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Alternative Technology and Renewable Energy can be great fun and very rewarding, especially if done at home. On this blog I share my ideas and tips for mainly simple and inexpensive alternative technology projects.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Our visit to Symi, a very beautiful Greek island

I am writing this on my laptop, sitting on the roof terrace of our rented house in Horio, Symi. It is around 23 degrees in the shade and just about bearable in the direct sunshine for me. We are here for two weeks in mid May and it is proving to be very relaxing, with not much to do apart from eating, drinking and walking.

Horio is in an elevated position, set back from the pretty harbour and all the houses are reached by mostly tiny alleyways, suitable only for walkers and donkeys. Our house is called Two Fishes and is in an elevated position giving terrific views across the two bays and further to the coast of Turkey. All the houses are brightly painted to reflect the sun and keep them from getting too hot inside. I think we would really struggle in August, when the temperatures can reach 40 degrees!

Our house has the bedroom on the lowest floor which is set into the ground on the slope of the mountain and thus keeps pretty cool without the use of air conditioning. Electricity is very expensive on Symi, as it is generated centrally, by several huge, noisy, diesel generators on the road to Pedi about 2 kilometres away. I have found very little evidence of solar PV panels being used, as they are very expensive here and the population are actually quite poor. Most tourist visitors, unfortunately, don't care where their power is coming from, so I can't see the situation changing much in the future until diesel prices become a lot higher. Greek islands used to be very cheap for food and drink, but we are finding that prices are broadly similar to the UK now. The pound is not very strong against the Euro these days.

Solar power does appear to be gaining popularity here for providing hot water. You don't really need an insulated storage tank as the losses overnight are not too bad and the number of full sun hours with south facing panels is very high indeed. I reckon that around 10% of houses here have solar heated hot water and that figure will obviously increase as electrically heated water becomes cripplingly expensive.

There are not many vehicles on Symi, because there are not many roads and fuel costs are very similar to the UK. Here, of course, not much of the fuel cost is tax. Most of the cost is in transportation. There are quite a few mopeds and motorbikes as these can get down most of the level alleyways and are relatively cheap to run. Electric vehicles woud be a non-starter here, as the gradients are far in excess of anything achievable by electric propulsion.

Water is brought daily to Symi by tanker ship and then distributed by plastic piping to most of the houses. Higher up the mountain, water pressures are pretty low, so a domestic booster pump becomes a requriement. Drinking quality water is bottled and obtainable in most shops on the island at a price. There is no main drainage and the Greek plumbing is basic to say the least. Most waste is usually discharged into a ground soakaway under each house. We cannot, for instance, use the toilet and take a shower one after the other, because the waste just does not go down the plughole quickly enough!

It does seem rather sad to me, that although the Greek climate has such fantastic potential for providing abundant supplies of energy, the people cannot afford to make full use of it. It is ironic that Germany, with less potential solar power than even the UK, has the largest take up of solar power in the world. This is mainly because of the strong incentives that the German government provide for small scale electricity generation. Consumers are offered very attractive rates to buy back surplus power produced by home generation schemes. In the UK typical import rates are 10p/unit and 5p/unit for export. In Germany typical import rates are 10c/unit and 40c/unit for export!

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