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Despite great resources, what is holding back geothermal in Italy?

Carboli Geothermal Power Plant Tuscany, Italy (Source: Enel Green Power Media Library)
Alexander Richter 21 Jun 2020

Despite fantastic geothermal resources and being the birth place of modern day geothermal energy use for power generation, Italy is lacking progress in development. Why that is is theme of an interview with Adele Manzella of the Italian Geothermal Union.

In Europe, the geothermal market is going through a very flourishing moment as a whole, as highlighted by the European Geothermal Council (EGEC) in its European geothermal market report 2019 , we reported. Geothermal power plants are doubling, geothermal district heating has the wind in the stern while geothermal pumps have exceeded 2 million installations.

Yet precisely in Italy, or precisely the country where geothermal technologies first came to light over two centuries ago, the sector finds it hard to find a new way of development. Why? This is the basis of an interview published by Greenreport in Italy with Adele Manzella, first researcher at the Institute of Geosciences and Georesources (Igg) of the National Research Council (Cnr) of Pisa, president of the Italian Geothermal Union (UGI) and national coordinator for EGEC.

The European geothermal market report 2019 shows rapid progress in the use of geothermal energy in Europe, but with wide regional differences: in summary, what is the picture of the situation in Italy?

“I would say that the report clearly shows how Italy shines for the great resources it has, not for the rapid progress in their use. In the electricity sector, new projects are struggling to progress even to demonstrate super-green technologies, incentives are for now beyond the horizon and Italian companies produce and sell too little in geothermal energy. The most effective application in the thermal sector is geothermal district heating, which has seen an increase in plants and production, while applications with geothermal heat pump still languish.”

Italy was the first country in the world, over two centuries ago, to develop geothermal technologies. Do you believe that there is still room for development both as regards the production of electricity and the direct use of heat?

“There is no doubt that there are technical margins. In the electricity sector, numerous projects are in the request phase, the interest is evident. All the more reason there are wide margins for the progress of thermal applications, which require resources at lower temperatures, not to mention the air conditioning systems with heat pumps, which can be installed in almost all the national territory. The limits to development are dictated by an organizational difficulty, I would say.”

How do you think it is possible to help overcome the various Nimby and Nimto syndromes that block the development of renewable sources – including geothermal energy – in our country?

“On other occasions I have already answered similar questions, saying that trust must be restored and the territories and citizens more and more effectively involved in decision-making processes. And consolidate information, often lacking and biased. I add a personal dream of mine: taking care of the aesthetics of the systems, creating an “Italian style”, a show so beautiful as to make you want to have more. Also connected to a beautiful Italian industrial chain, of course, which contributes to beauty in Italy and exports all over the world “.

The European geothermal market report 2019 emphasizes the importance of the right policies and right market conditions for the development of the geothermal chain. What do you think are the main gaps in Italy in this respect?

“At UGI we made various operational proposals. Greater support for thermal technologies is a must, given that the thermal sector consumes over half of the energy in Italy and renewable sources provide only 20% of the energy consumed. In particular, geothermal energy could produce much more in the face of economic incentives (such as guarantee funds for investors, relief for consumers), regulations that facilitate the installation of geothermal heat pumps and investments for those who do research and innovation for make the sector more advanced. The great gap to be filled in Italy in the electricity sector is soon said: the FER2 decree and the recovery of incentives for geothermal plants, also to strengthen technological developments aimed at ever greater environmental performance. But that’s not enough, if the action is not accompanied also by an acceleration of the authorization times for the plants and stable electricity tariffs in the medium-long term. In short, we need a complete planning.”

Source: Greenreport