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New provisions may help Italy unlock 110 GW PV project pipeline with grid-connection requests

The Italia Solare Forum event held in Rome last week has shown, once again, that permitting for both large scale and distributed generation projects remains the main barrier to remove to make Italy get the benefits of its huge solar potential. Despite recent progress, new provisions, and a slight increase in new PV capacity, the Italian market may be, again, unable to surpass 1 GW this year.

The latest Forum Italia Solare event, held last week in Rome, has shown, once again, the big disproportion between Italy’s potential for solar energy development and the meager results that this market has achieved in the past years and is currently obtaining, despite the urgent need for reaching ambitious climate and energy targets.

During the event, representatives of the Italian high-voltage grid operator, Terna, and of the low and middle-voltage network, Enel Distribuzione,  revealed that the two companies have accepted, to date, grid-connection requests for PV projects with a combined capacity of 90 and 20 GW, respectively, which shows the huge interest between investors and both residential and commercial prosumers.

According to Italia Solare president Paolo Rocco Viscontini, however, this impressive pipeline is currently difficult to unlock, as Italy’s regulatory framework represents a barrier that makes project development and construction very difficult, if not impossible in some cases. And the government, according to him and several more analysts presents at the event, is not doing enough to improve conditions for renewable energy developers of any size. “The last time we spoke with the government was in March 2020 and ever since, all our attempts to resume a dialogue have been ignored,” he repeated several times during the conference.

“What is missing and is urgently needed is the identification of regional targets in order to urgently move on to defining suitable areas,” Viscontini told pv magazine. “But, without regional targets, which are otherwise known as burden sharing, you can’t get anywhere. I also see the need to adopt policies aimed at encouraging storage for commercial and industrial PV, as well as for the utility scale segment. In doing so, we may avoid continuing to say that renewables are not programmable.”

New rules

The event in Rome coincided with the publication in the Italian official journal of the Legislative Decree no. 199/2021 to implement the Directive 2018/2001/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 11 December 2018, on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources, which most of the event’s participants judged as a positive development. These new provisions will come into force on December 15 and will introduce, among other things, a series of improvements in the Italian legislative framework for renewable energy.

“The decree sets the goal of reducing emissions by at least 55%, compared to 1990 levels, and achieving 30% of renewables in the energy mix,” Emilio Sani, founder of law firm Sani Zangrando Avvocati and board member of Italia Solare, told pv magazine. “It also stabilizes the incentive system for both projects of up to 1 MW and installations exceeding this threshold. For the former, the access to incentives will be … simplified and developers will have direct access to the tariffs without having to go through a tendering process.”

With regard to authorizations, the new rules introduce a standardization of documentation at the national level. The areas for renewable energy project deployments were divided into three categories: suitable areas, unclassified areas, and unsuitable areas. In suitable areas, the opinion of the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio – which is the government department responsible for monuments, the environment and historical buildings – will be non-binding and there will be a fast track procedure to make the timeframe shorter for planned PV projects. “It will take a year to define which areas are suitable,” Sani further explained. “Six months for the definition at the national level and the following six months for the ratification by each region. This mechanism, however, leaves operators in a situation of great uncertainty for one year on the most critical issue today, which is the difficulty in authorizing projects.”

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The new provisions also introduced a series of improvements for renewable energy communities. “The threshold for access to incentives is raised to 1 MW and the incentives will be guaranteed for the energy that is produced simultaneously with consumption by the members inside the primary cabin where the installations are located,” Sani emphasized. “The communities can also be of significant size because access to the communities will be open to all citizens and small and medium-sized enterprises located in the municipalities where the plants are located. In this way, it will be easier to set up communities with adequate economies of scale.”

The Italian PV sector in figures

According to data released by Italia Solare at the event in Rome, Italy’s cumulative installed PV capacity reached 22.4 GW at the end of October. “More than 1 million PV systems are now operational in our country,” Viscontini said, noting that the milestone was being achieved in the same days as the forum. Of this capacity, around 35% is represented by PV systems ranging in size from 200 kW to 1 MW and 21% by installations with a capacity of up to 12 kW. Solar parks with a power of 1 to 10 MW account for 16% of the total and facilities over 10 MW for 5%. Residential installations of up to 4 kW reached a 17% share. The remaining 6% was secured by rooftop PV ranging from 12 to 20 kW.

The solar association believes that around 800 MW of new PV capacity may be deployed this year, growth judged insufficient to reach the 52 GW solar target set by the Italian government for 2030, which implies that more than 3 GW per year will have to be installed during the current decade.

The main market driver is currently the so-called ‘superbonus,‘ which has boosted growth in the residential segment, with PV systems up to 20 kW having so far this year secured a 49% share of all the 672 MW of deployed capacity. The more-than-generous tax break, which is being offered to building renovations and energy re-qualification projects, is an income tax (IRPEF) rebate that applies to three types of renovation projects, including building insulation, the replacement of cooling and heating systems in multi-unit apartment buildings, and the replacement of cooling and heating systems in single-family homes. PV projects linked to building renovations not included in these categories will not be granted the super eco-bonus but will still be awarded a 50% tax break.

As for the commercial and industrial (C&I) segment, several issues were highlighted during the conference. Attilio Piattelli, president of SunCity Srl and member of Italian Solare, said that the investment return for self-consumption projects, under net metering, is currently between five and six years, which is discouraging many potential businesses from becoming prosumers. The current tender proceedings for projects of up to 1 MW, the so-called registri, are also slowing down development, and the above-mentioned new rules may bring more clarity in the months to come. Furthermore, Piattelli said that storage systems may play an increasing role in the C&I segment thanks to the new provisions introduced last week.

According to Emiliano Pizzini, the vice president of Italia Solare, the utility scale segment is currently the one that is suffering the most in the Italian market, due to the well-known issues for permitting and social acceptance. “Rooftop PV may provide up to 2 GW per year, which means large scale solar needs to achieve at least 1 GW per year,” Pizzini stated. “At present, there are many projects in the authorization phase but the completion of the process appears to be, in many cases, a mirage.” He also stressed the failure of the tender scheme for large scale renewables, which saw around 3 GW of power generation capacity remaining unallocated in the first six rounds of the scheme. “Both subsidized and unsubsidized solar, via PPAs, need a redesign of the market,” Pizzini stressed. Agrivoltaics may see stronger development in the years to come in this segment, as the Italian government has recently decided to allocate €1.1 billion for the deployment of around 1.04 GW.

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Source: pv magazine