What could be better than a tranquil Greek island in the Mediterranean Sea? A tranquil Greek island that is not enveloped in a cloud of carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels. Volkswagen and Greece have signed an agreement recently that will bring clean energy, electric vehicles, and state of the art mobility solutions to the island of Astypalea, a 100 square kilometer slice of heaven located south of Athens near the coast of Turkey.
It has about 1,300 inhabitants but draws more than 70,000 tourists annually. The island aspires to become a pioneer for sustainable tourism over the coming years and therefore has a strong interest in zero emissions mobility. Its transportation system today consists of about 1,500 private vehicles and a few creaky old buses. Most of its electricity comes from a thermal generating plant. What streets there are tend to be congested, especially when tourists arrive and depart.
Volkswagen wants to change all that by providing the island with an all new transportation system that will feature digital mobility services, including an all electric year round ride sharing service designed to take the current very limited local bus service to a new level. According to the company, part of the traditional vehicle rental business will be transformed into a vehicle sharing service offering e-scooters from SEAT, electric bicycles, and electric cars. Thanks to the ride sharing program, about 1,500 cars with internal combustion engines will be replaced with electric vehicles from Volkswagen, beginning with the ID.3 and the soon to be introduced ID.4.
The plan includes replacing some commercial vehicles as well as those used by police, emergency services, and public sector fleets with electric vehicles. Volkswagen will install 250 of its Elli EV chargers on the island to support the electrification program as well as several public charging points.
Herbert Diess, CEO of the Volkswagen Group, says “Politics, business and society have a common responsibility to limit climate change. Our long-term goal is climate-neutral mobility for everyone. And with the Astypalea project we will explore how to realize that vision already today. E-mobility and smart mobility will improve the quality of life, while contributing to a carbon neutral future.”
Konstantinos Fragogiannis, deputy minister of foreign affairs, hailed the agreement. “Today is a great day for Astypalea, the Dodecanese Region, the Aegean Sea and all of Greece. Today we are launching the first ‘Smart Green Island’ project in our country, which marks a major change in our outlook. 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 groundbreaking, innovative and flagship investments that take society to another level of connectedness, smart sustainability and innate usability.”
Volkswagen’s independent Sustainability Council is a strong supporter of Volkswagen’s decarbonization strategy. Margo T. Oge, who is a member of the Sustainability Council and also a former Director of the Office of Transportation Air Quality at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agrees. “Climate change poses an existential threat to humanity. E-mobility, in conjunction with renewable energy will help reduce the worst impacts of climate change. There is an Aristotle saying: ‘It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.’ The Astypalea project is a light in the darkness and will help demonstrate the future of clean mobility.”
The Volkswagen Group remains firmly committed to the goals of the Paris Agreement. As part of its plan to become climate neutral by 2050, it has drawn up the “goTOzero” sustainability strategy to achieve that goal. The largest electric push in the automobile industry is at the heart of this strategy: The Volkswagen Group will invest €33 billion in e-mobility over the next five years and launch about 75 new electric models by 2029 with the ID.3, being the first of those models.
The project on Astypalea is an integral part of the “goTOzero” strategy and will serve as a blueprint for the total decarbonization of mobility. Under the umbrella of the Volkswagen Group, several brands are engaged in this endeavor. They include Volkswagen, SEAT, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, the energy service provider Elli, a wholly owned subsidiary of Volkswagen dedicated to helping EV drivers use only zero emissions electricity to power their cars.
“Elli is a young and dynamic company that is already making a contribution to the energy transition. We are particularly pleased that we are consistently doing very well on the major comparison sites. In the coming years we want to convince even more people of our innovative and sustainable energy solutions,” says Thorsten Nicklass, CEO of Elli.
A small island in the Aegean may not seem all that important to the EV revolution, but it is a small step forward that may help convince others to adopt a low carbon future. Every little bit helps and if Volkswagen would like to send me to Astypalea for a month or so to report on how the new program is going, I will need time to pack. Five minutes should do it!