Renewable energies have grown spectacularly in the last years, transforming the physiognomy of the electric sector. Bioenergies, especially biogas, have been rapidly developed in Italy and in other European countries due to synergies with the agricultural sector.
In 2014, renewable energies covered approximately 45% of the Italian electricity generation, and 16% of it was covered by bioenergies with approximately 18.7 TWh products. The capacity increased from 2.3 GW in 2010 to more than 4 GW in 2013. Biogas plants, that guaranteed approximately 1.4 GW in 2014, have grown by 177% between 2010 and 2013. while those of agricultural activities have increased even by 586% in the same period (figure 1). Overall, investments in biogas plants sum approximately 4.2 billion of euros between 2010 and 2014.
This development has been interesting for the north-centre of the country, where can be found a large part of the agricultural territory and the most advanced companies, due to its the average size and the existent entrepreneurship.
Regions in the south-centre Italy, which are provided with an important food farming activity, have not experienced the same growth yet.
The assessment of the biogas potential theoretically obtained from the southern Italy (Abruzzo, Molise, Basilicata, Apulia, Calabria, Campania, Sicily and Sardinia) considers three categories of feedstock: by-products of food farming production, OFMSW and cultivations. The OFMSW potential considers two different developmental scenarios (Source CIB-CIC), created starting from the current levels of waste sorting and the proportion sent to digestion. for cultivations, an estimation about the eventually useful agricultural surfaces has been carried out, taking into account the specific territorial, climatic and cultural features of the different regions. Consequently, it has been carried out an estimation of the biogas and biomethane volumes that could be obtained in different hypothesis of using the available feedstock.
Therefore, two different scenarios have been defined, a negative and a positive one, by adopting prudent criteria. In the most cautious hypothesis, in south-centre Italy the biomethane production could reach 2,123 million m3 in 2030. In the most optimistic one, but always prudent, biomethane volumes would reach around 3,094 million m3 (figure 2). Final destinations are shared among electricity generation (41%), biomethane production for transportation (25%) and its introduction in the grid (34%). These development scenarios could mean investments from 3.8 to 5.6 billion of euros in 2030.
The assessment of the economic, social and environmental impacts considers the whole chain, from the technologies manufacture to the design and installation, financing, energy production (electricity or biomethane) O&M and biomasses supply. According to the scenarios, the direct and indirect impacts by 2030 will vary between 18.6 and 27.4 billion of euros. The employment generated in 2030, between direct and indirect professionals, varies from 5,432 to 7,940 professionals (Figure 3). Taking into account just 2030, the overall impacts are 0.3% of the GDP of the southern regions of Italy.
Biogas and biomethane development could also mean significant tax revenues, between 3.3 and 5 billion of euros. from the whole impact, 52% comes from the production and biomethane grid injection, approximately 27% from transportation and the rest from electricity generation, penalized due to the incentives exhaustion. Apart from economic and employment benefits, there could be environmental benefits too, by reducing 72 million of tons of CO2 emissions accumulated by 2030 in the best of the scenarios.
The effective possibility of sizing these positive impacts will anyway depend on the efficacy of the Italian energetic and environmental politics that, after the pressure during the previous years, seem to diminish. Just with the right support, both financially and in terms of authorisation, will be possible to continue on the way of an economic and social growth, path under the biogas sector till now.