Over the next few years, the goal is to transition Astypalea's transport system to EVs with power coming from renewable sources. To achieve this, Volkswagen Group is working with the Greek government, with VW CEO Dr. Herbert Diess and Greek Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Economic Diplomacy and Openness signing a memorandum of understanding to get the project off the ground.
Central to the project is creating an 'ecosystem' which integrates a variety of different transport types, alongside the necessary energy generation and digital services, to cater for the 1300 islanders' needs. To this end, a cutting-edge digital mobility services system is being created by VW, including an all-electric, year-round ridesharing service which will supplement the existing bus service – comprising just two buses – on the small island.
Astypalea itself is very popular with tourists, attracting around 72,000 each year to an island which at 100 square kilometres, is around 15 per cent smaller than Jersey. Many of these hire cars, scooters or bicycles to get around and see the sights, so part of the project will see VW working with the existing hire companies to phase out internal combustion engine cars and replace with EVs.
Around 1500 ICE-powered hire vehicles will be replaced by 1000 electric vehicles – likely including a mixture of ID.3s, ID.4s, VW e-UP! and SEAT Mii Electrics. But it's not just cars in the plan: SEAT's range of e-scooters and e-bikes will be made available for use. Furthermore, the island's limited commercial fleets, such as that used by local businesses, emergency services and public sector, will be electrified with VW Group vehicles.
Supporting the newly electrified fleet will be a comprehensive charging infrastructure installed through VW's energy and charging subsidiary, Elli. Some 230 chargers will be made available for both public. Of course, the energy that is supplied to them – and much of the rest of the island – needs to be renewable if the project is to deliver true climate neutrality.
At present, Astypalea relies almost solely on fossil fuels for energy generation, but the VW and Greek government project will gradually transition it to sustainable sources. This will help accomplish another goal for island officials of becoming a bastion of sustainable tourism, which is supported by the Greek National Energy and Climate Plan.
Konstantinos Fragogiannis, Greek Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, said: “Electric transport and a holistic, green and sustainable action plan will have a positive impact on the everyday life of the island's inhabitants. Combined with a pioneering public transport system, we are turning futuristic ideas into reality. Today Greece shows that it is ready to adopt ground-breaking, innovative and flagship investments that take society to another level of connectedness, smart sustainability and innate usability.”
The Volkswagen and Greek project on Astypalea isn't the first to use an island as a test bed for a sustainable ecosystem. Renault's 'Smart Fossil Free Island' project on Porto Santo, Portugal, used second life batteries from its Z.E. series of cars as power storage to help with balancing the power grid. Closer to home, the ReFLEX project on Orkney has sought to create a local green energy grid – and we expect projects like this to become more numerous in the coming months.
Think of them as proofs of concept for projects which will eventually be rolled out much wider, and within landlocked energy systems.