The Greek energy market has been in the process of liberalisation for nearly two decades, beginning in earnest in 2001 with the partial privatisation of Public Power Cooperation (PPC), Greece’s state-owned electric power company. However, as recently as 2015, the EU reported that Greece’s energy market remained hindered by a lack of competition. Despite this, the report portrayed an overall optimistic outlook for Greece, highlighting the country’s geographical position as an electricity and regional gas hub – being at the EU entry point of the Southern Gas Corridor and having access to liquified natural gas (LNG) and other gas supplies from Russia. The report implied that if the the country could adequately liberalise its power generation and gas markets – while also increasing its own production of gas, instead of relying so heavily on Russia – then, Greece could become an energy leader.
This is the backdrop that lead to the success of the HERON Group. HERON, Greece’s second-largest player in the electricity sector (behind PPC), was the first-ever private energy group to operate in Greece’s liberalised market, commencing operations in 2000. Since 2004, it has successfully operated the first private power plant in Greece, near Thiva, and it built a second gas-fired power plant in 2009 in the same location. Together, HERON I and HERON II have a total installed capacity of nearly 600 MW.
HERON II is a leading electricity producer in Greece and boasts three major international shareholders: Qatar Petroleum (which own a 25 percent stake), Greece’s GEK Terna (25 percent), and Engie (50 percent). Engie is a French company and the largest independent electricity producer and supplier in the world.
Meanwhile, HERON I “is the largest independent supplier of electricity in Greece”, explained George Daniolos, Managing Director of the HERON Group. Daniolos – a leading energy executive with ample experience in market liberalisation, having worked in the Greek telecommunications industry as it liberalised through the early 2000s – added, “Since January, we also supply natural gas to the liberalised market, and for that company, there are two shareholders: 50 percent GEK Terna and 50 percent Engie. … this is a multinational environment with shareholders coming from abroad”.
This is indeed a huge transformation for a country, whose energy sector has historically been dominated by just a few government-owned monopolies.
Having Engie as a mother company is a big value-added to HERON thanks to the conglomerate’s experience in electricity generation and distribution, natural gas, and renewable energies – the three areas where HERON is focusing its attention.
“Engie, for example, is working a lot these days on smart cities, on e-mobility”, said Daniolos, revealing his entrepreneurial and big-picture spirit. “Now, at HERON, we are also thinking what to do with electric mobility, what to do with smart parking, with car sharing, things you wouldn’t expect from a traditional supplier”.
Other things you may not expect from a traditional supplier: a genuine interest in both reducing customer prices and increasing energy savings. “We offer a bundle offer which gives 30 percent discount on the market’s bill”, Daniolos said, explaining HERON’s market strategy. “Our intention is to couple that with value-added services that will enable customers to save energy; and although this may sound a little bit strange, because we make money out of selling energy, but at the same time we want our customers to save energy”.
One way HERON is helping customers monitor and regulate energy usage is through the possibility for customers to see their own energy consumption online. This is a “win-win for the customers and for the company”, Daniolos said with a smile.
Energy efficiency and using cleaner energy sources to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and climate change has been a top EU priority since 1990, taking on even greater significance since the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016, which aims to keep this century’s global temperature rise to below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Cleaner energy sources, like natural gas and renewables, help because they have little to no carbon dioxide emissions compared to the traditional fossil fuels, coal and oil.
“Renewables are growing, and we want them to grow even further”, commented Daniolos. That makes natural gas also extremely important, he explained, because gas is a cleaner source that can be used as an alternative energy source when renewables are not available (i.e., when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine).
Indeed, GEK Terna, another HERON shareholder, is the largest producer of renewables in Greece – giving HERON tons of access to expertise in the growing field.
By November 2017, the Greek energy market was much more liberalised and focused on renewables than it had ever been, leading the International Energy Agency (IEA) to praise Greece for its electricity and gas market reforms.
“The country moved forward on plans to restructure state-owned companies and liberalise electricity and gas markets, an impressive programme that will lead to more competitive and financially viable energy markets”, IEA said in a report. Still, the agency stressed that the country still has a long way to go in terms of renewable energy generation.
Daniolos, too, thinks there’s still much work to be done. “Unfortunately, there are things which draw us back here; for example there are no smart meters in Greece”, he said. “We’re trying to push the authorities to invest in that”, he said. However, he believes that increased positive change in Greece’s energy sector is not in a dream in the distant future, and neither is HERON’s role in it. “I think it will happen and that it will bring also a new era on the additional services that we can bring to the customers”.