Sunday, August 22, 2010

Crete renewable energy makes up for shortcomings

My wife and I got a chance to vacation to the island of Crete, the biggest island in the Greek Isles, located in the Mediterranean Sea. The weather was incredible, the scenery was mountainous and amazing, and the water was warm and clear. The local people were very friendly and spoke excellent English, so it made the trip very enjoyable.

What I didn't anticipate was the amount of renewable energy available in Crete. We saw many applications of green technology.

Almost every home had a passive solar water heater system on the roof, which means they aren't spending money on heating their water. With the amazing weather we experienced, it seems like a no-brainer to implement that everywhere in the Mediterranean.

We saw at least 100 wind turbines on the mountain tops, and probably 5-6 different wind farms (on the east side of the island only). It was pretty impressive. The good thing is that they didn't need huge towers to get them way up in the air, since the mountain was already high enough for constant wind. That probably keeps the costs down.

We also passed by a solar photovoltaic farm, with maybe 10-20 large panels. It was hard to get a picture of it due to the road we were travelling on, but it looked very impressive.

A couple observations about Europe:

1) they limited the use of ice. Every time we ordered soda or a water, we got 2-3 cubes, which melted quickly. I'd consider that a savings on the use of energy to generate all the ice cubes, even though it might not help the customer satisfaction for those of us used to having a drink that has too much ice.

2) Most hotels had a switch that required the room key, in order to turn on the electricity. This forced you to turn everything off when you left the room, by removing the key from the device. The only downside was when we were trying to recharge something (cell phone, laptop, etc), we could only do it when we were physically there. Overall, I like the idea, and would like to see it expand to the US.

I was looking for a website that summarized the renewable activity in Crete, but was unsuccessful. Maybe it's available on a website written in Greek. If anyone can find one that talks about the number of wind farms and turbines, solar arrays, solar water heaters, etc in Crete, I'd appreciate it.
Now to the negatives. In general, I did not see many places to recycle. We actually had to save up all our stuff, and take it to the Scandinavian resort up the hill, where they had many different bins all over the place for recycleables.

It might help the second problem as well, which is the amount of trash lying around. Along every street and highway you could see trash, bottles, cans, and many other items that shouldn't be there. If your primary economy is based upon tourism, I would think that cleanliness would be a primary focus.

Fortunately, most of the beaches were trash-free, except for the last beach we stopped at, on our way to the airport.

As you can see from this photo, it looks amazing, so we stopped right away to check it out. Crystal clear waters, cool rock formations, and ocean as far as you can see.

However, when you get up close, this is what we saw everywhere.

Trash bags, food packaging wrappers, styrofoam, plastic silverware, and other small plastic pieces that would surely be eaten by marine life. It was really gross. I would only get into the water up to my waist, and even then, I was not comfortable. We grabbed as many large objects as we could find, but it would take an army to clean it up.

I don't know how it got there. I don't even blame the locals, since it could be coming from the cruise ships or tourists. However, I would not recommend anyone go to that particular beach (Voulisma Beach) because of the trash we saw. This needs to be addressed right away. To have a beautiful island ruined by litter and trash would be a shame.