Italy Chooses Renewables Over Nuclear

Italy Says Va Fa Un Culo To Nuclear

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted June 16, 2011

Widespread change can be contagious.

We saw what a political uprising in a small country like Libya can do to an entire region. Now we can see what the Fukushima nuclear meltdown has done for several countries' nuclear plans...

Germany, Switzerland, and Japan have officially declared government efforts to phase out nuclear power, and now the discussion for several other countries to follow suit has begun.

The most recent country to take action is Italy.

A referendum was voted upon this week, and 57 percent of its voting population opted to abandon the use of nuclear energy.

Italy Nuclear Energy

It's been nearly two decades since any voter turnout was higher than 50 percent in the world's eighth-largest economy...

The decision to phase out nuclear power was one of a four-part policy change proposal drafted by Italy's center-left opposition parties, one of which saw record numbers in voters due to the country's troubled political climate.

The always intriguing Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had been urging people to not vote for the referenda and banking on reviving the nuclear program, previously abandoned after the Chernobyl disaster in 1987.

Berlusconi's conservative plans were to build several plants across the country. But after this week's vote, he's seemed to change his tone, stating his country would have to “strongly commit” to renewable energy.

"This was a vote against nuclear energy. But by urging people not to go to the polls, Berlusconi turned this into a vote against himself," said Giovanni Sartori, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Florence. 

Many hope these considerable numbers indicate a desire for the country to transition its energy needs to renewable. Others look at the turn out as a way to spite their disappointing government.

Italy's renewable programs — specifically solar and wind — have been fairly strong for the past decade. Both sectors have thrived in recent years.

In 2002, wind power expanded when a green certificate system was introduced which led to a large growth of installations, reaching about 1 GW/year for 2006 to 2009.

By early 2011, Italy's installed wind capacity was to rank third in Europe with an estimated 5.8 GW, although well behind the two countries with 20 GW: Germany (already ended its nuclear program) and Spain (proposing to end its program).

The goal for Italy's wind capacity for 2020 is 12.68 GW, albeit the Italian Wind Energy Association believes improved transmission and simplified administration will see their objective closer to 16 GW. 

As for Italy's solar sector, Renewable Energy World Magazine explains:

Given Italy's rapid growth in wind and PV over the past few years, alongside its existing hydro and geothermal capacity, it may be surprising to hear that Italy is one of just two EU Member States that currently expect to fall short — albeit only slightly — of their 2020 binding targets for renewable energy production (targets encompassing electric power, heating/cooling and transport).

Italy's target, set in 2009, is for 17% of total energy consumption to be met by renewables by 2020. But the national renewable energy action plan (NREAP) for 2020, submitted to the European Commission at the end of 2010, anticipates reaching 16.2%. Italy plans to meet the shortfall by co-operating with neighbouring countries.

This week's nuclear change may not be a definite move toward renewable energy, but with impressive voting numbers and immediate concern after Japan's nuclear nightmare, this phasing out of nuclear power is a start for Italy and in step with its already strong renewable program.

Perhaps this change in Italy will open the eyes of more governments and this contagious trend could be beneficial to nations in political or economical crisis.

Mike Tirone