Every Friday for the last few weeks, 100 Italian wind officials have gathered by conference call to pursue a shared mission that was unimaginable just a few weeks ago – how to keep their industry running safely amid a health emergency that has left their country and the world reeling.
Secretary general Davide Astiaso Garcia and his colleagues at Italy’s wind energy association ANEV started hosting the virtual health & safety event as it became clear that collaboration and knowledge-sharing would be critical to keeping the nation’s 10GW wind fleet operating.
The context could hardly be more extraordinary or grim. Italy has been particularly hard hit by coronavirus, and has strict lock-down rules in place.
But as a part of the critically important power industry, even with reduced electricity demand, the Italian wind fleet has a vital role to play – and the conference call is the focus of the industry’s response.
“We’ve had almost 100 people from different companies sharing ideas, it’s a brainstorming session,” Garcia told Recharge. “We realised we would need collaboration and synergy. We are all in the same situation together. This has been an experience of lifetime importance for us.”
The sessions give the industry the chance to discuss the multitude of issues raised by the health emergency and the lockdown imposed in response to it, with a focus on making sure field operatives vital to operations and maintenance, but unable to work in offices, can go about their business safely.
The details give a sense of how careful workers are being. Service personnel are collecting pre-packed boxes of spares and tools outside warehouses to avoid unnecessary contact. Temperature checks are encouraged. Where minimum distance guidelines can’t be observed, masks are worn.
“We’ve underlined procedures on social distance, use of personal protective equipment and minimum distance,” said Garcia, who said the sector had so far not seen any particular issues relating to employee safety. Italian energy giant Enel had already noted earlier how remote operations technology had revolutionised the ability of its staff to keep projects running with minimal physical intervention.
While existing wind farms continue to operate, construction projects are at a standstill under government decrees. According to WindEurope estimates published last year, Italy was expected to add 5GW of wind between 2019 and 2023, with the bulk of that coming in 2022.
Garcia said the crisis is likely to mean installations are lower than expected this year – but said the industry is looking at a 2030 timeline, by which stage it wants to have 19GW in place.
“Maybe if there is a problem due to this emergency in 2020 there will be more installations in 2021,” said the ANEV chief.
To keep the sector on track after the emergency, ANEV has asked a variety of relevant government and official agencies to postpone deadlines for new and existing projects. Some have agreed, others have yet to respond.
But Garcia said the crucial intervention from the government will be to solve the problems that already existed before the coronavirus crisis, such as delays in permitting, inadequate arrangements for repowering and excessive bureaucracy.
In late January, just as the Covid-19 emergency was emerging, Italy announced the results of its first competitive renewable energy tender, a 500MW process that was dominated by onshore wind which took almost all the capacity.
Another tender is due in a month, and ANEV is not asking for that to be postponed. Garcia said the country has 3-4GW of shovel-ready projects, and the wind industry is keen to crack on with its plans once the emergency subsides – as long as it is safe to do so.
Garcia hopes that once Italy begins to return to normal, “politicans and citizens will see the value of a clean energy transition not just for climate, but for health”.