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Making the most of Italy's energy resources

Rome, 15/11/2018, National Roundtable
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Discussions at this roundtable kicked off with the observation that global economic growth, which has been particularly strong over the past year, has brought with it well-known benefits in terms of development (helping to combat extreme poverty, for instance), yet it has also marked a reversal in the trend of CO2 atmospheric emissions, which, after having stabilized for a three-year period, are rising again at a rate of around 1.5%. This once again poses the question of what measures are needed to decouple growth from emissions. It was accordingly submitted that the challenge with respect to climate change has thus become more ambitious, but at times there is a sense that the gap between objectives and the actions required to achieve them is widening rather than narrowing.

It was noted that the measures which the energy sector will need to adopt over the coming decades, in order to keep the increase in average temperatures to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, are becoming increasingly daunting. These include: overhauling the electricity network (a sector which, in addition to tripling its penetration, will need to radically change its generation mix), accommodating new technologies (hydrogen power, for example, but also sources that could yield further potential, such as geothermal energy), as well as facilitating the confluence of all energy sources, including traditional ones but especially natural gas, as it constitutes an ideal stepping stone for the transition. All this will also need to be accompanied by CO2 capture activities and "nature-based solutions", such as reforestation.

Attention was drawn to three major catalysts that will need to drive this transition. The first impetus must come from the market, which will have to be rethought. Hence, the decentralization of the production process in progress will need to be accompanied by the construction of larger-scale industrial parks.

Continued lowering of the costs of renewable technologies was held up as another key element in encouraging replacement of non-renewables. However, the participants stressed the need to bear in mind that the technology is not yet ready to support the spread of renewables to every production sector, and that this is without taking into account that the high replacement costs will impact on every other industrial sector, with potential knock-on effects for competitiveness.

Lastly, much emphasis was placed on the importance of policies that are clear and certain, both in terms of strategic vision and from a regulatory perspective, in order to attract the necessary investments. Above all, policies for the sector must vertically involve each tier of society, increasing public awareness of the timeframes, modes, and costs of transition. This was seen as particularly applicable in the energy sector, where members of the public are not just consumers, but – precisely because of diffuse energy production – are also themselves producers, and hence an active part of the process.

It was felt that these are important changes that are also necessary for the evolution of Italy’s energy sector, the development of which would serve as a concrete response to the well-known weaknesses of the Italian economic system, namely: a lack of investment (not only in the energy sector, if truth be told), which weighs down GDP growth; a heavy dependence on foreign markets, which persists and has even increased in the recent past; and the need to proceed with modernizing the energy and production systems in order to continue to contain CO2 atmospheric emissions. All this – it was urged in conclusion – would also make it possible to support the inestimable wealth of skills, experience, and technological know-how that fuels Italy’s homegrown energy production.