The state of health of renewable energies in Tuscany. Interview with the expert

The current geopolitical situation has shown how important it is diversify sources of energy supply get out of dependence on Russian gas. The Italian government is concluding agreements with other producing countries or considering gasification plants. In addition to this race against time for fossil fuels, the commitment required by the PNRR to ecological transition and the production of green and renewable energies.

With Bruno FachiniFull Professor of Energy and Environmental Systems and Director of the Department of Industrial Engineering at the University of Florence, we took stock on renewable energies in Tuscany and the development potential of this sector.

What is the state of the art in renewable energy in Tuscany?

The situation in Tuscany is average compared to the national context in terms of installed power of the different types of renewable energies. Tuscany has an important starting point: it is indeed the only Italian region that has important geothermal applications for more than 800MW of installed electrical power. On the one hand this makes us start from a privileged position, on the other hand it is a position already acquired in the 1960s. Tuscany has 4% of the installed power in the electricity sector on renewable energies on a national scale. Much of this depends on geothermal energy which amounts to about a third. In the other sectors we are a little further back: 300MW in the hydraulic sector, 150MW in wind, 800MW in solar and 160MW in bioenergy.

In terms of energy production from renewable sources, the contribution of Tuscany rises to 7% again thanks to the contribution of geothermal energy which has a continuous operation of the source, unlike solar or wind power which by nature are discontinuous and depend on climatic factors.

Is it possible to find a balance between ecological transition and landscape protection in Tuscany?

Tuscany protects the territory and the authorization procedures are complex. My expertise is more related to sources, conversion systems and their applications but the solutions are potentially available and applicable. We are in a concurrent jurisdiction regime where local authorities play a decisive role in the approval of these plants. The nature of our territory and our history tends to exacerbate the syndrome invented in the 1950s in the United States that no one wants something in their garden that can disturb them, such as the noise of a solar system, or the impact visual or other complications to all this. there is also opposition to the strengthening of gasification systems to which the conflict is leading us. The ecological transition will bring about changes in habits and how to design the territory for that, we have to internalize the concept otherwise it’s easy to buy natural gas from other parts of the globe and then be surprised if it fails at some point.

With the timing dictated by the current geopolitical situation, is it more immediate to conclude agreements with other gas-producing countries than to promote renewable energies?

Italy is a country that has a extensive use of renewable energies. In 2020, renewable energies covered 41.7% of electricity production and this is a truly significant fact. We could certainly have done better but the fact remains that most renewable energies have a discontinuous operation which is difficult to predict and which follows climate change. It is not possible to think that we will become independent with renewable energies, but we must plan for a energy mix that it becomes increasingly free from fossil sources.

We must use all the potential technologies available, if we move our natural gas supplier, we will always depend on the geopolitical context because outside our territory and the context of the European Union, which is devoid of this type of energy. Diversification is the only way to make us competitive and resilient to these fluctuations. Tackle the problem thinking that there is an easy way to solve it is reductive and leads to crisis situations and risks strong impacts on the economic and social system.

Incentives have been used to promote renewable energy, are they an efficient system?

We see the incentive serving with the historical progression of renewable energy sources in Tuscany. There was one very strong growth during the last economic crisis between 2010 and 2014, when renewable energies were strongly promoted and there were available sites and wide possibilities. Over the past 5-6 years the numbers have grown much more slowly because incentives have slowed, costs have come down. It is legitimate that at some point the system should reach a kind of balance.

In addition to incentives, it is also necessary information. Without this, there is the risk that energy efficiency interventions will be the preserve of those with more knowledge, higher incomes and people who can navigate complex bureaucratic operations.

What do you think Tuscany can improve on?

Most likely information and involvement of the population specify that certain types of intervention are not to be excluded a priori. We need a greater penetration of the concept that the territory can be changed, that systems can be installed and that is the only solution to become more independent with simplification of bureaucratic procedures. Protect the territory and the penetration of this type of plant these are contradictory needs. The data, however, speaks clearly and shows that more than half of what we consume in terms of energy does not come from our territory and this is a fact that we cannot help but consider.

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