By Mathieu Gorse (AFP) – Jun 14, 2011
MILAN — The resounding no from Italians to nuclear power may not change much in the short term but it will force the government to adopt a new strategy based increasingly on renewable energy, experts said.
The referendum on Sunday and Monday showed a turnout of 54.79 percent for the referendum vote with the vote against nuclear power carried by 94.05 percent -- meaning a majority of Italians cast ballots against the measure.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi conceded the defeat on nuclear power even before ballots closed on Monday.
"Italy will probably have to say goodbye to the issue of nuclear power stations," he conceded.
"We will have to commit strongly to the renewable energy sector," he said.
Gianluca Spina, director the MIP business school in Milan, said the vote would "change nothing" in the short-term since Italy abandoned nuclear power in 1987 in another historic referendum following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
But longer-term the government will have to look for new sources of energy since Berlusconi's government had set itself the target of producing 25 percent of Italy's electricity needs with nuclear by 2030.
In 2010, 64.8 percent of the electricity consumed in Italy was produced with fossil fuels, 22.2 percent with renewable energy and 13 percent imported including from French nuclear power stations.
"The part reserved for renewables will be much bigger," Economic Development Minister Paolo Romani told reporters on Tuesday.
The government has said it will host a conference bringing together local officials and companies after the summer to fix new targets and come up with a new energy strategy before the end of the year.
Luigi De Paoli, a professor of energy economics at the Bocconi University in Milan said that "going over 30 percent for renewable energy can be done but it will be difficult and expensive."
Hydroelectric power -- the main source of renewable energy in Italy -- has little scope for growth, he said.
De Paoli also pointed out that wind power is tricky because of moderate wind speeds and sea depths that make offshore wind farms difficult.
Solar power also needs major subsidies at the moment, he added.
Last year, hydroelectric power accounted for 14.9 percent of electricity consumed, biomass 2.7 percent, wind power 2.5 percent, geothermal power 1.6 percent and solar power just 0.5 percent.
Gianni Chianetta, the head of solar industry group Assosolare, said there was scope for solar energy to grow.
"Solar can make an enormous jump and arrive at eight to 10 percent by 2020 and will not need subsidies because costs will go down," he said.
Another key question is Italy's energy import dependency, particularly as uprisings in the Arab world are pushing up oil and gas prices.
"The use of gas for electricity production will increase and Italy is therefore in a delicate situation since its dependency on countries with geopolitical risks will grow stronger," Spina said.
The three main gas suppliers to Italy are Russia, Algeria and -- at least before the start of military action -- Libya.
The government has begun reinforcing Italy's capacity in handling liquefied natural gas, which would allow it to diversify its sources of imports.
It will also aim to increase energy efficiency in new buildings to reduce consumption.
"We will continue to have the most expensive energy in Europe, which will be a burden for businesses," Spina said amid near-zero growth in Italy.
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