Greece Bets On Solar Power As A Debt Solution

Solar energy is being suggested as one partial solution to the debt problems besetting Greece. Under the plan, Greece will use future revenues from its "Helios" solar energy project to pay back as much as $21 billion in debt. European leaders, especially the Germans (who will buy the bulk of this energy), like the idea. However, Greece must attract investors to install some 10 gigawatts of solar panels by 2050 to make it all happen.

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Greece may be struggling with debt and a stagnant economy, but the country has one limitless resource: the sun. The Greek government and European leaders are working an ambitious solar energy project that they say could make the country billions. From Athens, Joanna Kakissis has the story.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Energy Minister George Papaconstantinou is leading the solar project, which is called Helios, after the ancient sun god. European leaders say Greece could cut its debt by up to $21 billion by exporting solar energy. The government also hopes to attract foreign investors.


KAKISSIS: Many homes in Greece already use solar power. This instructional video shows men installing solar panels on a roof.


KAKISSIS: Lena Kouremenou and her family use solar energy to heat their flat in suburban Athens. Kouremenou says the sun is a potential gold mine for Greece.

LENA KOUREMENOU: Solar energy is something we have at least five to six, maybe sometimes seven months a year. And I definitely believe it's something we should have taken advantage of. Unfortunately, we haven't. But it would have created many jobs for many people.

KAKISSIS: Corruption, inefficiency and a reliance on coal have kept solar energy enterprises from taking off, says Phoebe Kountouri. She's a professor of environmental economics at the Athens University of Economics and Business.

PHOEBE KOUNTOURI: We don't have any more flexibility. We cannot avoid these investments. It's one good chance to do something that will help this country financially, economically and socially.

KAKISSIS: The Greek government estimates that the Helios project could make the country more than $110 billion over 25 years. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis, in Athens.

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