Solar power in Italy

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Solar power in Italy increased rapidly in the last ten years, reaching an installed capacity that ranks fifth in the world. Solar power accounted for 7% of the electricity generated in Italy during 2013, ranking first in the world. In 2017, that number was close to 8%, which was beaten only by Germany in Europe.[1] More than 730 000 solar power plants are currently installed in Italy, with a total capacity of 19.7 GW.[1] Sun energy currently produces around 26% of all renewable energy in the country. The years 2009-2013 saw a boom in installed photovoltaic (PV) nameplate capacity, increasing nearly 15-fold, and 2013's year-end capacity of 17,928 MW ranked third in the world, ahead of the United States at that time. This was partly due to the generous solar PV power generation incentives offered under the Conto Energia schemes. As of 2013, the sector provided employment to about 100,000 people, especially in design and installation.

However, solar capacity growth essentially came to a stop after 2013, due to cessation of governmental subsidy programmes.[2] Since then, annual installed PV capacity have been around 300-400MW per year.

Annual and cumulative installed photovoltaic capacity (in MW) during the 21st century.

The Montalto di Castro Photovoltaic Power Station, completed in 2010, is the largest photovoltaic power station in Italy with 85 MW. Other examples of large PV plants in Italy are San Bellino (70.6 MW), Cellino san Marco (42.7 MW) and Sant’ Alberto (34.6 MW).[3]

Apart from the more conventional solar PV technology, Italy may in the future challenge Spain as the role of Europe’s leading country in the developing technology concentrated solar power (CSP). CSP requires higher direct solar irradiation to function efficiently, which leaves only part of the country suitable for this technique.[4] However, the southern regions as well as the islands of Sicily and Sardinia offer good conditions for CSP, and the Italian government has made large investments to promote this development.

Today, there are three plants up and running in the country.[5] The first one, Archimede solar plant, was installed on the island of Sicily in 2010, with a capacity of 5 MW. However, planning and promotion is underway for several additional projects, which would add another yearly capacity of 360 MW.[6]

Photovoltaics[edit]

Watts per capita by region in 2013
  1 - 10 W/inhabitant
  10 - 50 Watts
  50 - 100 Watts
  100 - 200 Watts
  200 - 350 Watts
  350 - 500 Watts
  500 - 750 Watts
  >750 Watts
Italian growth of PV capacity in megawatts since 2005.
5,000
10,000
15,000
20,000
2005
2010
2015

As of 2018, solar PV accounts for 7.9% of electricity demand,[7] making Italy a major leader in solar power generation and development.[7][8]

Energy production from photovoltaics was 1,905.7 GWh in 2010, and 18,800 GWh in 2012.[9]:20[10] Annual growth rates were fast in recent years: 251% in 2009, 182% in 2010, and 466% in 2011.[11]:30 More than a fifth of the total production in 2010 came from the southern region of Apulia.[11]:30 In 2011, 20% came from Apulia, followed by 10% from Emilia-Romagna.[9] Italy added an estimated 3.4 GW of capacity in 2012.[12] In 2012, Italy exceeded 16 GWp of solar power via 478,331 PV systems installed within the country. For comparison, in 2011 solar power accounted for 2.6% of electricity generated in the EU and 6.7% of electricity generated in Italy- the most in Europe. In 2011 Italy ranked first in installed solar power from new PV plants- with roughly four times the amount of power that was supplied in 2010.[7]

Italy’s solar power production continued to increase over the years. By July 2017, the solar power market had already grown by 19% by the start of the year. This was mainly accomplished with the installation of five grid parity PV plants,[clarification needed] which collectively hold a capacity of 63 MW.[13] These panels are located in the Montalto di Castro region of Italy and were supplied by Canadian Solar Inc.[14] As of the end of 2010, there were 155,977 solar PV plants, with a total capacity of 3,469.9 MW.[11]:24 At the end of 2011, there were 330,196 installations, totaling 12,773 MW.[9] The number of plants and the total capacity surged between 2009 and 2011 following high incentives from Conto Energia. The total power capacity installed tripled and plants installed doubled in 2010 compared to 2009, with an increase of plant's average dimensions.[11]:24 The increase was even greater in 2011.[15]

The annual energy production from solar PV in Italy ranges from 1,000 to 1,500 kWh per installed kWp.[11]:23 A 2013 report by Deutsche Bank concluded that solar power has already reached grid parity in Italy.[16]

Year Capacity
(MWp)
Growth Generation
(GWh)
Generation
%
Consumption
%
Ref
2006 37
2007 87 108%
2008 432 397% 200 0.1%
2009 1,144 165% 677 0.24% 0.21% [17]
2010 3,470 203% 1,874 0.64% 0.57% [17][18]
2011 12,783 268% 10,668 3.7% 3.2% [9][18][19]
2012 16,479 29% 18,631 6.5% 5.7% [10][20][21]
2013 18,074 9.7% 21,229 7.0% 6.7% [22][23][24]
2014 18,460 2.1% 23,299 8.7% 7.5% [25][26]
2015 18,892 2.3% 22,942 [27]
2016 19,283 2.1% 22,104 [28]

History[edit]

Around 1850 wood, charcoal and straw were the main energy sources for many European countries. In Italy, due to a lack of coal, renewable hydro energy from the Alps made industrialization possible at the end of the 19th century. Using the local hydro resources made it also possible to be independent of coal imports. In 1914, 74% of the Italian electric power came from hydroelectricity. By the early 1990s there were already pioneers of solar energy in Italy. One was the chemist Giacomo Ciamician. In his journal article, ‘The Photochemistry of the Future’ he predicted the use of solar energy.[29][30]

During World War I, Italy was not able to prevent an energy crisis revealing the dependence on imported fuels, mainly coal. After the crisis, hydro-power installations increased to ensure energy independence. This interest in locally available energy sources was in line with the economic self-sufficiency policies of the fascist regime. With the promotion of these policies, research into renewable energy use increased. As a result, more than 90% of total electricity production was renewable energy by the start of World War II.

After World War II there was a change in policies. Energy demand was rapidly growing, and new policies aimed at supplying energy through imported fossil fuels and the development of nuclear energy. Due to these changes, dependence on imported fuels grew to more than 80% in 2005.

With the oil shock in 1973, it was not any longer just pioneers, like Giorgio Nebbia and Giovanni Francia, showing interest in solar energy. Oil shortages led to an increase in events and programs addressing solar energy. The Energy Finalized Project Number 1 (PFE1) in 1972 and PFE2 in 1982 were started with the aim of promoting an energy saving culture in Italy, including energy efficiency and solar energy. Furthermore, some promising developments and Congresses in solar energy took place, but with falling oil prices in the 1980s these programs were soon forgotten. These developments included the Italian Section of ISES national Congress in Naples in 1977 and “The first Congress and Exhibition on Solar Energy” in Genoa in 1978. In Genoa an Italian first in solar energy was underlined, as in 1963, Giovanni Francia built the first solar plant able to produce steam at temperatures above 550 °C. This solar plant was based on the central receiver and mirror field concept.

After the falling oil prices in the 1980s and the declining interest in solar power, in the late 1990s the interest in solar energy increased again, mainly because of the concerns on climate change.[30]

Socioeconomic effects[edit]

Conflicts with the placement of solar plants require researching the population density of nearby towns and/or urban areas, as the solar plants and solar fields will cause visual disruptions and potential emission of pollutants. Areas that allow for easy access to the solar panels for repair, the clearing of overgrown vegetation, and routine panel washing are ideal, as well as being located close to roads to decrease further building costs of additional roads and service pathways and to avoid inaccessibility to service vehicles. Being located close the power grid will also lower the cost of transmission and the loss of power, decreasing the economical strain put on the area for building costs and shortening the amount of time until the original cost is overshadowed by the solar plant or field's production. Original or continued land use or cover must also be taken into consideration as areas with large topographic feature will have a tendency to be shadowed more heavily. Areas with large quantities of trees could be overshadowed or have an increased risk of destruction in inclement weather. Locales with poor soil, heavy metal contamination, erosion, or are unfit for rural or urbanization could be used for solar energy production—reducing the need to buy out farmers, disrupt pristine areas, and lessen the effect on surrounding habitats.[31]

Energy policies[edit]

Government targets for renewable energy sources (RES) and different support schemes, especially for solar photovoltaics, resulted in an increase from 7.9% (2005) to 18.2% (2015) in total share of renewable energy in the total primary energy supply (TPES). 1.6% of the 18.2% renewables share is made up of solar energy. From 2005 to 2015 solar power has increased on average by 63.7% per year. The share of renewables in electricity generation has increased from 17.2% in 2005 to 40.2% in 2015, including 9.3% of solar power. This is the highest share of solar in electricity among International Energy Agency (IEA) countries. And the third-highest share of solar power in TPES.[32]

Institutions[edit]

Important institutions that are responsible for energy policies, the promotion and development of renewable energy, energy efficiency, co-ordination and payment of incentives are the Ministry of Economic Development (MSE), the Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea (MATTM), the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies (MIPAAF), the Regulatory Authority for Electricity, Gas and Water (AEEGSI), the Gestore Servizi Energetici (GSE), the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA) and Terna.[32]

Policy[edit]

The Directive 2009/28/EC establishes a framework for promoting the use of renewable energy sources.[33][32] According to this Directive, 17% of Italy’s final energy consumption must be supplied by renewable sources in 2020. Italy’s 2010 National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP) identifies sectoral targets and how to achieve them. In the 2013 National Energy Strategy (NES), Italy established energy aims to achieve by 2020 that rises the 17% EU target for renewable energy in final energy consumption to 19% or 20%. Energy efficiency, but also renewable energies, plays an important role for this strategy.[32]

Conto Energia (Feed-in tariffs)[edit]

In 2005 the Italian government introduced the first feed in tariffs (FIT) specifically for photovoltaics connected to the grid, the Conto Energia schemes. The payments for the schemes were designed to be made over a 20 year period and to incentivize both smaller and larger producers to invest in the installation of photovoltaic plants and systems. Between 2005 and 2013, five different Conto Energia schemes were introduced by ministerial decree. Each scheme had differing terms and conditions and tariffs provided to producers.

The following table provides a summary of the costs and the solar capacities installed under Conto Energia schemes 1-5:[34]

Conto Energia 1 Conto Energia 2 Conto Energia 3 Conto Energia 4 Conto Energia 5 Total
Date 28 July 20056 February 2006 19 February 2007 6 August 2010 5 May 2011 5 July 2012

Final scheme. Ended 6 July 2013

MW Installed 163.4 6,791.2 1,566.6 7,600.4 2,094.9 18,216.6
Yearly cost

(million Euro)

95.2 3,270.1 648.9 2,469.0 216.9 6,700.0
Yearly cost per kW installed

(Euro, estimated)

582 482 414 325 104 368

The first Conto Energia resulted in the relatively small amount of 163 MW of new PV installations, perhaps because solar power was still in its infancy in 2005.

In 2007, The second Conto Energia resulted in a massive increase of 6,791 MW of new PVs at an annual cost of €3.27 billion, and was the most costly scheme. Almost half of the total cost of the schemes is accounted for by Conto Energia 2.

Conto Energia 3 ran briefly, resulting in 1,567 MW of installed power at an annual cost of €0.65 billion. This was succeeded by Conto Energia 4 which resulted in the largest increase in solar capacity so far at 7,600 MW of installed power at the annual cost of €2.47 billion.

The final Conto Energia 5 was introduced by ministerial decree in 2012. It was announced that the feed in tariff would end once the total annual costs of the cumulative Conto Energia scheme reached €6.7 billion.[35] This figure was reached in 2013 and the final Conto Energia scheme was ended on 6 July 2013. The final scheme resulted in a further 2,095 MW of installed capacity at a cost of €0.22 billion. Under the Conto Energia incentive scheme, a total of 18,217 MW of installed solar PV power was added at annual cost of €6.7 billion.

Conto termico[edit]

In 2013, the support schemes changed and a new scheme, the conto termico, was introduced in the heat sector. This support scheme provides incentives for the installation of renewable heating and cooling systems, and for efficiencient refurbishments, including solar thermal systems. Receiving support from the scheme depends on type of intervention and is granted for two to five years, with the amount depending on expected energy production. Additional factors like greenhouse gases impact of different bioenergy technologies, also influence the support granted. The total annual support payments are capped at €200 million for public administrations and €700 million for privately owned entities.

There are also several other incentives like tax credits for photovoltaic systems and solar thermal energy plants. A net metering scheme supports RES-E producers with plant capacities between 20 kW and 500 kW.[32]

Research and funding[edit]

In 2013, the government funded energy technology research, development and demonstration (RD&D) with €529 million. In recent years, other areas of the government budget were restructured. Between 2000 and 2013, nuclear research and development funding decreased from 40.7% to 18.2% in favor of energy efficiency and renewable energy, which grew from 13.8% to 21.5% in the same time period.

Concentrated solar energy technologies and photovoltaics are fields of active projects and research areas. ENEA has been researching on concentrated solar energy technologies since 2001 and introduced several innovations. The Archimede Project is one such developed project.[32]

Solar technologies[edit]

Solar potential and development[edit]

The entire nation of Italy retains high potential for solar energy production, ranging from 3.6 kWh per square meter per day in the Po river plain to 5.4kWh per square meter per day in Sicily.[36] As of 2018, solar PVs account for 7.9% of electricity demand.[8] As such, Italy is a major leader in solar power generation and development.[8][36] While solar power has a great capacity for energy generation, solar technologies are best paired with technologies that consume technologies efficiently. Solar energy is expected to reach levels of energy production comparable to conventional methods in the near future.[7][8]

Italy made some notable advances in early in the development of their solar program. For instance, between 2011 and 2012 electricity generation via solar increased 75%, from 10,795 GWh to 18,861 GWh respectively. In 2012, Italy exceeded 16 GWp of solar power via 478,331 PV systems installed within the country. For comparison, in 2011 solar power accounted for 2.6% of electricity generated in the EU and 6.7% of electricity generated in Italy- the most in Europe. Finally, in 2011 Italy ranked first in installed solar power from new PV plants- with roughly four times the amount of power that was supplied in 2010.[7]

Italy’s solar power production continues to increase over the years. By July 2017, the solar power market had already grown by 19% by the start of the year. This was mainly accomplished with the installation of five grid-parity PV plants, which collectively hold a capacity of 63 MW.[37] These panels are located in the Montalto di Castro region of Italy and were supplied by Canadian Solar Inc.[38]

Concentrated solar power[edit]

Italy currently maintains various concentrated solar power (CSP) projects.[39] Concentrated solar power plants concentrate solar energy into single points of collection with, for instance, mirrors, to maximize energy capture. Four types of CSP technologies are currently available on the market. These include parabolic troughs, fresnel mirrors, power towers, and solar dish collectors.[8] The 15 MWt Archimede solar field is a thermal field at Priolo Gargallo near Syracuse. The plant was inaugurated on 14 July 2010,[40][41][42] and continues to be operational in a solar field of 31,860 square meters.[7] It is the first concentrated solar power plant to use molten salt for heat transfer and storage which is integrated with a combined-cycle gas facility.[40][42][43][44] Upon generating thermal energy, two tanks are available to store thermal energy for up to 8 hours.[45] The two other CSP systems are the ASE demo plant,[46] which uses parabolic trough technology to focus solar energy, and the Rende-CSP plant, which uses Linear Fresnel reflector technology to focus solar energy to one point of fluidized storage consisting of oil.[47]

Salerno based Magaldi Industries, partnered with University of Naples and National Research Council of Italy, pioneered a new form of CSP called Solar Thermoelectric Magaldi (STEM). The first plant of this type was pioneered in Sicily in 2016. This technology utilizes off-grid applications to produce 24-hour industrial scale power for mining sites and remote communities in Italy, other parts of Europe, Australia, Asia, North Africa and Latin America. STEM uses fluidized silica sand as a thermal storage and heat transfer medium for CSP systems.[7] This fluidized bed benefits from a high thermal diffusivity and heat transfer coefficients, as well as high thermal capacity as a solid. The use of silica sand also lowers the cost of the CSP, and the facility aims to minimize pollution released during the production and operation of the system while producing 50-100 MWe with a storage capacity of 5–6 hours.[48][49][50][51] STEM is the first CSP technology to use sand for thermal energy storage, and also allows for immediate use or storage of solar energy through a solar field made of heliostats. Such technology is especially effective in remote areas and can be easily coupled with fossil fuel plants to increase reliability of electricity supply. STEM was first applied commercially in Sicily in 2016.[49][50][51]

Largest PV power plants[edit]

Italy's largest photovoltaic (PV) power plants[52]
Name of Plant Peak capacity
(MW)
Production
(GWh/year)
Capacity factor
(%)
Start of operation
Montalto di Castro Photovoltaic Power Station 84.2[53] 140 19[54] 2009-2010
Rovigo Photovoltaic Power Plant 70.6 -- -- 2010
Serenissima Solar Park 48 -- -- 2011
Cellino San Marco Solar Park 43 56 14.9 2010
Alfonsine Solar Park 36.2 -- -- 2010
Sant'Alberto Solar Park 34.6 -- -- 2010
Su-Scioffu Greenhouse PV Park 20.0 -- -- 2011
Anguillara PV power plant 15 -- -- 2010
Priolo PV power plant 13.5 -- -- 2010
Loreo PV power plant 12.6 -- -- 2010
Craco PV power plant 12 -- -- 2010
Manzano PV power plant 11 -- -- 2010
Gamascia PV power plant[55] 9.7 -- -- 2010
Ragusa PV power plant 8.4 -- -- 2010

Companies[edit]

Major Solar Companies in Italy
Company Name Description
Tages Helios Technology Founded in 2011, Helios Technology has three business lines Tages Capital LLP in London dealing with liquid alternatives, Tages Capital SGR in Milan dealing with renewable energy investment management, and Credito Fondiario in Rome.[56]
Enel Green Power Founded in 2008 and operating in Europe, Asia, the Americas, Oceania, and Africa, Enel Green Power develops and manages activities for the generation of energy from renewable sources.[57]
RTR Energy Founded in 2010, RTR Energy is an independent company that manages 134 solar plants throughout Italy.[58]
EF Solare Italia Established in 2015-16 as an equal joint venture between Enel Green Power and F2i, EF Solare Italia manages 123 solar plants in twelve different regions in Italy.[59]
GSF Founded in 2008, GSF manages 179 solar plants in Apulia, Italy and 1 solar plant in Campania, Italy.[60]
ForVEI Specializing in acquiring renewable energy infrastructure assets in Europe, ForVEI is a joint venture between Foresight Group LLP and VEI Green Group.[61]

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