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What is Solar Energy in Italy?

The solar energy in Italy has seen a major surge in this industry among other European countries such as Germany, Turkey, Spain, and the Netherlands.

In July 2005, the country started its first “Conto Energia” program to support the development of renewable power, and the result so far has been remarkable. In 2018, Italy added solar PV capacity of 437 MW, and its PV market grew by 7%.

The major driving factor in the Italian PV market has been solar rooftops, and the number of solar installation projects with more than 1 MW capacity increased in in 2017 and 2018.

Italy is considered the country of sunshine which makes the nation very favourable for the installations of solar energy production plants and farms. In Central-Southern Italy, the annual solar radiation can range from 4.7 kWh per square metre per day, and 5.4 kWh per square metre per day in Sicily. While the other regions also have a very high solar energy production potential making Italy one of the leading countries for the production of solar energy, as well as in the sector of research and technological innovation.

The solar energy in Italy has seen a major surge in this industry among other European countries such as Germany, Turkey, Spain, and the Netherlands. Italy’s PV market is known as one of the photovoltaic markets that definitely deserve a place in the solar energy spotlight. In fact, during the first ten years of the new millennium, Italy was on the third spot after Germany and Spain to experience a significant boom in solar installations after encouraging the citizen through government incentives. This made most of the manufacturers and citizens embrace and support solar power. 

In 2010, The Montalto di Castro Photovoltaic Power Station was completed and it is considered the largest photovoltaic power station in Italy with 85 MW solar capacity. Along with this largest PV power station, there are also other large PV plants like Cellino San Marco with 42.7 MW capacity, San Bellino with 70.6 MW capacity, and Sant’ Alberto with solar capacity of 34.6 MW. 

Aside from conventional solar PV technology, Italy is also known for its developing concentrated solar power (CSP) technology. To function efficiently, this concentrated solar technology requires higher direct solar irradiation, which makes the country suitable for this technique as Italy has more exposure to sunlight. Furthermore, the southern regions including the islands of Sardinia and Sicily also offer good conditions for CSP technology, the reason why the Italian government provided large investments to promote this solar power development.

Currently, there are three solar plants running in the country. The first one is the Archimede solar plant, which was installed on the island of Sicily in 2010, attaining a solar capacity of 5 MW. Moreover, planning and promotion for the CSP technology will undergo several additional projects which would add another solar capacity of 360 MW, annually.

As of now, Italy for being known as “sunshine-blessed” country is currently the second-largest market in Europe in terms of installed solar power generation capacity. Which then, achieved over 20 GW of photovoltaic (PV) power plants in 2018. This year, the Italian solar power market is expected to enter a new series of growth, particularly investing in “grid parity” projects that mostly rely on corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs).

History of Solar Energy in Italy

Around 1850s the main energy sources for many European countries were wood, charcoal and straw. Although Italy has no enough sources for coal, industrialization still made possible during the 19th century, through the used of renewable hydro energy coming from the Alps. Also, by using the local hydro resources Italy became independent in coal imports. During the year 1914, 74 percent of the electric power generation of Italian came from hydroelectricity and it was in the early 1990s when there were already solar energy pioneers in the country. One of these solar energy pioneers was the chemist Giacomo Ciamician who he predicted the use of solar energy in his journal article, entitled ‘The Photochemistry of the Future’.

During World War I, Italy did not manage to prevent the energy crisis which leads to the country’s dependence on imported fuels, particularly coal. However, Italy conquered the crisis, and hydro-power installations rapidly increased ensuring the country’s energy independence to fuels. This interest in local energy sources available in the country was incorporated with the economic self-sufficiency policies of the classical fascist era. Due to the promotion of these policies, research towards the use of renewable energy in the country increased. By the start of World War II alongside the number of research regarding renewable energy, more than 90 percent of the total electricity production were all came from renewable energy.

Moreover, changes in policies were implemented after world war II. The demand for energy was rapidly growing, and new policies were made to aim energy supply through imported fossil fuels, particularly coal, as well as to aim for development in nuclear energy. Because of these policy changes, in the year 2015, the dependence of Italy on imported fuels increased to more than 80 percent.

In 1973, with the lack of oil in the country, solar energy became the main focus of interest and caught the attention of not just the pioneers, Giorgio Nebbia and Giovanni Francia, but also most of the Italian energy manufacturers. The shortage of oil led to an increase in programs and projects concerning solar energy. The Energy Finalized Project Number 1 (PFE1) in 1972 and the other PFE2 implemented in 1982 both started promoting energy-saving practices in Italy, including energy efficiency of solar energy. Furthermore, some notable developments and programs in solar energy continued but soon put into halt because of the falling prices of oil in the 1980s. These developments included the Italian Section of ISES national Congress in Naples in the year 1977 as well as the first Congress and Exhibition on Solar Energy in Genoa in 1978. 

After the falling of oil prices in the year 1980s along with the declining interest in solar energy, the interest in solar energy rapidly increased again in the late 1990s, due to the widely experienced and concerns on climate change.

Solar Energy Progress In Italy

In July 2005, the country started its first “Conto Energia” program to support the development of renewable power, and the result so far has been remarkable. It was in the year 2009 to 2013 when the installed photovoltaic capacity boom significantly in the country. In the year 2011, the greatest growth in solar power attained a massive 9 GW added capacity. Whereas, in 2012 Italy managed to achieve an annual capacity of over 16 GW. This sudden upsurge made Italy hit the second spot in terms of solar energy, globally after Germany and other leading countries like Japan, China and the United States in the same year.

The parallel boom in solar power happened 3 years ago but because of its new programme “Conto Energia” and a more developed solar industry, Italy achieved much larger solar capacity with around four times the capacity obtained by Spain at the end of the year 2013. However, due to the cessation of government subsidy programmes, it suddenly slowed down after the rapid growth of solar capacity happened in 2013. Since then, the yearly installed photovoltaic capacity has been increasing steadily at around 300-400 MW. Nevertheless, in the same year, Italy still managed to rank first, worldwide, for generating 7 percent of electricity from solar energy.

In 2017, the electricity generation from solar energy increased to 8 percent and Italy managed to install more than 730 000 solar power plants and obtain 19.7 GW total solar capacity. Whereas, Italy added another 437 MW in solar PV capacity in the year 2018, and its PV market increased by 7 percent. Furthermore, in the same year, solar capacity exceeded the 20 GW milestone and National Energy Strategy predicted that it will reach 50 GW by 2030. The year 2017 and 2018 were the years where solar rooftops are the major focused of the PV market and also the years where the solar installation projects significantly increased with more than 1 MW capacity.

The Future Ahead: Solar Energy in Italy

The Italian government implemented an arrangement for climate and energy which mainly focus on conceiving a focal role in solar energy. Renewable energy particularly, Photovoltaic solar systems were expected to represent more than half of the power generation in the country by the end of the next decade, which is expected to achieve 93.1 GW from its current capacity of around 54 GW.  As indicated by the new plan, solar power capacity will be modified up to 72 TWh to 74 TWh to aim the 2030 target for power generation. 

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The industry cheer raised over news of Italy’s meteoric rise toward grid parity and its quest for photovoltaic dominance has been dampened lately by concerns from analysts that a speculative bubblemay be forming and that the Italian solar PV market may follow the“stop-and-go story” of Spain’s. Italy’s solar incentives, among themost generous in Europe, include a feed-in tariff that guaranteesinvestors up to 0.49 euros per kilowatt-hour of produced power for 20 years and a 1,200 MW cap on the capacity able to be covered by the incentives.Sector experts expect to see a total installed capacity of 1,200-1,300MW by 2010, up from 450 MW today, and some even believe grid paritypossible by next year. Sounds too good to be true? A number of analystsseem to think so: they doubt that the Italian government will be ableto sustain this fairy tale scenario, and are expressing their alarm byraising comparisons to the cautionary tale offered by Spain.

Amidst their optimism, a variety of industryleaders have thrown cold water on the heated excitement of their peers.Anton Milner, chief executive of Germany’s Q-Cells,stated that “Italy must stop the overheating and abuse of the market, astop-and-go story we saw with Spain,” while forecasting cost reductionsof 40 to 50 percent in producing solar energy within six years. And,according to this Financial Times article,the relative lack of long-term clarity “over the level of tariffs to beset after 2010” and the exodus of investors unleashed by the “collapseof the Spanish market,” caused by the credit crunch and property slump,are contributing to the dangers of this bubble. Does the word“speculative bubble” remind you of a certain problem in 2007 and 2008?

“Solar is the new real estate in Italy,”complained one project developer, saying that all sorts of propertycompanies were piling into the sector.

While measures have been taken—

Gerardo Montanino, head of GSE, the state-run powermanagement agency, said incentives were too high in Italy at 68-75cents a kilowatt hour, about double the level in Germany. Tariffs areexpected to decrease in 2010 by 2 per cent.

—“hefty” financial penalties have been introduced to ensure thetimely completion of solar projects and government officials havedeclared themselves up to their necks trying to separate the genuineinvestors from the speculators (as well as from suspected Mafiainvolvement), the death of Spain’s own glorious-and-costly subsidy schemeoffers a lesson many have taken to heart. Yet, as history has shownagain and again, we can only learn from our mistakes, and, while ittakes time to find a working scheme, it’s certainly not the end of theday for the Spanish PV market—and neither, hopefully, will it be for the Italian solar sector. Thoughts?


Japan was the largest solar market in 2003. Starting in 2004, becauseof a generous and well-administered feed-in tariff, Germany led theglobe in solar demand and has remained the “savior market” forphotovoltaic panel makers.

That would be with the exception of the Spanish solar debacle, wherebySpain went from global number one in 2008 to virtually no market in 2009 due to a poorly priced and administered feed-in tariff. Spain’stariff system had no mechanism to adjust rates as market conditionschanged. Drastic measures to withdraw the feed-in tariffs plunged themarket from more than two gigawatts in 2008 to about 100 megawatts in2009.

The point is that planning and regulatory diligence can make or break a renewable energy policy. Germany seems to have done it right, whileSpain and perhaps now Italy are examples of how to get it wrong.

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