Greece has only limited indigenous energy resources, lignite being the most significant, although the country does have modest oil and gas reserves.
Accounting for about 23% of primary energy consumption (46.2 Mtce in 2010, including exported oil products), lignite is Greece’s most important indigenous fuel. Oil is still the most important energy source overall, accounting for approximately 60 % of the country‘s primary energy consumption. Consumption of imported natural gas has increased significantly over the last few years and now has a 9% share. At 0.6 Mtce, hard coal imports account for 1.3 % of total primary energy consumption. Security of supply, low extraction costs and stable prices are important factors in maintaining the strong position of lignite in the energy market.
Greece boasts lignite resources of 4.9 billion tonnes, of which 3.1 billion tonnes are economically workable. The most important deposits are located in the north of the country, at Ptolemais-Amynteon and Florina (1.5 billion tonnes), at Drama (900 million tonnes) and at Elassona (170 million tonnes), as well as in the south at Megalopolis (225 million tonnes). There is also a large peat deposit of about 4 billion cubic metres at Philippi in the northern part of Greece (Eastern Macedonia). Only 30% of the total reserves have been extracted to date. Allowing for future developments in energy consumption patterns, existing reserves will be sufficient for at least 40 years.
The quality of Greek lignite can be characterised as follows: the lowest calorific values are in the areas of Megalopolis and Drama (3,770 to 5,020 kJ/kg) and Ptolemais-Amynteon (5,230 to 6,280 kJ/kg). In Florina and Elassona the calorific value lies between 7,540 and 9,630 kJ/kg. The ash content ranges from 15.1% (Ptolemais) to 19.0% (Elassona), and the water content from 41.0% (Elassona) to 57.9% (Megalopolis). The sulphur content is generally low.
Lignite deposits in Greece have an average total depth of 150 to 200 metres, typically comprising layers of lignite alternating with layers of soil.
Lignite is mostly mined by the PUBLIC POWER CORPORATION (PPC), exclusively in opencast mines. Opencast lignite mines in Western Macedonia include operations at Main Field, South Field, Kardia Field, Amynteon Field and Florina, while there is also an opencast site in the Peloponnese region of southern Greece (the Megalopolis Field). The operating equipment comprises bucket-wheel excavators, spreaders, tripper cars and conveyor belts.
PPC currently operates 48 bucket-wheel excavators and 22 spreaders, together with some 300 km of belt conveyor lines. Heavy trucks are used to remove the hard overburden formations found at some mines.
Environmental protection is one of the major parameters defining PPC‘s overall strategy and its daily operational mining activities. In the lignite mining areas around Ptolemais-Amynteon and Megalopolis, PPC has carried out site restoration projects, creating farmland, tree plantations and woodland, sanctuaries for small animals and crop testing areas.
The lignite output is supplied to eight PPC-owned power stations, comprising 21 generating units with a total installed capacity of 5,165 MW. PPC’s total installed capacity is 12,805 MW, including oil- and gas-fired plants on interconnected and autonomous islands. There are also six private power plants with a total capacity of 2,127 MW. Over the years, the policy pursued by PPC has led to a significant increase in lignite production. In 2010, it was nearly ten times higher than in 1970. Such an upturn in business is unusual for a complex technical operation such as mining.
In 2010, lignite production amounted to 56.5 million tonnes, mostly mined by PPC, with 43.3 million tonnes extracted by the company at the West Macedonia Lignite Centre (WMLC) and 10.4 million tonnes at the Megalopolis Lignite Centre (MLC). The few privately operated mines in the Florina area produced a total of 2.8 million tonnes of lignite.
In 2010, WMLC operations removed a total of 244.1 million cubic metres of overburden and interburden, corresponding to an overburden-interburden-to-lignite ratio of 5.6:1 (cubic metres per tonne). At MLC, overburden plus interburden removal was 30.9 million cubic metres, corresponding to an overburden-interburden-to-lignite ratio of 3:1. Although the overburden-interburden-to-lignite ratio has significantly increased recently, it is expected to remain stable in the future.
Lignite power generators produced 30.5 TWh in 2009 and 27.4 TWh in 2010, while total power generation in Greece (interconnected) was 47.9 TWh in 2010.
Across the interconnected system, excluding the autonomous islands, the share of lignite power generation in 2010 was 57.3%, the share of gas 21.7%, oil 0.2%, hydro 15.6% and renewables 5.2%.
In recent years, total manpower in the mines has decreased, despite the increase in lignite production. The two mining areas, WMLC and MLC, and the head office in Athens, currently employ a total permanent workforce of about 4,400.
In order to accurately predict lignite’s future role in Greece, it is essential to take into account the crucial effect of changes taking place in the European energy sector, as well as the impact of the introduction of natural gas on the Greek energy market and the cost of CO2emission allowances. Low-cost domestic lignite is still competitive compared to imported energy sources, although the pressure to stay competitive is growing.