Italy's repowering potential hits regulatory constraints

ITALY: After years of slow growth, replacing old turbines with higher-capacity new machines is key for the country to reach its 2020 and 2030 wind-energy targets, but there are obstacles.

Potential - Repowering could add up to 4.5GW by 2030. Doing nothing could lose 3.2GW (pic: ERG)
Potential - Repowering could add up to 4.5GW by 2030. Doing nothing could lose 3.2GW (pic: ERG)

Italian wind developer and operator E2i Energie Speciali plans to dismantle 106 turbines in the central Italian region of Abruzzo.

Replacing the old 600kW and 660kW machines that make up the 65MW complex with 25-29 turbines rated up to 3.3MW would significantly increase the power output and reduce the visual impact.

The Abruzzo project is just part of the 160MW in Italian wind farms that E2i, a division of France's EDF Group, would like to repower.

Other major players in the country are also considering the future of older projects, many with obsolete technology.

"If the aim is to get as many kilowatt hours of green energy possible at the cheapest price, then total repowering in the windiest sites and life extension in others is essential," said E2i chairman Marco Peruzzi.

Repowering could contribute 2.3GW of net new wind capacity through 2020 and up to 4.5GW by 2030, according to Italian energy consultancy Althesys.

This will be key if Italy is to get close to meeting its 2020 wind-energy target of 12.68GW, and its 2030 objective of 16.8GW.

At the end 2015, the country's installed capacity stood at 8.9GW, with the pace of growth considerably slowed in recent years.

According to Althesys, 363MW of Italian wind farms are over 15 years old and 1,639MW older than a decade. If nothing is done, Italy risks progressively dismantling 3.2GW by 2032.

Andrea Panizzo, head of renewables development in Europe for Enel, said the company is studying the "renewal" of about 250MW of its older wind farms, which could entail repowering or lifetime-extension measures.

"It's a site-specific process and depends very much on the morphological characteristics of a site, the impact on the territory of the wind farm and wind resources," he said.

Peruzzi estimates roughly half of Italy's oldest wind farms may not be candidates for repowering, mainly due to insufficient wind resources, and some may not even be suitable for life extension measures.

When repowering is possible, however, the benefits can be significant. Project infrastructure is already in place and local populations tend to look favourably on wind energy, having proven to be a sustainable energy source and providing local jobs and income.

Wind-farm operator ERG is also evaluating what to do with roughly one third of its 1,087MW Italian fleet, which will lose their incentives within the next four or five years.

Yet regulatory constraints and a lack of visibility on incentives make repowering difficult, said Massimo Derchi, managing director of ERG's renewables business: "It is illogical, but repowering requires the same permitting process as a new wind farm, and this can be lengthy."

Obstacles to overcome

And while Germany rewards repowering projects, in Italy they must compete with new projects in the auction system for fixed-price tariffs. And should repowering projects be assigned an incentive, they then see that price docked by a further 10%.

Adding to the misery is a lack of visibility on the future market framework - market players are still waiting for a decree for 2015 and 2016 to finally be published following European Commission approval.

"The good thing is that there is a growing awareness that more and more wind farms are closer to the end of their lifecycle and that repowering could be a lever to allow the Italian wind sector to grow after three years in which little was built," said Derchi.

"We're all trying to make clear that these constraints must be removed if there is going to be any significant repowering."

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