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Making the most of Italy’s energy resources

Digital format, 24/11/2021, National Interest

The focus of both the G20 in Rome in October and of the COP26 in Glasgow in November was the energy transition.  Italy continues to be an active participant in a debate that sheds light on the fact that the transition is not only energy-related, but also an economic, financial, social and cultural one.

All 2021 macroeconomic indicators – GDP up by approximately 6%, energy demand and CO2 emissions down to nearly 2019 levels – highlight how the pandemic shock was merely a momentary phenomenon. Today’s problem of separating consumption growth from emissions increases – i.e. the energy/de-carbonization transition – is more topical than ever. On a scenario in which the pandemic has strengthened government and overall societal awareness of the importance of public health, 2020-21 registered a continued and significant rise in the use of electricity and renewables.

The current trends are not enough to achieve the climate goals set in Paris in 2015 and reiterated in Glasgow in 2021. The transition must be accelerated, and aim for a successful mix of electrical power, energy efficiency, renewables development, digitized production, research and development and technological innovation. The most significant examples mentioned included hydrogen and carbon capture and utilization or storage (CCUS). All are solutions that can also be applied to industrial sectors where de-carbonization is more difficult, such as long-distance transport, the chemicals, concrete and steel industries and manufacturing in general. It is important to remember, however, that current energy investments account for only one-third of what would be necessary to achieve the goal of net zero-emissions by 2050 by implementing the solutions mentioned.

Now more than ever, Italy’s energy transition must be a bureaucratic transition as well. Both legislation and authorization procedures must be made to foster the streamlining of investments, among which those in renewable energy sources and new energy vectors such as hydrogen.

To be successful, the energy transition necessitates the active cohesion of all participants: citizens, institutions, governments, industry and energy companies. These latter will be fundamental to accelerating the transition thanks to their three-pronged role as energy producers, end-users and partners with industry.

This transition will have to make the most of Italy’s energy patrimony, understood as the capacity to produce energy from clean sustainable sources as well as to consume less of it. A rational use of energy will permit its distribution to the global population, especially those countries most lacking in sources.

It is going to be essential to strike a balance between the necessary acceleration of the transition and the gradualness that will be fundamental to offsetting, to the extent possible, the instability and volatility of the present energy sector. Recent price hikes are a clear example of such issues. Traditional energy sources – gas, among others – will have to accompany the transition, and will play a pivotal role in ensuring the country’s energy security.