Surprise: “Italy has one of the most efficient energy and economic systems among European countries.” Just below Sweden. Amazed? Scrolling through the analysis released yesterday by Ispra, it turns out that our national share of renewable energy, compared to gross domestic consumption, is 19.4% in 2021, while the European average is 17.7%. The result of the 2023 Report is for once so comforting. We are usually very good at self-flagging. But now it turns out we’re not all that evil. It should be noted that many of the other European countries can count on nuclear energy.
NUCLEAR ZERO –A detail that should not be underestimated considering that for 40 years Italy has been able to import energy produced by nuclear power plants (from France in particular), but we have decided not to develop this resource. The fact remains that what is classified as “energy intensity per unit of batteries the productivity of resources”, we are among the lowest in Europe. And all this «despite an important role of industry in the Italian economy. Low energy intensity often corresponds to service-based economies with a minor role for industrial activities. Instead in Italy the exact opposite is true. The growing electrification of final consumption in industry, among the highest in Europe, has also made a “fundamental” contribution. And in fact it turns out that Italy has taken a leap forward by improving, and not a little, “the overall efficiency of the energy system”, which now turns out to be “above the European average: in 2021 the energy available for national final consumption constitutes 77.5% of the gross domestic consumption of energy, against the 72.7% of the average of the EU countries, thus showing a high efficiency of energy transformation».
The energy supply crisis unleashed by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine – and the cut in supplies from Moscow to Europe – has brought out all the fragility of an energy system which from traditional fossils (oil and coal) had been steered towards gas. Clean, easily transportable in large volumes and, above all, economical once the infrastructure (pipeline) is built. Ispra takes into account and thus summarizes a historical change of course which today needs to be further updated. As regards the energy mix in the energy sector, from 1990 onwards natural gas has increased steadily eroding shares from petroleum products (in 2021 49.8% of electricity production from natural gas and about 2.7% from oil products, while in 1990 the two percentages were respectively 18.3% and 47.4%).
«The share of solid fuels», reconstructs the research of the Institute which traces the change, «showed fluctuations around the average of 11.5% with a strong reduction in recent years (4.9% in 2021). Preliminary estimates for 2021 show an upward trend with a relevant increase in the share of solid fuels around 8%. In essence, when Russia turned off the taps, Europe (and Italy) ran for cover by restarting old coal and heavy oil plants and prolonging the life of nuclear plants scheduled for progressive shutdown (France and Germany ).
It is interesting to note the changes in production: in 2005 the share of electricity from renewable sources in total production represented only 16% of national production. After 2007 «the share increased significantly until the end of 2014, when it reached 43.1%. In 2021, the renewable share in electricity generation was 40.2%, while preliminary estimates show a sharp contraction in 2022 (35.5%), mainly due to the sharp reduction in hydroelectric production. Paradoxical to say it in these days with the Po Valley in the water, but the lack of rainfall in the last 18 months has put the hydroelectric turbine exhibitions in crisis. Italy – poor in fossil resources – had built a good system of dams to supply itself with low-cost (and clean) energy. Now however…
TURBINES STOPPED –In recent years of drought, the hydroelectric system has been in trouble. Less water in the reservoirs, very high water dispersion (over 40% slips away from the source to the tap), maintenance of the reservoirs has been stopped for decades. In 2021, the share of renewables in electricity production was 40.2%, while preliminary estimates show a sharp contraction in 2022 (35.5%), mainly due to the sharp reduction in hydroelectric production.
The total thermal capacity in 2021 is 61.9 GW with a sharp contraction since 2012, when the installed capacity peaked at 80.2 GW. In recent times, the share of plants powered by bioenergy has risen (from 2008 to 2013). Indeed, the plants fueled by biogas have gone from 0.37 GW in 2008 to 1.46 GW in 2021. Those fueled by liquid biofuels (again between 2008 and 2013) have taken off: from 0.12 GW to 1.04 GW, to then decrease to 0.95 GW in 2021. A detail not to be overlooked: plants fueled by solid biomass and waste increased from 1.07 GW in 2008 to 1.73 GW in 2018. But from this year onwards the power of solid biomass plants shows downwards, while the power of waste plants increases. «In 2021 the total power is 1.7 GW, of which 0.92 powered by waste. But given the mass of waste that we ship abroad today, we could also go back to providing new incentives for bioenergy-powered plants, to dismantle the endless landfills that dot Italy (there is that of Malagrotta, the largest in Europe ), and to begin using biomass that we do not know how to manage.