Friday, July 3, 2015

Long live Italy! Can the "sun country" reach one million photovoltaic plants?

Despite the unabated economic disaster, despite unemployment, bureaucracy, overtaxation, bad government, corruption, mafia, and all the rest, Italians are reacting at least in one field: in renewable energy, especially photovoltaic energy.

You can see the trends in Italy in the image below (from assoelettrica). Note how the number of plants is growing more rapidly than the installed power, indicating the trend toward small plants.

In 2013, the number of installed plants had gone over half a million and, little more than one year later, Italy had already reached the number of 650,000 plants. But the actual number of plants is surely larger, as we need to take into account all the plants that are not connected to the grid; for self-sufficiency or for mobile applications. And we should also count all the micro-applications where PV panels are used to power such things as street signs and the like.

So: does Italy have one million PV plants? Probably not yet, but the growth continues unabated and we are rapidly getting there. The interesting point is that this growth is occurring despite the evident (and partially successful) attempt on the part of the government to kill the Italian PV system (*). They succeeded in stopping the growth of large plants, but Italians reacted by invested in small plants, and a lot of them.

The consequences are impressive, likely very different than what the government (and the fossil fuel lobby supporting it) had in mind. With so many plants, PV is becoming entrenched in the economic and social fabric of the country. One million small plants mean that at least 3-4 million people are directly connected and benefitting from a PV plant they own, or they use. They won't take so lightly the attempt of anyone to take those plants away from them.

That has political consequences that shouldn't be underestimated. Indeed, some signs seem to indicate that the anti-PV campaign of the Renzi government is losing steam. Eventually, it may fold up and disappear altogether (and I don't mean just the anti-PV campaign).

So, Italy is living up to its fame of "sun country". Long live Italy!!

(*) Obviously, there are no more incentives from the state for new PV plants in Italy; but this is not an obstacle since the lowered price of PV has made them unnecessary. However, what the government has been doing is a policy of positively discouraging new plants, as well as trying to kill the existing ones by a combination of overtaxation and overregulation. The last attempt in this action is the proposed law that establishes a flat fee for the connection of a home to the grid - instead of the current one; proportional to consumption. In this way, even if a PV plant produces 99% of the owner's need, the owner still has to pay a hefty fee to the government owned energy producer. Of course, then owners could react by disconnecting from the grid and storing energy in batteries; but then the government could react like the Spanish government has done: flatly forbidding PV plants not connected to the grid. In short, it is a war. We will win it, but we have to fight it. 

 h/t Antonio Belsole and Fausto Lorenzoni


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)