Interview with the Hon. Theodoros Skylakakis, Minister of Environment and Energy, Greece

Interview with the Hon. Theodoros Skylakakis, Minister of Environment and Energy, Greece


Greece is located in a strategic crossroad at the intersection of two major energy corridors, one crossing the Mediterranean and the other running through Southeast Europe. The local energy market is witnessing very interesting developments at present, especially with the EU aiming to ends its reliance on Russian gas and accelerating efforts to develop more green energy and speeding up the green transition. To start, how would you describe Greece’s geopolitical role on the European energy chessboard? How important is Greece for the European energy market, its independence, and its security?

Greece has two principal advantageous geopolitical aspects that inform our role as an energy providing force. We are an important entry point for LNG for the whole Southeastern European region, not only for energy generation but also potentially for electricity coming from outside Europe, from the Middle East and North Africa. We have a project that we are discussing with Egyptian and European authorities that could bring cheap renewable energy to Europe from Egypt, and we are also working on an FSRU in Alexandria. We have already covered all our LNG needs, and now our FSRUs will cover other countries in the region, in addition to Greece. We want a more connected Southeast Europe, and we are playing an important role in achieving that goal.

Greece will also play an important role in the next 5-15 years with regard to offshore wind, as Greece has the largest potential in the whole Eastern Mediterranean. The Aegean has huge potential in offshore wind, which is an industry that we want to develop. The potential is enormous for us to help provide energy security, not only for Greece, but also for the wider European region. It is not only the quantity but also the quality of the renewable energy that needs to be considered.


How would you summarize the major and latest developments that occurred on Greece’s energy market in 2023? What are some of the main highlights of the past year?

One of the most important events for Greece over the last year was that we received the investment grade by DBRS a few days ago, during the floods to be exact. It is truly remarkable for a country to go from where we were in 2010, when our investment grade collapsed and we needed outside help, to return to investment grade in less than 15 years. This is indicative of a resilience not only of the Greek economic system, but also of our political system. Typically, economic crisis causes political crisis, which ignites further economic crisis, and the vicious cycle never ends. Greece has proven that it can navigate this vicious cycle, and the large majority that we had during the last election ensured that we have something in Greece that is incredibly rare in any country: 8 years of reform-oriented government. For the Greek market, these two events demonstrate our determination in adversity while ensuring more reform for the next four years.


Your role as Greece’s Minister of Energy and Environment is instrumental in guiding the nation toward sustainability. With your prior experience in finance, including overseeing the eco-focused National Recovery and Resilience Fund Greece 2.0 and securing funds for the REPowerEU plan, you bring a unique perspective at the nexus of finance and environmental stewardship.  What key changes and initiatives will you introduce as the new leader of the Ministry to advance Greece’s green energy and environmental protection goals compared to the previous government?

Greece is eager to advance the renewable energy transition. Many countries, including us, have found that when renewables stand alone, their incorporation into the electrical system can be a prolonged and complicated process. One of our principal strategies to facilitate the entrance of renewables is by coupling them with batteries. Another is to rapidly progress our offshore wind potential.

In terms of the environment, my main effort will be to make our forests and our infrastructure more resilient to climate crisis. The key to protecting our forests and a large part of our environment is the development of a diverse and active economy through forest management, propelling the necessary underlying economic activity to ensure that the forests are not burdened by huge amounts of residual biomass.

Water management is also of crucial importance. Both private and public infrastructure needs to handle the magnitude of the phenomena that we are going to experience in the next 30 years. Climate change for the next 30 years is locked in because CO2 lasts in the atmosphere for about 100 years. The changes that we effect in reducing CO2 and other climate gases are incremental; they need time to affect climate and for the last 30-40 years we have been increasing CO2 globally each year. This past summer the sea temperature was historically 2°C hotter and the atmospheric heat was 3°C higher than previously. These extraordinary temperatures brought the specific phenomenon that caused the floods both in Greece and in Libya.


In the past decade, Greece has transformed from a heavily polluting power sector to one of the cleanest in Europe. Emissions from electricity production plummeted by 64%, while renewables – solar, wind, and hydro – have now reached a record-breaking 54% share of the country’s energy mix. Could you tell me a bit more about the current energy mix in Greece, and please explain the ministry’s holistic approach to energy transition spanning public entities, households, and businesses?

Renewables, even with batteries, are cheaper than any other energy source. If we want cheap energy in the future, the only way to go, irrespective of climate change, is renewables. By being at the forefront of the introduction to renewables, we are more competitive in terms of economic activity and securing our future globally. We have transitional gases for the interim, while transitioning electricity into transport fleets. It’s not a simple process and requires time. Moving fast makes your economy much more competitive, so the real problem for transition is a political problem. If society is divided, moving in any direction is complicated. In Greece, we have managed to convince society, with exceptions that are always there, that this is the way.


What kind of other broader sustainable initiatives are you mostly focused on? Can you tell me about the strategies, the objectives, and the trends regarding promoting a more circular economy, also towards carbon emission reduction, and sustainable mobility?

Regarding the circular economy, up until now, we are not moving with the speed that we had hoped we would. This is one of the things that I wanted to help change with the Ministry. We need to be more inclusive with our citizens and more efficient in our systems. We need to make structural changes to how the system works and make decisions faster. If we move fast on renewables, then we will be improving fast on reducing emissions, although Greece has never been a big emitter anyhow. It had a shrinkage of its economy for almost 10 years because of the crisis, during which we have been doing our fair share on CO2 reduction and we will continue to do so into the future. In terms of protecting the unique physical and anthropogenic environment in terms of monuments, in terms of the quality of life within that environment, protecting the environment is protecting our biggest national treasure.



In 2020, the US and Greece bolstered their energy cooperation with ambitious projects like the Interconnector Greece Bulgaria (IGB) pipeline, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), South Kavala underground gas storage, and other renewable energy initiatives. How have US investments in Greece’s energy sector grown in recent years, and how significant are they for Greece’s energy sector?

The investment rate is extremely important because, due to a lack of investment grade, for years we were a no-go area for many US or multinational companies, despite the traditionally stable alliance between Greece and the US. So, achieving investment grade, plus political stability, plus large investment opportunities make Greece a unique and attractive combination for US companies. We have a long-term alliance, our mutual relationship going back almost 200 years.  The fact that there is long-term political stability is also key. Many US companies around the world have found that they can lose a lot of money in countries where the political will behind the proper functioning of an investment can suddenly disappear. I believe that Greece is a very good country for US investment today and for the foreseeable future.


Greece is standing as a hot spot for renewable energy investment, securing the 16th spot among the Top 40 nations. Can you tell me about some of the upcoming reforms or initiatives that will further transform Greece into an attractive hub for renewable energy investment? What has motivated this kind of changes in the past?  What motivates the government to implement such changes as well in the future?

The motivating factor is pure good economic sense. That is the biggest and best motivation. This transition will be faster because as I mentioned before, we have the two geopolitical factors: an entrance for energy corridors, especially relevant since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the huge offshore wind potential and big investments that will happen there.


How would you summarize your strategy, goals, and ambitions for the coming four years? What are your big priorities?

Reforms, reforms, reforms!


What is your final message be to the readers of USA Today?

The climate crisis is here, and we in Greece are adapting to ensure that our natural treasures can continue to be enjoyed by visitors for generations to come.