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Making the most of Italy’s energy resources

  • Rome
  • 15 June 2023

        Despite the complexities associated with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the current global scenario offers new prospects for the energy transition. Energy security and environmental sustainability are crucial priorities for every government; it is therefore essential to ensure impartiality, avoiding negative fallout on industry and the less economically secure segments of the population. Indeed, the risk remains that individual nations will slow the transition by opting for isolation and protectionism instead of working in unison. 

        The need for collaboration is obvious. Global CO2 emissions in 2022 reached levels never before recorded. The resumption of mobility over the past two years has led to a spike in global greenhouse gas effects, especially in the transportation sector. As reported in the IEA’s 2023 Global Energy Outlook, after the pandemic-related reductions of 2020, emissions have once again surpassed 8GT annually, equal to 23% of global emissions, thus pointing to the urgency of joint intervention.

        The main challenge is to develop an integrated technological approach that allows for a rapid reduction of CO2 emissions spearheaded by industry, supported by institutions and accepted by consumers that avoids impacting negatively on production lines or the availability of raw materials and is resilient to geopolitical and market crises.

        The principal technologies being developed for decarbonizing the transportation sector, both light and heavy, include electric vehicles, hydrogen cells, biofuels and electronic fuels (E-Fuels). Each of these promises to reduce emissions but at the same time introduces major technological and regulatory limitations.

        It is of fundamental importance that efforts to achieve technological neutrality in the transport sector be intensified. That calls for synergies involving both public and private actors in addressing current shortcomings with a view to improving the efficiency and reliability of all existing technologies. Necessary will be a legislative approach that facilitates the adoption of such technologies, promoting shared standards and creating an environment capable of balancing supply and demand, thereby reducing restrictions.

        Electric engines offer noteworthy opportunities thanks to their ability to avoid generating emissions and their flexible use of various energy sources. Nevertheless, the entire process of manufacturing electric vehicles is currently very expensive and has a substantial environmental impact, mainly as a result of the intensive use of rare earth metals. In any case, Italy and Europe in general are making significant strides in expanding the availability of recharging infrastructures so as to encourage a broader embrace of electric vehicles.

        With a view to obviating these limitations, biofuels are an interesting short-to-medium term alternative given their compatibility with the internal combustion engine automobiles now available on the market. Keeping the production of such engines going would also ensure that many automotive component manufacturers – a pivotal sector of Italian industry – are able to survive.

        Over the medium-to-long term, a further contribution is expected from the increased production of e-fuels. Hydrogen could also play an important role in the decarbonization of sectors where emissions reduction is difficult.

        Confronting these problems will call for constant dialogue involving all actors concerned, as well as a concerted commitment to the research and development of innovative solutions. Only an integrated and collaborative approach will foster a sustainable future mobility system.

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