Another boiling summer, new record temperatures: the thermometer reached new highs, overtaking those set just one year ago. In Italy and Europe electricity grids were put to the test by peaks following increased demand for residential and commercial air conditioning. In Asia, meanwhile, rains led to the loss of thousands of lives and caused billions of dollars in damage. The Russia-Ukraine conflict worsened an energy crisis unfolding already since 2021, when the post-pandemic rebound collided with an acute shortage of raw materials, which - in turn - drove energy prices further upward and increased volatility. Today more than ever it is clear that we need a strategy that can increase our country's energy independence. Luckily, we have strong renewables potential.
According to the Position Paper that we at A2A have written together with The European House-Ambrosetti, Italy has vast quantities of renewable energy sources which - if tapped - would significantly reduce our dependence on imported energy. The potential is enormous, considering also that attaining increased energy autonomy would translate into reduced costs for companies and consumers.
Furthermore, according to the study we carried out with Italy's leading private think tank, we found that the Belpaese ranks second in Europe - after only France - in terms of renewable energy resources on its territory, but it ranks 23d in terms of energy autonomy, producing just 22.5% of energy consumed, compared to a European average of 39.5 percent. How much more energy can we "squeeze out" of the renewable resources available in our country?
On the whole, considering prospects for electrification and for increasing energy efficiency, if we exploit all the opportunities offered by water, wind, sun and waste-to-energy, we could nearly treble Italy's current energy autonomy (from 22.5% to 58.4%), achieving a near four-fold increase with respect to the country's performance over the past 20 years.
According to the data collected, Italy still has ample growth potential, considering current technology and the present regulatory and structural environment: the country is in a position to increase production from solar energy resources by 105.1 GW (almost five times current capacity), from wind resources by 21.1 GW (almost twice currently installed capacity) and from hydro power by 3.3 GW (more than 20% above that currently used).
As of today, hydroelectric remains the renewable energy resource with the highest installed capacity in Italy, representing some 30% of the total. This resource offers two development paths: mini hydroelectric and increasing power output through refurbishment of the country's large hydroelectric plants, something which is feasible seeing as nearly 70% of installed capacity has been in use since the early 1960s.
As concerns photovoltaic, there are ample margins for increasing installed infrastructure - be it on rooftops (residential buildings, shopping centers, schools), be it on land (at-capacity landfills as well as degraded and abandoned land). According to the research, wind energy also has excellent prospects, starting with the potential offered by the upgrade of existing wind farms, which could benefit from the massive improvements in technology achieved over the last 20 years.
Another renewable energy resource to take into consideration is waste-to-energy. However, as we have seen in Position Papers published in past years, many of Italy's regions are not equipped with the necessary facilities. Waste represents Italy's fourth source of domestic renewable raw materials, in addition to the already-mentioned water, sun and wind. Correct management of waste could contribute to a reduction in CO₂ emissions, lead to increased re-use of materials in a "circular" manner, reduce the need for landfills and contribute to power generation. Today, energy generation from urban and special waste, as well as from more than eight million tons of sewage sludge, presents an important opportunity for our country. Treatment of this additional quantity could generate a 55% increase in waste-to-energy production, compared to 2020, for a total of over 7 TWh - equivalent to about 2% of Italy's current electricity generation needs.
Finally, some words must be dedicated to biomethane, a product derived, generally speaking, from the wastes produced by our economy and little exploited thus far in Italy. Development of a dedicated supply chain would allow exploiting resources currently not used that often end up in landfills. Employed to produce natural gas, they could become an important component of the circular economy paradigm, reducing emissions and increasing domestic energy production. According to our estimates, Italy could create up to 6.3 billion cubic meters of biomethane, corresponding to about 8% of domestic natural gas consumption and equivalent to some 22% of the natural gas imported from Russia in 2021.
As our Position Paper demonstrates, full exploitation of our country's available renewable energy resources must be the fundamental lever of any strategy that seeks to lead Italy towards energy autonomy and efficiency.
As a Life Company - committed to improving the quality of citizens' lives and to being a responsible steward of our country's resources - we at A2A will continue to do our part.