Domestic trends in RE

The development of renewable sources for producing electrical energy constitutes one of the main objectives identified by the European Union for diversifying the sources of energy provision and for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In particular, Directive 2009/28/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources, established mandatory national targets for the overall share of energy from renewable sources in gross final consumption of energy and for the share of energy from renewable sources in transport, in addition to sustainability criteria for biofuels and bioliquids. The National Action Plan, stemming from Directive 2009/28/EC, is the policy document providing detailed indications on the actions to be implemented for attaining, by 2020, the binding target for Italy of covering 17% of the gross national consumption with energy produced from renewable sources. The target must be achieved through the use of energy produced from renewable sources in the following sectors: electricity, heating/cooling and transport.
All national legislative acts aimed at defining incentivising systems and permit schemes for promoting and encouraging the creation of renewable energy plants in Italy over the past few years point in this direction.

Thanks to this effective energy policy, renewable sources now play a leading role in the context of the national energy system. Indeed, they are widely employed for producing electrical energy (electrical sector), heat (thermal sector) and, lastly, as biofuels for vehicle transport (transport sector). After implementing the accounting criteria for renewable energy sources set forth in Directive 2009/28/EC, in 2013 overall consumption of energy from renewable sources in Italy amounted to 20.7 Mtep, up roughly 1.1 Mtep compared to 2012 (+5.7%).

With regard to the electrical sector in particular, thanks to almost 600,000 plants powered with renewable sources installed on the national territory (for an overall power of roughly 50,000 MW), in 2013 roughly 112 TWh of electrical energy (9.6 Mtep) were produced, which drop to 103.3 TWh (8.9 Mtep) applying the calculation criteria set forth in Directive 2009/28/EC. The renewable source which in 2013 provided the most significant contribution in the electrical sector was hydropower (44% production from renewable energy sources), followed by solar power (21%), bioenergy (16%), wind power (14%) and geothermal power (6%).
With regard to the thermal sector, in 2013 roughly 10.6 Mtep of thermal energy from renewable sources were consumed (444,000 TJ), of which 9.8 Mtep directly (through stoves, fireplaces, solar panels, heat pumps, geothermal power plants) and 0.8 Mtep as derived heat consumption (mainly through remote heating systems powered with biomasses). Whereas geothermal and solar power are still scarcely exploited, the contribution of heat pumps (2.5 Mtep) is rather significant; however, by far the most important source is solid biomass (7.5 Mtep), which is mainly used in the domestic sector (6.7 Mtep).
Lastly, with regard to the transport sector, roughly 1.25 Mtep of biofuel were consumed (over 1.4 million tons), largely made up of biodiesel (94%).
In 2013, final gross consumption of energy in Italy amounted to little over 124 Mtep, the lowest value of the past 10 years. The share of consumption covered by renewable sources is therefore equal to 16.7%, a value approaching the target assigned to Italy by Directive 2009/28/EC for 2020 (17%) and the objective defined in the National Energy Strategy (19-20%). Naturally, maintaining this level of final consumption covered by renewable sources will ultimately depend – besides on the performance of renewable energy sources over the forthcoming years – on the total energy consumption trend following years of decline mainly due to the economic situation.

With specific reference to the production of electrical energy, renewable sources have come to play a structural role within the national power system.

The number of renewable energy plants scattered on the national territory continued to grow in 2013, as mentioned above, approaching 600,000 units, essentially driven by the growth of photovoltaic power plants.

In 2013, plants powered with renewable sources reached a 40.2% share of the overall installed power in Italy, and 38.6% of the total gross production. The installed power in Italy at the end of 2013 was roughly 50,000 MW, up compared to the previous year thanks to the installation of wind farms, plants powered with bioenergy and, above all, photovoltaic power plants. Production of energy from renewable sources reached the record high of 112,008 GWh in 2013.

Between 2000 and 2013, the gross efficient power installed in Italy rose from 18,335 MW to 49,786 MW, with an increase of roughly 31,500 MW. In the period between 2000 and 2013, the average annual growth rate of the overall power equalled 8.0%. The average growth rate of the new installed power reached 13.8%.

Since the early 1900s, the national power grid has been characterised by hydroelectric power plants.
In recent years, their installed power has been virtually unchanged (+0.8% annual average), while other renewable sources have grown considerably thanks to various incentive schemes.

Amid this sharp growth of renewable energy sources, what has emerged prominently – albeit with certain technological distinctions – is distributed generation, that is, small- and medium-sized production plants scattered throughout the territory. In this scenario, even the largest (>10 MW) renewable energy plants, when compared to traditional fossil fuel power plants, are of modest size in absolute terms.
Some 93% of photovoltaic power plants installed in Italy at the end of 2013 had a power capacity below 50 kW, while 88.2% of geothermal electrical plants exceeded 10 MW. Plants powered with biogas and bioliquids mainly had a power capacity between 200 kW and 1 MW (73.2% and 74.7% respectively).

As for hydroelectric power plants, the most significant class – namely 33.0% of the plants – have a power capacity between 200 kW and 1 MW. Small-size plants are generally run-of-the-river power plants. Some 39.6% of wind farms have a power capacity below 50 kW, and 18.5% exceed 10 MW.

These figures highlight the profound changes that the national power grid has undergone, and will undergo in the future. The model based essentially on energy production coming from few large-size plants is evolving into a system whereby production is distributed throughout the national territory through small- and medium-size plants.

When we observe the distribution of renewable energy plants at a regional level, we find the situation is rather diversified in terms of installed power. This is mainly due to the availability of the various renewable sources locally (e.g. hydroelectric power in Northern Italy’s regions) but also to the different capacity of the various regional legislations to adequately encourage the development and establishment of these types of power plants, by optimally valuing the resources available locally.

At the end of 2013, Lombardy was the Italian region with the highest concentration of installed power, with 16%. Tuscany, thanks to geothermal power, is the region in Central Italy with the highest installed power.

In South Italy, Apulia ranks first for installed power but is also the region in Italy with the highest percentage increase.

The evolution of electrical power production for each technology at a national level clearly highlights the effects on single resources of recent incentive policies enacted by the Italian legislator.
In 2013, production from renewable sources reached the record value of 112,008 GWh. Whereas up to 2008 the trend of electricity generated from renewable energy sources was mainly linked to hydropower, in recent years the importance of the so-called ‘new renewables’ (solar power, wind power and bioenergy) has grown considerably. In 2013, hydropower reached its historical record, with a production of 52,774 GWh. Solar power represented the second source of the renewable energy production mix in 2013, growing to reach 21,589 GWh.

Wind power production reached 14,897 GWh, with an average annual growth of 28.7% between 2000 and 2012. Wind power production reached 17,090 GWh, with an average annual growth of 20.6% between 2000 and 2012. Lastly, geothermal power continued to guarantee a stable production hovering around 5,500 GWh.

It clearly emerges, therefore, how the incentive policies implemented in recent years have led to a further growth of consolidated renewable energy technologies in Italy (hydroelectric and geothermal power) but, above all, have allowed for considerably diversifying towards other resources available at a national level (wind power, solar power and bioenergy).

In this diversification context, the incremental rise – thanks to the contribution of each technology – has more than doubled the production of energy from renewable sources in Italy between 2000 and 2013. In fact, in 2000 gross production from renewable sources touched 50,990 GWh, while in 2013 the figure was 112,008 GWh.
Of the additional 61,018 GWh during the period 2000-2013:
– 35.4% was due to solar power, which recorded an additional production of 21,571 GWh, rising from 18 GWh in 2000 to 21,589 GWh produced during the course of 2013;
– 25.5% was due to bioenergy which recorded an additional production of 15,586 GWh, rising from 1,505 GWh in 2000 to 17,090 GWh produced during the course of 2013;

– 23.5% was due to wind power, which recorded an additional production of 14,334 GWh, rising from 563 GWh in 2000 to 14,897 GWh produced during the course of 2013;
– 14.1% was due to hydropower, which recorded an additional production of 8,574 GWh, rising from 44,199 GWh in 2000 to 52,773 GWh produced during the course of 2013;
– 1.6% was due to geothermal power, which recorded an additional production of 954 GWh, rising from 4,705 GWh in 2000 to 5,659 GWh produced during the course of 2013.
The results are quite significant and stem from an energy policy firmly rooted on distributed generation from renewable sources, coupled with marked diversification among the various types of sources.

Turning to the overall electric energy production, renewable sources have provided a growing percentage contribution, in particular starting from the two-year period 2008-2009. Meanwhile, in recent years there has been a further reduction in the total gross electricity production, which dropped from 319 TWh in 2008 to 290 TWh in 2013. The economic crisis caused a sudden decline in consumption between 2008 and 2009 and, in spite of the growth in electrical energy consumption during 2010-2011, in the two-year period 2012-2013 consumption dropped further and in 2013 touched its lowest value since 2002.

Consumption of all fossil fuels declined, especially natural gas, while the use of renewable sources increased. In 2013, 37.6% of the national production derived from natural gas, compared to the 47.8% of 2011. The weight of renewable sources grew from 27.4% in 2011 to 38.6% in 2013. In 2013, therefore, renewable sources surpassed natural gas to become the leading source of electrical energy production. This important primacy is the result of a targeted energy policy and significant private, national and foreign investments in a key sector for strategic development.

Investments in renewable energy in Italy have not only generated considerable benefits in terms of sustainable development, but also significant advantages for the economy and the employment situation.
In particular, according to a recent study by Althesys commissioned by Greenpeace, in 2013 there were roughly 64,000 people employed in the renewable energy sector. This estimate includes both people directly employed throughout the production chain of the various technologies examined (direct employment), as well as allied activities involving other sectors and stemming from these activities (indirect employment).

Photovoltaic technology generates the greatest occupational advantages, amounting to 39% of the total (roughly 24,900 people employed). The primacy of solar energy is due to the high installed power in Italy which generated a considerable number of employees, especially for plant management and maintenance.

Bioenergy comes second in terms of employment figures. This segment employs roughly 13,800 people, amounting to 22% of the total employees in 2013. Most of the employees are involved in the plant manufacturing and routine management and maintenance phases. Moreover, the presence of the fuel procurement process helps to increase the employment level compared to other sources. The high number of indirect employees is due to the marked impact of the biomass production chain which, as mentioned above, is characterised by a considerable degree of allied industrial activities. The wind power segment employed 5,300 people in 2013, equal to 8% of the overall employment level. The mini hydroelectric and geothermal power segments employed roughly 3,200 and 1,100 people respectively, namely 7% of the total occupational level in 2013. In the past year, thermal renewables were responsible for roughly 15,600 jobs, amounting to 24% of the total. At the bottom of the rankings is the solar heating segment, which accounted for roughly 670 jobs in 2013.