It's been two decades that I've been visiting Cyprus, meeting with its people and decision-makers, appreciating its rich culture and multi-layered history, seeing it evolve and change over the years. But the atmosphere of my recent visit was significantly different: there was clear prospect for a final settlement agreement which could reunite the island and open a new range of opportunities. What could this mean to the island's energy sector? Quite a lot.
I've known Cyprus from the days I served as a diplomat for my home country of Slovakia; a country which has been traditionally highly engaged in bringing the island's two communities together in an attempt to reach an end to their dispute. Later on, my previous mandate as Commission Vice President for Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration brought back to the island to hold discussions with the country's elected institutions. With these memories in mind, I visited Cyprus again, this time as part of the Energy Union Tour which I launched last year.
But this time was different. For the first time there was a true sense of optimism about solving the conflict, of a rare momentum of mutual understanding, of a possible settlement agreement. Such achievement would finally reunite the island and benefit both its communities.
A potential settlement agreement would also nourish the growing international appetite for investment in Cyprus's energy sector in general and the recent gas discoveries in particular. As Cyprus is enjoying excellent relations with countries all along the East Mediterranean which are currently developing their natural gas markets (Egypt, Israel, Jordan), it can position itself as a European bridge into the region: bringing European investment into the Mediterranean Sea and further diversifying Europe's energy mix.
This was among the main topics I came to discuss with my Cypriot counterparts, including President N. Anastasiades, Foreign Minister I. Kasoulides, Energy Minister G. Lakkotrypis, Members of the Cypriot Parliament, stakeholders, and citizens. I presented to them the Commission's analysis of the Cypriot Market and the benefits that their country will see from the Energy Union, namely in providing their citizens energy which is secure, sustainable, and competitive.
Cyprus will remain an island. But one of our main targets is ending its energy isolation and inter-connecting the country with the energy infrastructure of mainland Europe and its LNG storage facility. This would improve the Cyprus's energy security of supply, the sustainability of its resources (allowing more renewables into the grid), and its competitiveness (once more sources are available to consumers). No less than five Cypriot projects of common interest (PCIs) were therefore selected for facilitated licencing and potential funding.
Given that the island relies almost solely (94%) on oil, the recent discoveries of natural gas could radically change the country's energy mix and its carbon footprint. But if you're looking for Cyprus's natural resources, you don't need to dive deep; rather look up! For an island which enjoys on average 326 sunny days per year (or up to 3,500 hours per year, equal to 2 to 3 times the amount in Northern European cities) there is an almost unlimited supply of solar energy. This would allow Cyprus an additional source which is even cheaper and cleaner than gas. That is why the Commission is actively supporting the island's research projects in fully exploiting this renewable energy resource.
One of the best examples is the Platform for Research, Observation and Technological Applications in Solar energy (PROTEAS), inaugurated a few months ago by my colleague, Commissioner Moedas. The facility combines ideal environmental conditions with seaside for research, development, and testing of technologies, such as: Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), Solar Thermal Energy (STE), and Thermal Desalination of Sea Water (DSW).
Video of The Inauguration of The Cyprus Institute's Solar Research Facility “PROTEAS”
Even if you're not familiar with these sciences, it is easy to appreciate the field of 50 heliostats which can enhance the heat of the sun by 800 times and produce up to 150 kWatts! These are the kind of future-looking projects which enjoy grants from the Commission; they benefit not only Cyprus but our Energy Union as a whole.
I left the island highly reassured. I have no doubt that reunited Cypriot energy will have a positive impact on the island, on Europe's Energy Union, and on the entire East Mediterranean region.
If the first half of the 20th century was about hard power, and the second half was about soft power - the 21st century is about renewable power. Countries which smartly capture renewable energies will be at the front stage in the years to come.