What remains as good investment environments in Gela when the current oil industry is phased out ?
Globally we are producing and consuming more than ever before. We are bombarded by images of the damage caused by our insatiable demand for fossil fuels. But what can we, as individuals, as architects or as small cities hope to achieve in such a global issue? How does this relate to a city of 77.360 located in Sicily, Italy? How could the site of a small city on the Mediterranean coast, former oil refinery linked to Libya, surrounding agricultural land in an arid climate, Italy as a country and its situation within a global context – provide an answer through a most unusual source?
Sicily now has few remnants of what was once a highly forested area. The Romans began a process of overutilization of resources on Sicily. Since, Sicily has become an example of man made deforestation – an unfortunate title to have. The timber found on Sicily by the Romans was used to build warships for their ever-expanding empire. The island was seen as land to be exploited, in particular agriculturally to supply Rome with grain. These attitudes have changed little since.
Over exploitation continues and it is widely recorded as to the effects of the overworking of the land and how this has influenced the development of soil profiles across Sicily and the changing integrity of soils through tillaging, pastures, the felling of timber and the effects of fire.
The fertile soils to be found on Sicily are today utilized for agricultural production on a monocultural basis. Monocultural farming has been traditionally globally the most prevalent. However, this reduces potential yields and overworks the land without rest. More effective farming solutions have been around for decades, and are gradually being introduced. For Sicily, continuing these unsustainable farming practices runs a very real risk of desertification in an increasingly arid climate.
One of the primary agricultural industries to be found on Sicily is the production of Citrus fruits. Italy is one of the largest citrus fruit cultivators in the European Union. In terms of total fruit and citrus tree area surveyed, Italy (22.1%) comes second only to Spain (33.5%) with Poland’s Apple production landing it in third place (11.7%).
The production of fruit juice is one of the largest utilizers of the fruit from Citrus plantations. The process produces just 40% product and 60% waste on average.
What happens to the large amount of waste?
A reliance on non-renewable resources, oil and fossil fuels is epitomized in Gela through the imposing site of a derelict refinery. This dependency – among other factors - contributes to a largely negative image of Gela. Historically a typical Sicilian seaside town with World Heritage Listed archaeological remnants, the oil race of the 1960’s brought industrialization to the heart of Gela.
The University of Catania, located on the North Eastern edge of the Sicilian Island, and one of the leading Universities in Sicily has developed through collaboration a process that consumes waste and produces energy. As a simple outline of the process, the large amount of citrus waste produced on Sicily in the production of fruit juice (340 million tons) and turns it into a biofuel capable of producing electricity. Currently this waste is disposed of, and the aforementioned process may save up to 10 million Euros per year.
Although other parts of Italy are making use of agricultural residues, this process has not been implemented in Sicily until this pilot project began earlier this year. Further incentives come through Italy’s Ministry of Agriculture, who has earmarked 5.8 billion Euros of incentives for similar developments. Combine this with an estimated 2 billion Euro of resources earmarked for agricultural energy on Sicily and there is enormous potential for growth in this area.
Currently, electricity generation in Italy, though primarily produced domestically, is dominated by fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas (76.3%). Renewables are clawing their assertion back, however the percentages of renewable energy are primarily made up of water energy with only a minor contribution by biomass and waste energy production.
Currently the energy requirements of Italy cannot be fulfilled by purely domestic production, resulting in 13% of Italy's energy requirements being imported from abroad.
The current distribution of energy within Italy is based upon centralized generation whereby electricity is mostly produced at large generation facilities and shipped through the national grid to end customers. Recent interest however in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions has led to an exploration of a decentralized program – whereby electricity is produced in close proximity to its users.
The production of electricity through a centralized system has been driven historically by advances in technology allowing larger turbines to be constructed, reducing cost, as well as efficiency and reliability. The presence of larger electricity generation plants has also been attributed to regulation costs.
The primary drawbacks of centralized energy production (aside from environmental effects) are that distribution costs amount up to 30% of the cost of delivered electricity on average. Connection of rural areas is also difficult and maintenance of infrastructure produce large costs.
Within Italy and Sicily, the heavy reliance on fossil fuel based energy sources has resulted in a centralized energy system. The possibility of growth in the renewable’s sector opens the possibility of decentralizing this system, resulting in many advantages. As explained below, the growth of decentralized power has been experienced across the EU and the world for many decades now.
Decentralized generation’s growth is due to many factors. The first of which is a reduction of barriers and regulation that steadily grew historically to complement a centralized system. With reductions in construction price for generation and improved reliability of the technology, it has become possible to decentralize the system. More recently, environmental and economic constraints tending toward the use of cleaner and more efficient use of energy make decentralized energy an attractive option once again (energy production began as a decentralized system). These improvements in distribution energy allow for the accommodation of a wider range of fuels including waste.
Within the European Union, as of 2009, decentralized distribution of energy accounted for only 10%. However, in a country such as Denmark (a world leader in renewable energy), decentralized energy accounts for 45% of distribution. Of note with Denmark’s example has been the implementation of a decentralized energy program, whereby energy efficiency and renewable energy through wind power was promoted. It was achieved through a bottom up approach involving a large number of small firms, municipalities and cooperatives working in close cooperation.