ATHENS – No word on how it will be monitored but Greece’s New Democracy government, facing an energy cost crisis likely to get worse if Russian limits or cuts off oil and gas for the European Union, wants households and businesses to keep their cool – but without using their air conditioners.
While Russian energy was exempted from EU sanctions for the invasion of Ukraine, the bloc is so reliant on Russian supplies – and hasn’t turned to sustainable alternatives – that the Greek government wants Operation Thermostat to convince people to live in warmer temperatures inside.
Fortunately, while the summer has been its usual baking level there hasn’t been the kind of lava-like volcanic heat wave that settled over the country in 2021 along with hundreds of wildfire that spread everywhere.
In a feature, The Washington Post noted that some businesses, at least, are cranking up the temperature on their air conditioners to limit the cool that people have come to expect in a country where summer heat is the norm.
Vassilis Katsiotis, 64, a lifetime civil servant, told the newspaper that, “It’s very difficult. This is a cultural change,” although with electricity bills having doubled that people have an economic incentive not to use the A/C or get too cool about it.
“Do we want to have peace, or do we want to have the air conditioning on?” outgoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi asked in April, urging Europeans to make sacrifices and save on energy to help Ukraine.
That has led Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakis Mitsotakis – his plate full with Turkish provocations, the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, record inflation and soaring prices – to try to persuade Greeks to buy into saving energy.
The government order “came during a heat wave,” Katsiotis he said, with temperatures routinely zipping toward 100 degrees Fahrenheit although it hasn’t gone past that since.
“How can I convince people to do what they should be doing?” he said he was asking himself. “It’s not like it’s April. But if I can do it now, it will be a lot easier in October” if more energy savings becomes necessary, he said.
Greek officials said they want the state to cut its energy use by 10 percent now, and 30 percent by 2030 and offered subsidies for people to trade in older air conditioners and appliances for more energy-efficient devices – but they money won’t likely come until November.
The government announced a $648 million effort to make public buildings more energy efficient, but that won’t be done fast enough to make the difference this winter, officials said, the report noted.
Environment and Energy Minister Kostas Skrekas told the newspaper Kathimerini that, “We must all understand that we cannot behave as if nothing’s happening around us,” with the war and energy costs out of control.
“There is a war that is destroying a country and is also feeding an energy crisis the likes of which we have never seen… we must all realize we cannot waste energy,” he said, although other some EU countries won’t go along with cutbacks.
And while households and public offices are being told to work and live in warmer temperatures, hotels and other businesses aren’t abiding because they want to please customers, not the government.
“We are not sure what to do, and we are worried for the winter,” Melina Zisi, the manager of the Hotel Attalos in a crowded part of central Athens told the paper, saying her energy costs have gone up 40 percent.
“I would never stay anywhere that didn’t have air conditioning. It’s basic standards that you have to have,” Zisi said. “I understand someone who wants to be on vacation and wants to have a cool room,” she said, even with a bigger electric bill.