During the last general elections on March 04th, disappointed by traditional parties, Italians gave tremendous support to the Five Star Movement and the League – a far-right party led by Matteo Salvini –both classifiable as populist and Eurosceptic.
The Five Star Movement led by Luigi Di Maio obtained 32.6% of votes, resulting as the most voted party.
The Five Star Movement (M5S) – funded by comedian Beppe Grillo – is a relatively new reality in the Italian political landscape, that has presented itself as a grassroot, horizontal movement, based on an online version of direct democracy.
In terms of energy the program of the M5S has a dedicated section, where it is explained the so-called M5S Energy Plan.
Hydrocarbons Phase-Out and Renewable Energy
The 22 pages energy section of the program defines as the core objective Sustainability and Independence, along with three secondary ones:
- Increase in energy efficiency thanks to technologic development, zero waste, discouragement of non efficient uses and behaviours and replacement of thermic sources with the electric source.
- Increase in the use of renewables. Fossil fuels will be entirely abandoned by 2050, with natural gas playing a central role in the transition towards the new energy system. By then solar power will be the most important energy source in the national mix, satisfying 36% of thermic demand.
- Increasing the level of electric penetration, also for thermic uses, to allow a reduction in final energy consumption.
Up to here, the vision of the Five Star Movement on energy issues is quite clear, gradual but quick phase-out of fossil fuels with natural gas widely used in the transition phase, increased use of renewable energy, including solar, hydro, wind and geothermal. Nothing shocking, really
But how is this going to happen?
As expected a political program presented for the elections is quite vague as it does not go into much details, this is to be done later on – at best. The problem of this section of the program, as for many others, is that it does not go into any details. The goals set in the document are very ambitious and nowhere it is made explicit how these goals will be reached, or where the money needed will be found.
For example, solar power is planned to grow to cover the 36% of national thermic consumption in 2050, but nowhere the document mentions investments, incentives, or any financial measure finalised at supporting the development of solar power in Italy.
Sustainability and Independence…with or without integration?
The Five Star Movement is a Eurosceptic political movement.
However, in the attempt of looking not to extreme – and attracting more popular support -, the new leadership of Luigi Di Maio has partially toned down the most aggressive and redundant anti-European rhetoric. The result has been an ambiguous attitude, varying between a very aloof support to European institutions and a not-so-strict opposition to them.
The same can be seen in the energy program.
On the one hand the document criticises the National Energy Strategy (NES) released in 2017 by the Democratic Party government led by Paolo Gentiloni. The NES is considered not sufficient to reach the goals set out in the European Roadmap to 2050, reaching a reduction of emissions of only 63% against the 80-95% indicated by the European Commission.
Again, when discussing the level of penetration of the electric vector, the document states that electric market in Italy will be fully integrated in the European Market.
The impression one gets reading these parts of the document is that, although without much enthusiasm, the Five Star Movement aims at guiding energy developments in Italy towards the goals set by the EU.
However, other parts of the document do not go in the direction of integration with the European Union, but rather stress the importance of energy independence, achieved through self-production and self-consumption.
As already said, sustainability and independence are defined as the main objectives.
The two are strictly linked. Transitioning away from hydrocarbons will reduce and eventually terminate the need for imported fuels, making the system more independent, and also more sustainable, as the transition will only take place thanks to an increase in renewable sources use.
How this will be realised is not clear, all it is said is that specific rules will be introduced to guarantee auto production and consumption of renewable energy, that the new system will be decentralized and distributed. Again, no incentives or any other sort of financial measure to facilitate the transition are mentioned.
Families and firms are called upon to be the main actors of this self-sustainable system through investments, instalment of plants and participation in local projects of production and consumption.
There is also no mention of interconnections with neighbouring countries, participation in cross-border infrastructures or commercial agreements with other countries. Energy independence is considered the way to put Italy in a much safer and stronger position in the international arena.
This position seems rather naive in the present time, as it disregards the fact that economic agreements are not a liability per se, but can be an asset and strengthen some specific international bounds.
What would give more strength in this scenario would be the diversification of supply, rather than some sort of autarchy that is not even clear how will be implemented.
The last thing Italy needs
As already stated above, it is normal to a certain extent to have quite vague political programs before elections. The problem with this document is not the vagueness itself, as it says what 90% of politicians would say: more renewables, less hydrocarbons, electric cars, optimization of production and so on.
Quite frankly, the problem of this document is that it puts in the energy strategy those elements of ambiguity that characterize the M5S itself. Some mild and very general European integration, some tendency to isolation and autarchy, and – at least in this case – not much sense of how reality is and what is most needed.