Energy, why is the transition in Italy so slow?

Energy, why is the transition in Italy so slow?


There has never been so much need for energy in Italy, both for the present and in perspective. And never as now the business sector of renewables would be ready: according to the Alliance for photovoltaics - which brings together some of the main Italian operators for solar energy - 40 gigawatts of solar plant projects that could be built in the next 18 months are still pending authorization. Private investment projects, without state burdens, worth 35 billion euros: already presented and ready for grounding. At the moment, all stopped. “This is the country of the sun (and the sun), but we need to make up for lost time,” the Minister of Ecological Transition (Mite) Roberto Cingolani told Corriere della Sera in May 2021. On January 18, 2022, the Pniec-Pnrr National Commission takes office, with the declared objective of the minister himself to "give further acceleration to the construction of renewable energy plants".

In a year and a half, of this sprint, no trace remains. The Commission has to analyze 380 renewable energy plants according to the data published by the MITE. Of these, until the end of last September only 1 wind farm had been approved, while 52% of the 322 plants dedicated to solar are still in the first phase of the bureaucratic process, and only 42% have reached the second phase of approval.

Why did this happen? Re-approval between the Commission and the ministries. And therefore a cultural question, where the theme of the nimby (not in my backyard, not in my courtyard) is combined with ignorance of the new technological solutions for the grounding of solar systems. By letting flow the only resource that in an energy crisis ready to explode in 2023 we can no longer afford to waste: time.

This is why projects are blocked

First, a linear consideration. "If we do not produce green energy to reduce dependence on gas and continue to delay the phase-out of coal and other fossil energy plants, we will not bea> able to quickly achieve the energy transition," explains Andrea Cristini, spokesman for the Alliance for the photovoltaic. It will not be possible to replace gas with green hydrogen and start that process of transforming the energy supply useful to achieve the objectives of the Paris Accords or those of the von der Leyen Commission to make Europe the first zero-impact continent in history. of humanity by 2050.

But if the thrust of global warming is no longer enough, it is that of the energy crisis that should accelerate the process: if there will be sufficient gas supplies this winter, we will certainly have even more at the beginning of next year need for energy. Is it possible that the answer to this question in Italy comes in a relevant way also from renewables? “We have dozens of gigawatts blocked - follows Cristini -. Stefano Donnarumma (CEO of Snam, ed) said that at the moment there are 280 gigawatts in connection applications ". But this is an absolute estimate, while

“About seventy gigawatts are currently blocked in the regulatory process: therefore they could be immediately usable and quickly realized. Ideally, we could already have ten gigawatts in production from renewables as early as next year and ten every year to follow. But the approval for those of 2023 must come already now ".

The European Commission proposes a cut in energy consumption According to a draft plan, Brussels wants to reduce energy consumption for 3 or 4 hours a day. Increases on extra-profits of energy companies are also expected Why are the projects blocked? Photovoltaic systems are not approved primarily for reasons of local interest. The classic theme of the nimby: beautiful the wind and solar park, but not in my town. The energy crisis has at least unlocked these prejudices. “The consideration at the local level has changed enormously in recent months and this I hope and believe will lead to a change also at the level of national regulations. Unfortunately, we had to wait for energy prices to reach crazy levels to turn on the alarm bell and remind us that much of the energy we can self-produce through renewable sources ", continues the spokesman. The "cultural" reason is one of the two main factors.

There is therefore a technical reason: renewable plant projects do not pass the approval process. “Plants for a few gigs have been authorized on the market: 7-8 between photovoltaic and wind power. That is nothing. So to date 97% of projects from renewable sources are very late in terms of authorization or have been rejected or are not doing well. Statistically it is difficult to think that the companies and technicians who work there are all so scarce as to have missed 9.7 projects out of 10 ”, explains Cristini.

Aiming for energy self-production

Switching to renewables is worthwhile both from an economic point of view and from the perspective of energy self-production. First of all, the price: according to data from Cristini's organization, photovoltaics, without the need for any incentives, cost on average much less than gas (about 80 euros / MWh against 250 euros / MWh). These are estimates in line with global numbers that show how the cost of various renewable energy sources continues to decrease.

Data on the costs of different renewable energy sources - Source: IRENA

“It is truly incredible that a country like Italy that has plenty of wind and sun cannot build these plants in a short time - says Cristini -. Let's assume that we can produce 10 gigawatts from renewables every year, a feasible result in terms of production: in 10 years we would reach 100 gigawatts. These 100 of photovoltaics alone, added to wind, geothermal and hydroelectric, can contribute to reaching 70% of energy self-production. They mean reducing imports and reducing gas consumption ”.

Up to 2021, the Italian energy demand was around 320 terawatts per year per year, 6% more than in 2020 (the year of the pandemic, therefore of non-linear energy consumption compared to the ordinary). In the next few years, electricity consumption “will increase: for example, due to the demand for sustainable mobility or indoor air conditioning, also in order to reduce gas. In short, if we produce a few more gigs, it will certainly be useful ", continues Cristini.

Electricity demand in Italy - Source: Terna

" Let's consider that 100 gigs of photovoltaics produce about 150 terawatts / hour of electricity each year. From renewable sources in Italy we already have a production of about 100 terawatt / hour a year: for this reason, with another 100 giga from photovoltaics, another 150 terawatts / hour are produced. Added to the electricity produced by wind power, offshore wind and gas, we would reach a very high percentage of self-production ", continues the expert. Approximately 70% of the total needed to meet the national demand for electricity. .

Where to install the systems

A recurring objection to the installation of photovoltaic systems is that of land consumption. of panels in cultivated fields.

Italy invests little in the environment (and spends half of the funds) The objection has therefore shifted to the fact that panels steal land from agricultural fields Cristini reports the position of producers: "When I hear: 'Ah, but if we put the panels on the ground, in the fields, what do we eat?', it means that we do not know the impact of land consumption of the agricultural sector". 'Alliance for photovoltaics, to produce 100 gigawatts from this source it takes about 150 thousand hectares of land: it does not necessarily have to be all agricultural, but even if it were “we would lose a minimum part of land in a country that only in Puglia has 1 million usable hectares. How can a few thousand hectares less have such an impact on agricultural production? I believe that the increase in energy prices has a much greater impact, which probably kills many of the farms in Italy today. Attention: the agrivoltaico is not installed where there are lines of value (such as the Franciacorta vines or the Primitivo grapes in Puglia) and therefore does not damage the agricultural production of so to speak delicate supply chains. But where there are no such constraints, agrivoltaic allows us to create winning mechanisms for both energy and agriculture. "Clearly, photovoltaic systems should first be installed in other places: abandoned industrial areas, which also the the government has already indicated as suitable areas. "There a rapid authorization of the plants would be immediately feasible", concludes the spokesman.

Proposals to overcome the bureaucratic impasse

The ambitions of the Alliance , that is, to achieve a realistic production potential of around 100 gigawatts in the next ten years, exceed the objectives of the Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan 2030 (Pniec) which foresees the realization of 50 gigawatts within the next eight years. of producers, therefore proportionate to the plant engineering strength that can really be deployed on the national territory.

Could we live on wind power? The case of X1 Wind, a Catalan startup that puts turbines up high sea, shows us the advantages and difficulties of this energy system. nuclear plants that will be decommissioned. In Germany, however, there is great certainty on the regulatory process and a higher dynamism than the Italian one on approvals. Here is the starting point of the impasse that blocks national photovoltaic production. In this regard, Cristini proposes two solutions to unblock the approval process. "From a regulatory point of view, there are some holidays that if they were clarified (even as interpretative doubts) would unlock many projects. Therefore, we suffer from a great shortage of human resources. The Pniec / Pnrr Commission and the MITE have very few units that educate the I have no official data, but there are three or four officials who have to instruct hundreds of cases in a few months: there is a bottleneck there. Probably an immediate solution should be the establishment of a task force: assign new human resources to the offices and accelerate the progression of these plants which are authorized only if they have the positive opinion of the Pniec / Pnrr Commission ".

Another block of the process comes after the opinion of the Commission, through the counter-check of the MIT (Ministry of Sustainable Infrastructure and Mobility) which "is actually blocking projects because it takes a long time and often the answer is negative, thus referring these projects to the presidency of the Council of Ministers. Therefore the opinion of the Commission, where another opinion of the Ministry intervenes, should not then be followed by a new opinion ". Or if this were absolutely necessary, it would be enough to have more competent staff engaged in approvals.

Energy supply is a national priority: self - production is the shared goal. For the first time, even Italy could reach it in a short time. Now is the time to really accelerate the energy transition: if that means increasing the number of competent staff in plant deliberations, now is the time to do it as soon as possible. The resources of the NRP could be useful: create public work to push the growth of the private sector dedicated to renewables to reduce CO 2 emissions and energy costs. Here is a true value chain.

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