“The traffic on Astypalea is to become completely electric”
Interview with Konstantinos Fragogiannis and Maik Stephan
Volkswagen Group and Greece want to make the Greek island of Astypalea in the Aegean Sea a model for climate-friendly mobility. New mobility services, the conversion of the island’s vehicle fleet to electric vehicles and the transformation of the energy supply are planned. In an interview, Konstantinos Fragogiannis, Deputy Foreign Minister of Greece, and Maik Stephan, Head of Business Development at Volkswagen Group, explain the details and objectives of the flagship project.
“Through our cooperation we want to show how an international business enterprise, a local community and a European state can work together for the benefit of the people.”
Minister, what do you expect from the cooperation?
Fragogiannis: We want to make Astypalea a model for sustainable mobility and climate-friendly energy supply. To this end, we are entering into a long-term partnership with Volkswagen Group. Through our cooperation we want to show how an international business enterprise, a local community and a European state can work together for the benefit of the people.
What made you choose Astypalea?
Fragogiannis: A relatively modest island offers two important advantages. Firstly, we can completely change the energy system and mobility offers. Second: We can observe how the project changes the community. We ruled out large islands like Crete or Rhodes for cost reasons. Very small islands with a few hundred people are also out of the question because the results would not be representative. Astypalea with 1,300 inhabitants has the appropriate scale. The road network is sufficient to test e-vehicles and mobility services. Another important argument was the support among the inhabitants.
“On Astypalea we want to show and test how networked, climate-friendly and electrified mobility already works today.”
What does Volkswagen Group hope to achieve?
Stephan: The reason for our commitment is as simple as it is fundamental: Volkswagen has decided on a strategic reorientation towards sustainable e-mobility. The company is transforming itself from an automobile manufacturer to a mobility provider. On Astypalea we want to show and test how networked, climate-friendly and electrified mobility already works today. And we want to find out how the solutions are being received.
How does the project change Astypalea?
Fragogiannis: We are completely transforming energy production. Today the island is supplied by four diesel generators. Within two years we will deactivate these generators and replace them with wind power and solar energy. At the same time, we will install batteries to store the energy and cover increased demand. To be on the safe side, the diesel generators will remain operational for a few years in case the supply of renewable energy should not be sufficient. But this does not change the goal: Astypalea should be self-sufficient with green electricity.
What does the collaboration mean for mobility?
The traffic on Astypalea is to become completely electric. Parallel to the conversion of the energy supply, we will therefore promote the purchase of e-vehicles. This applies to private individuals, public transport and companies that offer, for example, rental cars, scooters or quads. In total, we want to replace around 1,500 vehicles equipped with combustion engines with 1,000 electric cars. We will also identify an area where autonomous driving could be tested in the future, if technology is available and if it is financially feasible.
Stephan: So far there are two bus routes on the island. However, the connections are only available during the day and on weekends with restrictions. Some destinations are not accessible at all. We are therefore planning to replace the buses with new mobility services. Furthermore, there will be electric car sharing as well as electric scooter and bike sharing.
What can we expect in terms of the mobility services?
Stephan: It’s about a ridesharing service that can be called at any time and stops where the passengers require. It is quite possible that some Astypalea residents will not need their own car in the future. In this case we would show that it is possible to achieve a higher level of individual mobility with fewer vehicles. And that, climate neutrally.
How could experiences from the project influence future mobility solutions?
Stephan: This depends on feedback and user behavior. A special feature on Astypalea is the interaction of very different customer groups. On the one hand the locals – on the other hand thousands of tourists who only spend a short time on the island. We are curious about the similarities and differences between the two groups. With the insights we will further improve the mobility services – on Astypalea, and for other regions.
Greece has set itself ambitious climate targets. What role does Astypalea play in the overall concept?
Fragogiannis: Greece is bowing out of coal by 2028. The majority of power plants will be decommissioned as early as 2023. Instead, the government is promoting wind turbines, solar plants and other climate-friendly technologies. The cooperation with Volkswagen Group is a beacon in this respect. Astypalea can become an ecological model for many islands – worldwide.
The island of Astypalea
Astypalea is located about 350 kilometers from Athens in the southern Aegean Sea. The almost 100 square kilometer large island has 1,300 inhabitants – and many tourists. Around 72,000 guests visit Astypalea every year. One of the island’s landmarks is a Venetian castle, which was once destroyed by pirates and later rebuilt.