Focus on Italian issues at trade fair

Eolica Expo did not live up to its billing as a wind power hub for the emerging markets of the Mediterranean rim, but it did provide a platform for detailed discussions on the particulars of the Italian wind power market

Italy can develop a much greater wind energy resource than the 12 GW of generating capacity by 2020 laid down as a national objective in a government position paper last year, says the country's wind energy association, Associazione Nazionale Energia del Vento (ANEV). At last month's Eolica Expo Mediterranean wind conference and trade fair in Rome, ANEV unveiled an in-depth study of the country's wind potential, setting out a significantly more ambitious objective of 16,200 MW by 2020. That is well above the roughly 3100 MW of wind turbines at present and implies an average annual growth rate above 1000 MW, an objective many conference delegates agreed was attainable, despite bureaucratic and other obstacles to developing wind in Italy.

ANEV had hoped to deliver its study directly to Claudio Scajola, Italy's minister for economic development. He had been slated to speak in the opening conference, but instead sent an advisor to read his prepared words. This was not the first time that the annual wind power event, now in its sixth year, had been stood up by top politicians. His absence was seen as one indicator that wind is not yet a priority in Italy for many policymakers.

Eolica Expo was just one part of the 2008 edition of the ZeroEmission renewable energy fair, which attracted more than 18,000 visitors. One of three pavilions at the event was dedicated to the wind business. Turbine manufacturers such as Vestas, Nordex, Gamesa, Repower, Enercon, General Electric, Alstom Ecotècnia and Fuhrländer -- all of which have turbines turning in Italy -- were among the exhibitors. So was Siemens, which will soon be seeing its turbines go up on some Italian projects, along with market newcomer Suzlon.

The big Italian wind project developers and operators were also well-represented at the four day event, exhibiting, participating in conferences, or both. A spattering of foreign wind developers, both new and old to the Italian market, were also on hand. Among them was Spanish wind giant Iberdrola, which last year broke into the Italian market through a joint venture with refining group API Holding, and Airtricity, now owned by British utility Scottish & Southern Energy, which sealed a partnership with local developer Entropya earlier this year. German developer WKN Windkraft was among the old timers present.

Missing, however, were the participants that would have made Eolica Expo live up to is billing as the wind power event for the whole of the Mediterranean region. In all, there was little evidence on the burgeoning market around the Mediterranean rim on exhibitor stands or in the conferences. Almost all speeches were in Italian, including that of European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) president Arthouros Zervos, whose task was that of putting wind in a European perspective. Zervos noted that Italy is set to surpass Denmark in terms of installed wind capacity, but faces competition from France as it seeks to take over Denmark's third place position behind European market leaders Germany and Spain.

Nuclear jump-start

Despite his absence, minister Scajola provided food for thought to participants, stressing in his prepared comments the need to bolster the role of renewable energy in Italy's electricity mix to 25% from a current 15.7%. The current percentage is a historical 15-year low, he noted. Alongside a 50% slice for traditional fossil fuels, a further 25% would come from nuclear energy, an industry the country is now seeking to jump start. While numerous conference participants noted that nuclear does not represent a short term panacea for Italy, others chose instead to concentrate on Scajola's pledge to increase the weight of renewable energy.

Carlo Durante of wind project developer Maestrale Green Energy stressed that Scajola's broad objective for renewables falls short. "I want a five year plan telling me how much I can build and where I can build," he said. Roberto Longo of Italian renewable energy association Associazione Produttori Energia da Fonti Rinnovabili highlighted the historic lack of a real Italian energy policy as one of the explanations for why wind and other renewable energy has not yet been seriously developed. "Let's hope this 25/25/50 energy mix Scajola talks about is translated into an energy policy," he said.

One much discussed issue was the high incentive prices paid for wind and where they are heading. Prices paid for wind power in Italy are a combination of revenue from sales of electricity and the associated green certificates. Italian power retailers must buy certificates for a fixed, high price to show they are meeting legal requirements to get a growing proportion of the electricity they sell from renewable energy sources. Under the incentive program, renewables must grow from 3.8% of sales in 2007 to 7.5% in 2012 (Windpower Monthly, March 2008). A general consensus among conference participants was that the total purchase price, currently running at EUR 0.18/kWh, is likely to come down somewhat in the near future. Many participants believed this could be digested relatively painlessly in exchange for greater long term certainty and stability on the incentive front.

Scajola, whose ministry is set to unveil fine-tuning measures to the incentive program, hinted that the general trend in purchase prices could be downwards, but that there might be something in exchange, particularly for the wind industry. "The excess of bureaucracy, slowness of grid authorisation and grid connection procedures has led to higher costs that have had an impact on incentive prices," he said. "We intend to bring this vicious circle to an end."

Gianni Silvestrini, scientific director of the Kyoto Club and adviser to Scajola's predecessor, used the Expo Eolica forum to ask the government to quickly establish the breakdown of renewable energy requirements on a region to region basis, a key measure called for in the 2008 budget law. Lamberto Custodi of wind power owner Erg Renew suggested that regions could also be provided with incentives to exploit their renewable energy resources. Foot dragging by some regional authorities -- whose representatives were also noticeably absent at Expo Eolica -- has been one of the most serious obstacles to developing wind.

Many wind developers in Italy complain of a lengthy and complex authorisation process and delays in connecting to the grid. Yet these are not the only problems. Salvatore Moncada of Moncada Energy Group said that one of the real obstacles to the development of wind is the lack of a national consensus on the necessity of doing so. Consensus comes from a strong local industry and the creation of jobs, he explained, not simply from a shared commitment to reducing C02 emissions.

At the same time, he pointed to a perception that developing wind in Italy is easy money. This in turn has led in some cases to speculation, with regions flooded with requests to build thousands of megawatts of wind plant. Problems with speculators can be dealt with, Moncada said, by simply refusing to pay exorbitant prices for Italian wind projects, no matter how profitable today's fixed prices make them appear to be.

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