable strain on local infrastructure and on the environment.
Scandal to forget
Many Greek islands suffer severe energy and water shortages during the peak tourist season. Air pollution caused by growing numbers of cruise ships is another problem.
VW says it’s committed to adjusting its production processes in order to meet the challenge of climate change.
The company, considered by some measures to be the world’s biggest car maker, aims to manufacture more than a million electric cars a year by 2025.
In recent days VW announced that Bentley cars – the luxury UK brand now owned by the German carmaker – will cease manufacturing diesel and petrol-driven vehicles by 2030 and concentrate solely on hybrid vehicles and EVs.
The German conglomerate has been struggling to repair its image after a widespread scandal in 2015, when it was forced to admit it had sold nearly 600,000 cars in the US which had been fitted with devices deliberately designed to circumvent emissions regulations and to falsify exhaust gas tests.
VW had to pay out billions of dollars in compensation as a result of what US prosecutors described as an “appalling” fraud – Climate News Network