Energy efficiency and democracy of mega plants
As we rapidly approach 2030, it is not possible to clarify (or perhaps it is not worth doing so) on how to achieve the energy objectives for that date (as foreseen by Agenda 2030).
According to what was expressed by ENEA sources in a recent report, we are still 11.5% from the objective set by the 2030 Agenda, a value that is still low and, moreover, aggravated by energy storage problems, cumbersome bureaucracy and lack of political vision.
Behind the energy transition (from fossil to renewable) there are, obviously, the great interests of the global groups that have dominated planetary science for decades and which, now, must recycle themselves in the new management of energy monopolies from renewable sources.
All this, obviously, already conflicts with the technological and, therefore, strategic aspects of EU policies.
The Framework 2030 strategy envisages, in a certain sense, a democratization of energy production from renewable sources as a greater fragmentation of sources (whether wind, photovoltaic or other types) guarantees greater safety and efficiency (also strategic in the case of conflicts and attacks) of the system.
However, to absorb the energy generated by these numerous systems (there are now millions in Europe, mainly photovoltaic), allowing for their further development, it is also necessary to strengthen the network, both modifying it conceptually and renewing it technologically, according to the logic of Smart Grids and digitalisation .
Nonetheless, it is precisely the concept of contribution with a fractional system that allows for these conditions but also, as mentioned, the possibility that every citizen becomes the protagonist of a further level of democracy which is the energy level.
An example of this is the Energy Communities, an instrument desired, once again by the European Union, and contained in the clean energy package to which Europe relies, to achieve its long-term objectives, aiming to encourage the energy transition and the adaptation to climate change of communities made up of citizens and local businesses, while promoting the spread of skills, awareness and acceptance of sustainable energy issues among the population.
In practice, Energy Communities are a democratic (as well as energetic) instrument of active citizenship.
Despite all these premises, the production of renewable energy from “democratic” sources is struggling to take off.
Yet the data, studies and research now available demonstrate that this is the true way to create an energetically sustainable and politically balanced future.
A recent ENEA study echoes this statement, which might seem subjective.
According to this study (also published by the magazine Energies – an open access scientific journal with bi-weekly peer review), to satisfy the entire electricity needs of the national residential sector it would be sufficient to install photovoltaic panels on approximately 30% of the total surface area of the roofs of residential buildings of our country. Italy, the study also says, has almost all of the area suitable for the installation of these devices. All this using only the roofs of existing buildings, without the need for further use and, therefore, consumption of land (which, let us remember, is the focus of other European strategies) or sea.
To go into detail, and therefore give clarity to those who read us, it would be enough to entirely occupy the optimal surface area: approximately 450 km². «In our country there are over 12 million residential buildings with a total roof area of approximately 1,490 km². Of these. 450 km², equal to approximately 30%, could have characteristics suitable for the installation of photovoltaic panels”. This statement was reported by Nicolandrea Calabrese, head of the ENEA Laboratory of Energy Efficiency in Buildings and Urban Development and co-author of the study together with her colleague Domenico Palladino, researcher at the same laboratory.
In practice, again according to the study, if this limited amount of roofs were covered with solar panels, over 79 thousand GWh of electricity could be generated. To satisfy residential electricity needs, which is equal to an average annual consumption of around 65.5 thousand GWh, it would be enough to occupy even a smaller surface area (around 310 km²).
Going beyond this optimal scenario and referring to the most “probable” one, the study by the Italian Energy Agency shows that the installed photovoltaic power could only be equal to 6 GW, or 11.5% of the objective national set at 52 GW of new photovoltaic capacity by 2030, i.e. two and a half times the power recorded in 2020. By 2050, the study estimates that photovoltaic electricity production could potentially cover just under 40% of national needs .
This authoritative study was preceded in 2020 by another private research, conducted by the Sicily Agroecology Coordination, which I represent. In this study, the production of renewable energy on roofs, sheds and concreted areas was hypothesized, on 10% of Sicilian companies, therefore without consumption of further land.
Without going into the detailed calculations that you can find in this contribution (published in the authoritative national magazine QualEnergia), an average annual productivity of these systems installed in Sicily has been estimated at approximately 1,900 kWh/(kWp ⋅ year), which we can consider prudentially reduced to 1,200 kWh/(kWp ⋅ year) when taking into consideration the lack of (energy) production linked to poor maintenance of the same.
This data allowed us to estimate the annual production (AEP – Annual Energy Production) of the entire photovoltaic production ecosystem, mentioned above, equal to approximately 13.6TWh/year (equal to 5% and 83% of the entire requirement national and Sicilian electricity respectively in 2020, with electricity production coming from only 10% of the surfaces already available within the agricultural land of Sicily. This data was obtained from the very likely hypothesis of the simple adhesion of 10% of agricultural companies to the system implemented by Regional Law 21/2021 – law of the Sicilian Region on agroecology).
It is evident that, increasingly, research, studies and data processing by public and private research bodies demonstrate the enormous potential of renewable energy that can be produced without “disturbing” the territory and allowing it to develop according to ecological and democratic criteria.
Among other things, the huge investments that are being made for Smart Grids (which, we repeat, are so-called “intelligent” networks as they optimize the distribution of electricity, decentralize the energy production plants and minimize overloads and variations in electrical voltage) are difficult to reconcile with the construction, above all, of mega photovoltaic and wind power plants; which is to say that large groups receive funds for a correct energy transition and funds for a transition in contrast to the previous one. An oxymoron that politics must also clarify to the national and European Court of Auditors.
Well, in order to carry out a correct energy transition (with all the trappings of democratic and ecological sustainability) the first step is to inform citizens and politicians of what is correct and what is not (and therefore what is legal and what is not) and how much availability from renewable and democratic sources we have. Otherwise we will have large amounts of energy to illuminate our territories but a leap into the darkness of democracy and ecology.