Off Road | Investing in renewables is convenient and creates jobs, but Italy is going in another direction

There Cop27 closed with no progress in terms of reducing emissions. In the final text, we even read a sentence in which renewables are placed side by side with «low-emission energies», a term used to leave an open window to natural gas. This fossil fuel, despite having less impact on the planet than oil and coal, remains an element capable of altering the climate. And it is making a dangerous comeback due to the energy crisis.

With the goals of the Paris Agreement increasingly complex to achievegas cannot be conceived as a priority solution that takes away investments, time and media attention from clean energies.

The reality, however, points in another direction: in 2022, between electricity or coal-fired plants and terminals for the export of gas, about eighty projects dedicated to fossil fuels will be restarted in the world. And according to forecasts by Rystad energy, in 2024 investments in new gas infrastructure will reach forty-two billion: an increase of fifty percent compared to 2022.

The message that risks getting across is: fossil fuels are quicker and less expensive solutions with a view to mitigating the energy crisis. Instead it is exactly the opposite: decarbonisation – the gradual abandonment of everything that produces carbon dioxide – is more convenient than diversification, which refers to the use of more energy sources, even non-clean ones, to eliminate any dependence. Investing in renewables brings money and creates new jobs, and governments can no longer waste time.

“The two things can be done in parallel. Handling emergencies like this can happen even with regasifiers, which, however, must be temporary palliatives. On the other hand, there must be more substantial public investments in renewables», Livio De Santoli, professor of Energy management at the Sapienza University of Rome and co-author of a recent study dedicated to the relationship between decarbonisation and energy diversification, explained to Linkiesta.

Published in the Journal of cleaner production and reproduced by naturesthe search took Italy as case studies in Europe. An Italy that, on the one hand, has generically reaffirmed that it wants to respect the Community objectives from the point of view of renewables. On the other hand, however, it is focusing heavily on gas, including new concessions for drilling in the Adriatic and floating regasification terminals.

Using MATLAB Toolbox for EnergyPLAN, a powerful software that processes energy balances, researchers from the Sapienza University of Rome obtained simulations to understand the ideal strategies for reducing gas consumption in Italy in the coming years. The result was the creation of more than two thousand scenarios, based on different energy mixes, consumption and investments: from residential photovoltaics to wind farms, passing through green hydrogenthe heat pumps and biomethane.

What do the results say? An investment in renewables by the Italian government of twenty billion euros per year would reduce (national) gas consumption by almost forty terawatt hours. In a similar scenario, the abatement cost – the amount needed to produce a unit of energy with renewables rather than with fossil sources – would be 45 euros per megawatt hour. The ideal strategy proposed by the researchers is the following: eighty billion (from the pockets of the State) of investments in the next three years.

An economic commitment of this kind, according to the study, would guarantee a reduction of seventy-five terawatt hours per year in gas consumption at an average cost of around seventy euros per megawatt hour. A reasonable figure, considering that gas prices exceeded eighty euros per megawatt hour last spring (with peaks above one hundred).

«Between wind power, photovoltaics and heat pumps, by investing eighty billion over the next three years we would be able to reduce our gas consumption by a tenth, i.e. a third of Russia’s: with the drills we would never make it. Among other things, no one yet knows how much investment will actually be made in the drills. Before building a new platform, the concession says that those that no longer work must be decommissioned: it means restoring ecosystems as they were. This would require a lot of money and a lot of time», says Professor Livio De Santoli, who he does not forget to mention renewable energy communities (still waiting for the publication of the implementing decree): «They can help with three or four gigawatts a year».

«Eighty billion is a pessimistic, conservative figure. That money can also become 30, therefore ten billion a year. And Italy would have the economic possibilities to make it. Today, public investments in green energy are very few, and they come to create less than two gigawatts of renewables a year. The massive part of the commitment comes from private individuals, but we cannot go on like this. It’s not too late: let’s start investing today, and in three years we will already have a good result», adds the co-author of the research.

That eighty billion investment in renewables over three years would also bring environmental and employment benefits. According to the research, annual CO2 emissions from the Italian energy system would drop by 21.5 megatonnes. But, above all, 640,000 new temporary jobs (in the production, construction and plant installation phases) and 30,000 permanent jobs (in the operation, maintenance and production phases) would be created.

«Those numbers would compensate for the loss of jobs in the fossil industry, in fact, they are three times more. These job positions can then be reconverted: training and the reskilling to convert places towards the new energy model», says De Santoli. Not by chance, according to a Censis research commissioned by the Italian Association of Employment Agencies (Assosomm), among the most sought-after professional figures in the «near future» the expert in design of photovoltaic systems and photovoltaic cells stands out; the solar water heater manufacturing technician; the wind turbine designer; the manager for renewable energies; the environmental surveyor; the environmental insurer; the geochemist.

The study carried out so far is in line with what has been shown by a position paper by The European House-Ambrosetti: by focusing on renewables and acting on electrification and energy efficiency, Italy can achieve 58.4 percent energy independence, almost tripling current levels (22.5 percent of energy produced on our territory and then consumed).

According to the Sapienza professor, to grow in renewables «we need an industrial process that touches the entire supply chain and Italian know-how that is still to be built. As well as capable people at the government level, with relationships with the world. This minister (Gilberto Pichetto Fratin, ed) nobody in the energy world knows him».

Off Road | Investing in renewables is convenient and creates jobs, but Italy is going in another direction –