Hyperion, the first democratic renewable energy community in Athens, is very similar to Germany’s progressive energy cooperatives. The central idea behind them is the creation of a democratic collective that produces renewable energy for the members of the cooperative, but also for the wider community.

Greece has 50% more solar radiation per square meter than Germany and therefore, in terms of renewable energy, ranks among the countries with the greatest potential in Europe – which is why Greece is considered one of the most attractive investment opportunities in the world in the green energy sector.

Over the last decade the share of renewable energy in total energy consumption has almost doubled from 11% to 20%, primarily driven by wind and solar energy. At the same time, Greece is phasing out coal, having reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 43% since 2005.

However, Hyperion and the energy cooperative movement in Greece is about more than green energy. “We are the best possible solution to the climate crisis”, declares Takis Grigoriou, one of the co-founders of the Hyperion energy community. “We are taking matters into our own hands, producing our own energy, democratizing the energy sector and accelerating the transition to green energy in a socially just and participatory way.”

Social justice is key

Hyperion has pledged to donate a certain portion of the profits to low-income households in Athens, to a cultural center that promotes African culture, as well as to a soup kitchen near the capital that provides food to the needy.

As Christos Vrettos, also one of the founders of Hyperion, emphasizes, energy communities are a “solution at the crossroads of the two major crises we face today: ecological destruction and the decline of democracy”. Each of Hyperion’s 130 members has one vote in all decision-making processes of the cooperative.

Hyperion members want to be able to generate their own energy – Image: Nikoleta Zarifi/Hyperion-Greenpeace

Reducing energy bills

For three years, Grigoriou, Vrettos and the other members of the cooperative – a motley group of professionals, small businessmen and environmentalists from Athens – fought tooth and nail to get Hyperion up and running.

Hyperion has built a medium-sized solar park near Stymphalia, 80 kilometers southwest of Athens on land leased by a local farmer. Investing 330,000 euros, the community bought 925 Chinese-made solar panels.

Energy is very expensive in Greece – in 2022 Greece had the highest producer prices in the EU. Hyperion estimates that in just three to four years he will be able to pay back the investment.

The electricity produced at the Hyperion project feeds the public grid and is measured per kilowatt hour. The volume of this electricity is credited to the utility bills of the community members according to their investment, possibly over a period of 25 years – that is, the expected lifetime of the solar panels.


Change in the Greek legislation on energy communities

In Greece the legislation on energy communities has been in force since 2018 and was changed in 2023. The new framework, which was established based on an EU Directive, broadened the definition of energy communities thus facilitating renewable energy production cooperatives and fruition of its benefits. In addition, the new legislation will facilitate the participation of citizens who wish to produce clean energy themselves.

The original law allowed businesses to register as energy communities and operate as small energy producers – something more than a thousand private entrepreneurs have done since 2018.

Energy efficiency in focus

The members of Hyperion point out that they are part of an energy community and not a profit-making enterprise. They communicate through an online chat group and organize meetings and events around energy and the environment.

According to Hyperion’s founders, cheap and clean energy is just part of a bigger battle. About half of the buildings in Greece rank very low in energy efficiency – in other words, the spaces in these buildings require more energy to heat or cool.

That is why the community seeks to offer energy efficiency improvement services to its members and subsequently also to low-income households. “Actually we should be concerned with energy efficiency first and then with renewable energy,” says Alice Korovesi, energy conservation expert and member of Hyperion, because, as she explains, “you don’t need to produce energy that you don’t use.”

Takis Grigoriou

Takis Grigoriou – Image: Alexia Kalaitzi/DW

Energy poverty and network space

Greece has a high rate of energy poverty: one in five households cannot fully cover their heating needs. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 the price of electricity skyrocketed – and with it the interest of citizens to generate their own energy.

In less than a year, between November 2022 and August 2023, both the energy produced by energy communities and the number of requests from private individuals who want to produce their own energy tripled.

One of the main problems faced by the energy communities in Greece concerns the limits of the electricity grid. According to the think tank Green Tank, most applicants cannot connect to the network. A new legal framework stipulates that more grid space must be allocated for energy and virtual energy netting projects.

Difficulties in implementation

As optimistic as the Hyperion community is, some members are concerned about the correctness of the calculations. So far no energy community has amortized its investment.

Based on the country’s virtual energy netting system, the grid operator calculates the energy used by a household or a business and the energy produced by the community with its green energy technologies. The community is then paid the difference – at least in theory.

“But that doesn’t happen,” says Vrettos. “We’re not sure exactly where the process gets stuck. The utility claims that the distribution network operator is not sending the correct data, while the operator claims to have sent the data and the provider is not clearing.”

And this is an issue that Hyperion will have to overcome in order for other energy communities to follow suit.

The original text was published in English.

This article is part of a series of five articles on energy communities in the European Union, published with the support of Journalismfund Europe.