Within the context of growing demand for hydrocarbon fuels, and the stiffening competition for supplying them, Italy is in danger of finding itself at a considerable disadvantage. As a result of its rejection of nuclear power (which is once again under consideration) and of its greatly reduced use of coal to generate electrical energy and still limited development of renewable resources, Italy has gradually shifted to gas and, in proportion to its energy needs, currently uses more gas than any other European country.
In addition to the inherent problems of supply security this choice has also been economically penalising. In reality, many European countries are already showing a tendency toward a more extensive use of gas as a result of concerns over climate change and of the deregulation processes under way. Combined cycle gas turbine power plants offer the best performance both from a functional as well as an environmental standpoint, with relatively contained investment costs. As a result of the exhaustion of European deposits however, the increased use of gas in Europe will inevitably lead to the continent’s increased energy dependency on nations such as Russia and Algeria, who are its leading producers.
Italy already imports practically all the coal it uses, as well as a high percentage of oil and gas, and the situation is bound to worsen. It has been estimated that by 2025 our country will be importing practically all the raw materials required to satisfy its energy needs (fig. 1).
Considering the fact that for many years to come alternative energy sources, although rapidly developing as a result of new EU commitments, will only be able to satisfy a portion of energy needs, energy dependency and fossil fuel supply security will continue to be a major factor in economic development over the coming years.
Another problem deriving from the particular mix of fuels used by Italy is that of an infrastructure system not entirely adapted to the gradually evolving demand, especially with regard to the supply of gas. Deregulation in the electricity sector has led in Italy to a massive programme of investments in new power plants, the majority of which are combined cycle gas turbine plants (fig. 2).
These developments in the demand for gas spearheaded by the electrical energy sector has not led, as it may have been natural to expect, to a consequent increase in investments in the gas sector and, in particular, in infrastructure for its importation and storage. As a result of a series of regulatory difficulties and uncertainties, investments in such infrastructures did not pick up at the same rate as those in the electrical energy sector. Although it is one of the major consumers of gas in Europe, Italy today still has only one regasification terminal (Panigaglia), the capacity of which is limited, along with an insufficient pipeline transport and storage capacity (fig. 3). Nevertheless, over recent months several major projects seem, finally, to have entered the completion stage.