The fact that the project was topic again, even at the top level of government, is probably also related to the investor decision that JUWI made. At the beginning of 2020, the newly elected Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin and announced, among other things, the following news: thanks to a German-Greek joint project in his country, a huge solar park was to be built in the north of Greece. After exactly nine months of negotiations, the Greek energy company Hellenic Petroleum, HELPE for short, had signed the purchase agreement in February 2020, and Mitsotakis was able to announce the good news during his visit to Germany. According to the plan, the first kilowatt hours of solar power were to flow in just two years.
However, the ambitious schedule was shaken up just a few weeks later. The ink on the contracts had barely dried when the corona pandemic hit the world. Strict lockdowns were declared, authorities were operating only in emergency mode, supply chains were disrupted, and economic and social life was massively disrupted. The world was fighting the pandemic, and the start of construction planned for October became a distant prospect. Official permits still had to be obtained for some of the 18 subprojects of the Kozani solar park - and the offices in Greece were simply out of reach.
Flexibility was now required: "In May 2020, we approached HELPE and suggested that, in contrast to what had been contractually agreed, we would start construction on the first individual projects before the permits for all projects had been obtained. This meant that we had to pre-finance the construction for longer, but we were able to keep to the schedule for the most part," Sarris recalls. In November 2020, construction actually began. Heavy equipment was used to prepare the first areas for the solar park. Initially, according to the plan, a 14-megawatt subproject was to be realised, which would serve as a blueprint for all further construction phases. Such an approach is also common in other projects, but there was one major difference: in this case, the sample section alone was larger than the largest solar farm ever previously built by JUWI in Greece.
It took until mid-February 2021 to complete the first 14-megawatt sub-project. "It was very important to us to follow the right concept and coordinate this first construction phase very carefully with the investor," Sarris reports. The approach was to pay off. While the first 14 megawatts took four months to complete, the project then proceeded at more than five times the previous speed. The construction team achieved the feat of installing all 500,000 modules by the end of 2021. The average construction speed was 19 megawatts per month.
Few people can really imagine the enormous planning effort behind such record times: at peak times 450 construction workers were active on the site. The supply of materials to the mountainous region had to be organised in such a way that it could keep pace with the construction speed. The Greek JUWI team grew from just under ten to over 50 employees within a few months. Additonally, international JUWI experts who had already realised projects of similar dimensions in other countries, supported the project.