Italy should embrace solar, not gas to hit raised climate ambition


Deploying a mixture of renewable energy measures instead of planned gas-fired electricity plants in Italy would drive demand for almost 17 GW of solar generation capacity as well as producing power at a cheaper cost for Italian taxpayers.

That is the headline finding of the second Foot off the Gas report published by London-based environmental thinktank Carbon Tracker which, in February, spelled out how a similar ‘clean energy portfolio' (CEP) approach could save the U.K. taxpayer being saddled with £9 billion (€10.4 billion) of stranded gas plant assets this decade.

The bill for the Italian public tops out at €11 billion of stranded assets, according to Carbon Tracker's estimate of 14 GW of combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) capacity planned by Rome, even if Italy plans to use EU cash to finance the infrastructure.

In the mix

Carbon Tracker said each 1,680 MW of gas plant capacity could instead be replaced, more cheaply, with a mix of clean energy technologies which includes 2 GW of solar, with that tech accounting for the biggest share of the CEP alternative. In Italy, the thinktank estimated, solar would supply 31% of the replacement solution, with demand-response technology contributing 27%, onshore wind 16%, battery storage 16%, and energy efficiency 9%. By pv magazine‘s back-of-a-beermat calculations, replacing that 14 GW of gas capacity would involve 16.67 GW of solar.

Crucially, the peak load shifting and energy storage elements of the CEP would ensure the low-carbon alternative provided the same grid services and flexibility as the gas plant, while also satisfying the nation's 50 annual electricity peak-load hours. Whilst guaranteeing the same monthly electricity output as a gas facility, the report added, in some months, the CEP would be more productive.

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Carbon Tracker has estimated the point at which such clean energy portfolios reached price parity with gas plants globally–generating for €67/MWh–arrived in 2019. Based on estimates by market research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance that gas prices will rise over the next decade while clean energy costs will fall, the thinktank has calculated the 2030 CCGT levelized cost of energy–€75/MWh–will be 60% more expensive than its proposed clean energy mix.

The environmental lobby group publicized its Italy study by referring to a Reuters report last month, which quoted Italian ecology minister Roberto Cingolani, who reportedly told U.S. climate envoy John Kerry the nation will spend €80 billion of EU funds on its energy transition over the next five years, in a bid to reduce carbon emissions 60% this decade.


Carbon Tracker said the 14 GW of gas plants in the development pipeline, including 1.8 GW due online next year and a further 4 GW by 2023, would generate the equivalent of 6% of the national greenhouse gas emissions recorded in Italy in 2019.

To make replacing the fossil fuel facilities with its proposed CEPs viable, Carbon Tracker said, the Italian authorities would have to reform an energy capacity market which is heavily skewed in favor of gas and should also leverage the successful roll-out of smart meters, for demand-response purposes, and encourage solar households to add residential battery storage.

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