Lignite is the main source of electricity in Greece (65% of national electricity production). Although the country also has small reserves of oil (10% of national electricity production) and gas. Consumption of natural gas, which is mostly imported, had been significant until the global economic crisis in 2008. Since this period, gas has become less important in electricity production – in 2012, its share was only 15%. Security of supply, low production costs and stable prices are an important reason why lignite maintains a strong position in the energy market in Greece.
Greece has lignite resources amounting to 4.7 billion tons, of which 3 billion tons are economically viable. The most important deposits are located in the northern part of the country, in Ptolemais – Amynteon and Florina (1.5 billion tons), which contribute to about 80% of electricity production from coal. Other deposits are in Drama (900 million tons), in Elassona (170 million tons), as well as in the south of Megalopolis (225 million tons). A large part of the resources is also in Philippi, in the northern part of Greece (Eastern Macedonia). Only 30% of the total reserves of lignite has been extracted so far. The remaining reserves will last for about 40 years, at the current production rates.
Lignite, despite the constant competition of natural gas, maintains its position as the primary energy source in Greece. Deposits of lignite are located at an average depth of 150 to 200 meters. The deposits with the lowest calorific value are those in the areas of Megalopolis and Drama (3, 770 to 5, 020 kJ/kg), and also in Ptolemais-Amynteon (5, 230 to 6, 280 kJ/kg).
Opencast lignite mines and power plants
About 63 million tons of lignite mined annually is derived from opencast mines, owned by the state-owned Public Power Corporation (PPC). This company is the largest producer of lignite in Greece, which also has its own power plants with a capacity of 4,900 MW. Private mines extract only 755 thousand tons of lignite.
At the end of 2012, power plants which belong to the PPC had about a 68% share of the total installed power in Greece – 16.5 GW. This power was produced mainly in lignite-fired power plants, but also from gas, oil, wind, in hydropower plants, and photovoltaics. The PPC owns eight lignite-fired power plants, which consist of 21 units. There are also six private lignite-fired power plants with a total capacity of 2, 564 MW.
Up to 2010, there were 22 lignite-fired power plants in seven regions. Currently, there are only 14 which are open. After 1 January 2016, six of them will operate for approximately 30% of their current time, and in 2023, they will be closed. There are plans to expand two coal power plants. One of them is Ptolemaida V – a fifth unit of the Ptolemaida lignite-fired power plant – with a capacity of 660 MW. This unit will start operations in 2019. If the power plant is expanded, it will be the country’s largest lignite-fired power plant. The cost of this investment is estimated at minimum 1.4 billion Euros.
In Greece, there is great potential for the development of solar systems (PV for households) through the implementation of the net-metering program – a billing system where the electricity generated by the prosumer in micro-installations and delivered to the local distribution facilities is settled during the applicable billing period by balancing the amount of energy consumed from the grid. This program was proposed in Greece in 2015. Moreover, the reduction of production costs of solar batteries will allow the implementation of stand-alone power systems, which will become competitive to centralized electricity production in Greece. It is estimated that the recovery time for fully autonomous PV installation would be around 12 years.