Friuli Venezia-Giulia in the 21st century: a renewable region by tradition?

Foto della Centrale idroelettrica A. Pitter di Malnisio

By Andrea Cannella 

Italy and the swift to energy transition: the preamble to the new era of renewables

In the 1970s, the first measures for a rationalisation of energy were set by the EEC institutions, particularly by the European Commission. These norms aimed at limiting the number of sources and emissions of energy.   Although the EEC countries pledged to comply with the norms, national sovereignty over energy supplies caused the measures not to be implemented.

One decade later, the Valoren Programme in 1986 highlighted the necessity of studying the energy potential of disfavoured zones in Europe, an example of which is represented by Italy. In the Italian case, the topics of energy supply and EU membership are double-linked. One just needs to think that Rome joined the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community for two reasons: providing labour units to the other member countries and purchasing coal (and steel) at affordable prices, which were necessary for industry and energy production. Regarding energy production, Italy does indeed suffer from a lack of hydrocarbons. However, its energy potential lies within several renewable energy sources that can be exploited throughout the entire country. 

After the Valoren Programme, EU member states gradually took their own steps to intervene in the energy sector in compliance with the 1990s Regulations approved by the EU. The first law that explicitly promoted renewables was Directive 2001/77 by the European Commission: hydroelectricity, specific renewables targets and a European market of certificates for renewable energy were the three core points of the act. 

A key point to be mentioned is bioenergy obtained from biomasses and biofuels. Italy started turning to bioenergy in the 1980s and supported targets focusing on it after the forementioned Directive 2001/77. At the national level, law 244/2007 provided a €280 feed-in tariff for every MWh produced with biomasses, while the 2010 Italian National Energy Plan was looked up by many countries because of its 17% target of total energy production from renewable energy sources. 

The latter percentage for renewables objectively matched articles 192 and 194 of the TFEU, which allow States to choose their energy mix while enabling the EU to set up measures to control countries’ energy policies in defence of the environment. Among the measures taken by the European Commission, the 20-20-20 package laid down in Directive 2009/28 imposed a renewable energy quorum of 20% by 2020. Italy’s commitment seemed consistent but improvable. 

Energy transition in Friuli Venezia Giulia: agri-forest and zootechnical sources

It has been mentioned that bioenergy is likely to become the future power source in Italy. This assertion is especially true in the case of Friuli Venezia Giulia. Biomasses and biofuels have been dealt with specific legislation at an EU level since the new millennium, with Decision 2902/2000 establishing a Rural Development Plan aimed at the cultivation of plants for energy use. 

Regarding biomasses, any landholder or agricultural entrepreneur agreeing to cultivate broadleaves (poplars; black willows; alders; etc.) and graminoids (eulalia [Miscanthus sinensis] and reed cane [Arundo donax]) for the production of biomasses is rewarded with an annual transfer of hundreds of euros for each hectare devoted to biomass species. The requirement to participate just consists in reducing the usage of mulch and pesticides. A jurisdictional downside lies in the fact that 40.5% of forests in Friuli Venezia Giulia are protected, thus not exploitable. Besides biomasses, this also has an impact on wood heating: chips, pellets, and logs are the most convenient renewable source but the least appropriate under these circumstances.  

Biogas is the potential ace up Friuli’s sleeve: according to scholars, zootechnical residues produced quantities of biogas equivalent to 55,805,940 cubic meters in 2012. At the same time, distributed-generation power plants fuelled by biomasses and biogas amounted to 9.7% of the total energy production in Friuli Venezia Giulia in 2012, with a numerical value of 5,934,870 MWh produced with bioenergy sources. From the point of view of Italy, which counted 994 biogas plants producing 750 MW, the result may appear astonishing. 

Nevertheless, the 2012 data need a clarification: the biogas produced in Friuli is obtained from cattle, pigs, and poultry. To make things worse, the highest share of electricity, specifically 17,036,617 MWh, was obtained from non-renewables. Although Italy raised public support for biogas from agricultural and zootechnical waste, the need to intervene on transition from scratch is highlighted.

In addition to biomasses and biogas, the issue of bio-ethanol was examined in scientific literature. The point is that ethanol derived from reed canes cannot compete in costs with gasoline and would imply a quarter of total arable land being sacrificed for cultivations. On the other hand, bio-ethanol derived from maize requires fossil fuels for the producing stage and would represent a net gain of only 0.5% in comparison to fossil fuels. Renouncing to crops and promoting bio-fuel for transportation would imply an excess of costs over benefits for Friuli Venezia Giulia.

Recent progressions and ex novo evolutions

At the end of the European Commission Mandate 2014-2020, Friuli Venezia Giulia enhanced its R&D sector to cooperate with several European partners on finding ecological, energy-saving solutions. These primarily resulted in academic projects and plans (see, for instance, the S3UNICA project, the NeMO project, and the PROSPECT2030 project). Yet, some concrete measures were obtained by Italy’s adhesion to the Paris COP21 Agreement and the 2018 SIMPLA project (Sustainable Integrated Multi-Sector Planning), which aims at achieving ecologic energy, shared mobility, and a reduction in energy consumption.

Unfortunately, the Walt Disney method used in the SIMPLA project (illustrated below) does not work in a world undergoing climate change and geopolitical crises, as it requires vision, reflection, and logic.

In any case, Fruli Venezia Giulia’s efforts in promoting and planning eco-sustainable economies are appreciable, as is the cooperation with EU countries, notably the bordering ones. Friuli Venezia Giulia received € 44.607,50 on a total budget of €1.491.97,50.

source: guidelines_v2_it.pdf ( 

Now that the SIMPLA project is coming to an end, a crisis has just started in Ukraine. It is a geopolitical crisis, which also touches the issue of oil and gas. For a “fossilized” region, the time has come to find new sources…And this what a Coseano-based mechanic enterprise is doing. Located in the middle of the province of Udine, Pmp Group has started installing 2.242 solar panels on the roofs of the factory. The one million kWh obtained will cover 80% of the energy demand of the enterprise. Even if this is just an example, exceptional moments require exceptional answers. 

An additional answer is being formulated jointly by Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia. Conceived within the 2020 EC’s Hydrogen Strategy framework, a Hydrogen Valley will be created, which will join other such projects scattered throughout Europe.