It’s widely known that Australia is land which has keenly embraced solar power. In fact, it’s been held that Australia has had the highest uptake of...
At first glance, a reader would be forgiven for thinking when commencing this article that comparing Australia and Italy in going green may be a bit like comparing apples and oranges. This is understandable. After all, while all nations in the world need to go green, Australia is a country situated at one end of Asia, whereas Italy resides in ‘the belly’ of Europe. Though Australia pursues its own aims exclusively with its own interests in mind, Italy is also ultimately a part of the European Union, and thus national and continental goals are often interwoven into one. In turn, the geography, economies, and national goals of each nation are quite distinctive indeed in many ways.
Nonetheless, while upon first imagining these two nations the differences may seem considerable, in reality there is a whole lot of common ground, especially when it comes to going green. What’s more, both countries have pleasingly come to be recognised as real leaders in the uptake of solar power. So, let’s look now at Australia and Italy’s journey in going green.
A Snapshot of the Italian Economy
Alongside Germany and France, Italy is one of the ‘big three’ economies in Europe. As the second largest manufacturer in Europe behind Germany, the nation is renowned for the production of iconic fashion, food, and automotive goods which are famous the world over. Yet alongside this, the country is also a large producer of machinery and pharmaceutical goods, a fact that is perhaps lesser known to the average man or woman on the street, but these sectors nonetheless form an important part of the modern Italian economy overall.
As a country within the European Union, it’s also of course the case that the fate and fortunes of Italy for better or worse shall also be interwoven with that of the wider economic bloc in many ways. In a sense, this is just the same as how an Australian state or territory - however well they perform or otherwise - will always be impacted either positively or negatively by the broader economic performance of the collection of jurisdictions they are combined with. This reality is important to note as a discussion on the state of the Italian nation in going green much necessarily comment on the broader performance of the European Union too. But first, let’s look at Italy’s progress surrounding renewables.
Doing as the Romans Did
When would-be tourists imagine a visit to Italy, commonly the history found throughout the country underpins all as the major drawcard. Certainly, Italy has some (relatively) contemporary offerings that have become global icons in more recent times. After all, it must be recalled (while it may feel like they’ve been around forever) that it was only in 1951 that Ferrari won its first ever Formula One Grand Prix. But ultimately, drawcards like ruins from Ancient Rome, the heritage within the Vatican, and dishes which have been made the same way for generations across various Italian regions, are what most people imagine when they think of the attractions that’d provide a happy trip to Italy.
This said, when it comes to solar power and other renewables, Italy has been all about the future. It’s been a leader in adopting solar technology, and the benefits of doing so are not only resulting in clean and green energy being generated across the nation, but other positives too. The Italian government forecast it would add 5.1GW of new renewable energy in 2022, with solar making up a sizeable amount of this GW. Additionally, during 2023-2024, it’s expected Italy will add 12GW of new solar capacity. An August 2022 estimate held Italy had 23,577 MW of solar power capacity overall. Thus, these stats illustrate not only has Italy got a solid foundation in terms of its solar power capacity already, but a bright future for it too in the years ahead.
This is especially important for Italy not only in terms of boosting its renewable energy capacity, but also maintaining its manufacturing industry. The green economy is an area with great promise for economic growth, and for nations which have long been losing manufacturing jobs in many industries to other countries further afield, there are new opportunities to be found within it that can provide new manufacturing jobs locally. A great example of this is Enel, which via the recent expansion of its solar manufacturing facility in Sicily, is now held to have the biggest factory of its kind in all of Europe. It’s of course the case that global demand for Italian goods like Ferraris, Prada, and other iconic brands can be expected to persist in perpetuity. Yet, with the rise of the renewable economy comes the opportunity for Italy to not only pursue new growth in its manufacturing sector, but also offset losses it could perhaps see elsewhere in the years ahead amidst goods the nation currently manufactures, which won’t persist into the future.
In this regard, while the existence of Tindo Solar in Australia is a rightful point of pride Down Under, unquestionably Australia - especially if indeed intent on becoming a renewable energy superpower - certainly stands to benefit from further incentivisation in this area. The sort of action that looks to encourage solar manufacturers to establish operations here, and in doing so helps usher in a new era in Australian manufacturing that could see more quality products built by workers with world-leading talent, who are paid great wages, and the nation capitalise upon the establishment here of an industry that is set to become even more profitable in years ahead, as other nations abroad continue their quest to go green.
The European Union and the World
Concerning the Italian economy within the context of its place in the European Union, the latter is having to plan for years and decades ahead where - comparatively speaking - the economic power of Europe will continue to decline in relation to other regions. For the European Union, the rapid economic growth of nations in Asia - with the expectation that this century will ultimately be one in which the major economic power of the world shifts from the west to the east - will bring with it many benefits, but also new challenges in terms of competition. There are indeed implications for green energy in this regard.
Although all nations and regions have to go green - and do so soon - the European Union has numerous advantages in terms of going down this road. Within Europe are developed states, with world-leading capabilities for research and innovation. What’s more, it’s also true that going green is not just about making the world sustainable and combating climate change - vitally important though those goals are - but it’s also an avenue for the creation of new jobs, businesses, and even certain new sub-sectors of the economy. It’s why in a world of rapidly rising economic competition, there’s undoubtedly every incentive for nations within the European Union to work towards the proactive development of green technology and its adoption. This is because if there is real speed put in place behind going green today, it could create a significant advantage within the global economy in comparison to other regions where progress is slower, and thus a real gap in competitive capability is opened up as it concerns the use of renewables, and sustainable tech more widely. So, how is the European Union doing when it comes to the adoption of green energy?
Previously, the Renewable Energy Directive of 2021 established that the European Union would see renewables account for at least 32% of its energy mix by 2030. When this goal was set, there was a clause that allowed for a possible upwards revision of that target during this year, 2023. Then, this target was revised to 40%. At time of writing it was held the European Union was indeed set to exceed this target, according to a report by Ember, and ultimately see 45% of its energy mix be met by renewables.
Not surprisingly, this has led to calls for the target to be increased further in light of this progress. Notably, the European Union Commission actually had a proposal put forward last year which would have resulted in the official European Union target raised to 45% - but ruefully, this was not successful. A number of states blocked it, thus seeing the 40% target remain the official one.
But even if 45% by 2030 is not set in stone right now by the European Union Commission, on the basis of Ember’s report it’s indeed set to be achieved anyway! Solar power has been attributed as the leading contributor to this growth. It’s expected by 2030 that solar capacity within the European Union will be at least doubled in comparison to what was originally estimated to exist at the end of the decade. Yet, just as this forecast is welcome news, making it an official target would of course be a great aid. It’s been estimated that were that to occur, the European Union could have 50% of its energy mix come from renewables by the end of the decade. And ultimately, the last year has given rise to an additional factor which serves both as a push and pull factor in incentivising the European Union to go green even faster.
The Ukraine War’s Illustration of the Need for the European Union to Go Green
As we’ve already detailed here at STC, a significant undercurrent surrounding the outbreak of the war in Ukraine surrounds the dynamic between fossil fuels and renewable energy. This is discussed more in-depth in a prior article, but a brief recap is now worthwhile here to detail the necessary path ahead for the European Union. The reality is that not only has the European Union been criticised recently and in years prior for not diminishing economic ties with Russia fast enough - and this informed by the fact that the latter continues to be a huge supplier of fossil fuel resources to the former - but so too have warnings been put forward about the ongoing vulnerability of European nations surrounding Russia’s capacity to ‘turn off the tap’ in terms of supplying such resources. This boils down to the basic reality that for so long as European nations continue to depend on Russian oil and gas, they are not only unable to mount a stronger pushback against any improper actions by the Russian government surrounding Ukraine and other nearby states, but remain vulnerable to an energy ‘cut off’ that Moscow may deem appropriate to implement.
By contrast, if European nations were utilising renewables exclusively, from renewable installations residing within European territory, they would be able to push back against Russia (or any other power) acting improperly, without the concern that their energy supply may diminish. Accordingly, the European Union has every reason to push for a faster transition to going green. Not just because of the potential for immense economic growth which can be found in the renewable economy, but also to help further increase the European Union’s security, not only from the worst effects of climate change, but other dangers too like energy shortages.
All Roads Lead to Solar
As we’ve discussed above, both Australia and Italy have done some brilliant things in solar power. What’s more, there is the promise of more getting done in future, with solar, and renewables more widely. With this in mind, both countries will be of particular interest to watch throughout this decade, as their shift towards going green has significant implications not only for their own peoples, but the nations that surround them (as well as the wider world). For Australia in particular, there is the prospect of being a renewable energy superpower on offer. Not only could the nation come to be totally self-sufficient in terms of its own renewable energy needs if the right policies and investments are put in place, but the Great Southern Land could also become an exporter of excess renewable energy to other nations in Asia.
In the meantime, it’s recognised many green enthusiasts may be reading this piece with interest, excited about what Australia and Italy are doing, yet also wondering what they can do to aid in the important work of going green globally? Well, just as it’s true there’s indeed much work to get done, the good news is there is no shortage of ways in which regular Australians can aid in making positive progress.
First and foremost, if yet to do so, considering acquiring a quality rooftop solar system is always a good move. Not only can a rooftop solar system drive down the cost of electricity today - and provide a defence against any rise in it tomorrow - but it can also help make a small, but significant contribution to Australia going green. In addition, there are numerous way in which a home can be made smarter and more sustainable, by pursuing optimisations that can be both big and small. Furthermore, there is also option of getting involved in advocacy, be it in an informal capacity, or looking to pursue a career in the space. Finally, the ongoing learning and sharing with others in your network about the continued advances in green tech - be they already underway or truly out of this world! - is always a great use of time, and provides a way to help enhance understanding, and a desire for action among our communities.
The story of solar power in Australia is truly one of the outstanding success stories of this century. Just as predictions were in place years...