Photovoltaic energy is a veritable bottom-up revolution because it decentralises what has always been a production dominated by power plants of considerable size and investment.
The latest data made available by Terna, showing that photovoltaic technology is characterised by widespread distribution throughout the national territory, also near to users, both on roofs of dwellings and on industrial buildings.
It’s very interesting to note how photovoltaic technology has rendered obsolete conventional thermoelectric (gas, coal or oil-powered) and nuclear power station projects, that is plants with a high environmental impact, typical of the last century.
Until 2011, Italy experienced a significant growth in the production of photovoltaic electricity. The country was one of the main producers in the world of energy generated from solar panels. The surge in installations in Italy until 2011 gives hope today for similar possible optimistic scenarios also over the next few years.
There’s been a lull in Italy for around 10 years from 2022 to today, a lacklustre development in the installation of new plants for solar electricity generation and this, today, is one of the causes of the current heavy dependence on the importation of methane gas for thermoelectrical production, besides for heating systems and industrial applications.
The golden year for photovoltaic production in our country was 2011, with installed power growing from 3.6 GW to 13.1 GW, an increase, in a single year, of little under 10 GW, a striking achievement.
The year 2021
The Terna report states that, in Italy, the total demand for electricity was 318 TWh, and of these, as many as 114 TWh were produced from national renewable sources, precisely 36% of total consumption and 41% of the energy produced in our country.
Total photovoltaic energy production in 2021 was 25 TWh.
In 2021 22.6 GW were installed in total in Italy, with 936,38 MW of new annual power, therefore under the threshold of a Gigawatt, around 10 times less than what was installed in 2011: the best 12 months ever in Italy.
In total, in Italy we have a total of 1,015,239 photovoltaic plants. Over half, 56% of the power installed, comes from plants of between 20kW and 1 MW, that is, of medium dimensions.
There are still very few plants that accumulate electricity in Italy, of which only 75,039 are new, and a total of 734.94 MWh installed.
The regions with the highest photovoltaic power installed are:
- 1. Puglia, 2,943 MW (where high-power plants are installed)
- 2. Lombardy, 2,711 MW (where photovoltaic plants are more widespread, of medium-small size)
- 3. Emilia-Romagna, 2,269 MW (where photovoltaic plants are widespread, of medium-small size, similar to Lombardy)
There are a number of Italian regions, especially the other regions of the centre-south, with high-power photovoltaic plants such as Sicily and Sardinia, but which are still far behind the first three. Veneto is, as usual, showing considerable dynamism, with a high number of small and medium plants installed.
THE CURRENT ENERGY CRISIS
The electricity produced using imported gas from Russia is 55 TWh, while all the natural gas used in Italy, also extracted from the territory, produces a total of 137 TWh.
To avoid supplies of methane from the Russian territory and former USSR countries, Italy has to more than double the photovoltaic electricity production of 2021, which was 25 TWh. If it was possible to replicated the speed of installation that Italy was able to achieve in the year of 2011, optimistically, it would only take a few years of new installations. At the same time, energy accumulators would need to be developed that are able to balance supply and demand.
Production activities which use electricity predominantly in the day, when electricity is produced by photovoltaic panels, can derive immediate significant advantages from solar energy, both in terms of the reduction of costs in the supply of electricity and a reduction in environmental impact through climate-altering CO2 emissions, as well as a reduction in indirect atmospheric pollution that still is produced by thermoelectric power stations.
SOLAR TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH AND INNOVATION
A potentially very interesting solar technology, which it is hoped will be developed, is thermodynamic energy production, which has a higher yield compared to photovoltaic technology and doesn’t use silicon for constructing solar panels. The thermodynamic solar system is based on the principle of the heat pump, that is, the heating of a fluid by the sun. The plant is small and scalable and so can be installed anywhere. Thermodynamic solar technology can produce energy also at night and in seasons in which radiation is not continuous and prolonged, serving as a storage of energy. Unfortunately, this technology can only be used in Italy in the South.
The short-sightedness of its energy policy is having extremely high costs for the country, which has been unable to continue and maintain the photovoltaic growth achieved in 2011, today paying the price in terms of dependence and extremely high gas prices, imported almost entirely from politically unstable countries.
Also, as a consequence of the current energy crisis and the war between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, it’s necessary to rapidly develop long-sighted energy policies, avoiding, as far as possible, risks of dependence by continuing to consume methane coming from foreign gas pipelines.
It’s necessary to rapidly incentivise the energy transition, which will have both significant environmental benefits, such as a reduction in the very dangerous smog and gas emissions that cause climate change, and benefits from a geopolitical point of view.
Electric mobility will also benefit from the spread of solar energy sources, permitting the charging of batteries at zero cost, at zero km, with electricity self-produced also on simple projecting roofs or on the photovoltaic roofs of current car parks. Moreover, in the case of a significant growth in electric vehicles in Italy, the network will have a negligent increase in consumption, this being offset by the improvement in the energy efficiency of buildings currently in progress.
1 Terawatt [1 TW) = 1,000 GW Megawatts
1 Gigawatt (1 GW) = 1,000 MW Megawatts
1 Megawatt (1 MW) = 1,000 KW Kilowatts