This is why hydroelectric pumping must be removed from Enel’s monopoly

below the article by Leonardo Berlen published on QualeEnergia.itwhich we thank.

The balance of the national electricity grid has always been entrusted to hydroelectric plants and to pumping for accumulationbut the latter are little exploited today.

But as we wrote on these pages (see eg “But where did the Italian pumping go?“), And as also reported by Arera (Regulatory Authority for Energy, Networks and the Environment), the energy destined for pumping in 2019 was equal to 2.4 TWh, compared to gross production of just 1,8 TWh (source: Terna) in both 2019 and 2020.

Therefore, with regard to hydroelectric pumping to date, the difference between the energy used (input) and the energy obtained (output) would be equal to a loss of 25% in these plants.

But then the most important fact is that since 2000, despite a slight increase in the power of the pumping systems installed (today 7.6 GW, + 5% compared to 2000), there has been a reduction of more than 4 times of their productionin contrast to what is happening in other European countries (Spain, Germany, France, Austria, Great Britain).

In Italy, while in 2002 (historical peak of production), about 8 TWh were generated, in 2020, as mentioned, it dropped to 1.8 TWh (in the graph, Terna data up to 2019).

Why does this anomaly exist?

Because pumping is like this in Italy underused when we know (as Terna also explains in some of its documents) that these plants constitute a strategic resource for the national electricity system, ideal for providing valuable frequency and voltage regulation services, and given that they will be increasingly relevant with the growing penetration of sources intermittent renewables such as wind and photovoltaic?

The reasons are different, but they could be condensed in the fact that in the pumping market hydroelectric there is one dominant position of Enel (according to Arera data 96% of the total).

And the company doesn’t seem to have too much interest in damaging its own business of its thermoelectric plants to coal and gas, you have an advantage during price peaks in the evening as solar energy cannot compete, to the detriment of renewable sources.

It is true that the existing plants are concentrated above all in northern Italy along the Alpine arc, while the greatest development of wind and photovoltaic parks is today in the south and in the islands, but this is only part of the causes of this situation, which can be faced with the transfer. of electricity from south to north and possibly with the construction of some hydroelectric basins also in the South.

Ma make new plants it is connected to the real core of the matter, which is purely market: production from pumped inputs is convenient only if the sale price of the energy is 1.4 times higher than the purchase cost, as stated by Terna. However, the electrical production from pumping has decreased over time with the strong reduction of the price differential between hours of day and night. Today it is not convenient for Enel to keep these plants in operation, which are replaced for this purpose by less efficient, less flexible and reliable combined cycle plants.

RSE in a recent document highlighted how this form of accumulation should be encouraged to the extent that it effectively favors the maximum dispatching of the renewable energy produced, and therefore should be negotiated on the dispatching services market (MSD), rather than on the day-ahead market (MGP). In practice, RSE explained, “it is a question of transferring the incentive logic from the installed power to the energy actually fed into the system”. Then it would be necessary review the current management methods of pumping plants. And here the role of comes into play Arerawhich according to some energy experts in this area is not fully fulfilling its role as a guarantor of competition.

What could the Authority do?

According to some energy market observers, it should take away from Enel the monopoly on pumpingby forcing the utility to sell at least 70% of its pumping plants to other private operators, or, and perhaps this could be the preferable option, take the pumping management from Enel to transfer it to Terna, the company which deals with electric transmission and which for years has been looking with interest at this solution, so far rejected by previous governments.

What could be the exploitable potential of pumping hydroelectric in Italy?

According to engineer Alex Sorokin, who we heard for this calculation, it could reach almost 25 TWh / yearequal to 8% of the current national electricity demand, not a little, considering that it would be electricity to be used precisely when, for example, there is no solar production.

This is an indicative calculation which can be reached by assuming roughly and starting from the current power (7,660 MW), one third of the time (8 hours a day) dedicated to charging the national hydroelectric accumulations (reservoirs), while the time remaining (16 hours / day) would remain available for discharge or generation of electricity.

It should be remembered that the current input of 2.4 TWh / year of energy consumed by pumping means that on average hydroelectric pumps they work only 0.6 hours / day, therefore about 210 hours / year. In 2000, this number of hours was approximately 930 hours / year (approximately + 75% compared to today).

One of the proposed solutions to push hydropower storage could be the virtual coupling between renewable production units and pumping systems hydroelectric. In this way, any surplus production of renewable energy in the network can be used in the associated pumping plants, instead of being reduced (and wasted) as is the case today on the disposal of the national dispatching system.

One point remains: pumping is a resource ready in Italy to start a real energy transition and must be used immediately.


Enel’s reply

With reference to the article “This is why hydroelectric pumping must be removed from Enel’s monopoly“, Some considerations and clarifications are appropriate. Enel is committed, in Italy and around the world, to the progressive replacement of fossil fuels with renewable production, and today it has a very limited share of national thermoelectric production (only 12.5% ​​in 2020). The association proposed by the article between pumping operation and alleged advantages for “large Enel production plants” is therefore groundless. Enel, aware of the importance of pumping systems, which constitute a fundamental resource for the electricity system due to their extremely flexible characteristics, is always committed to guaranteeing the best technical performance, having acquired unique know-how over time. The different use of this technology over the years is exclusively due to the change in the energy context. Between the 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s, the Italian energy system was characterized by numerous inflexible production plants, which could not be switched off or switched on quickly according to the needs of the moment. This involved the presence of surplus energy production, especially at night, which was used for hydroelectric pumping, with a consequent high level of use. Today the electricity system has profoundly changed and is characterized by a much more flexible park of thermoelectric plants, mainly fueled by natural gas, and by an important role of non-programmable renewable sources; however, the quantity of these sources present today (wind and photovoltaic) is not yet such as to require constant recourse to accumulation, also taking into account the high flexibility achieved in the meantime by conventional plants which can easily reduce their input by making space in network to energy from renewable sources, ensuring overall greater efficiency of the system. To determine a reduced use of pumping plants is also their geographical position, with a strong presence in the north (> 60) compared to a concentration of intermittent renewables located in the south, a situation that can be overcome with the improvement of the North-South connections. foreseen in the grid development plan. Today the main use of pumping takes place in the context of the dispatching services market, where they provide the maximum contribution of flexibility. In this context, the system operator (Terna) has full access to the resource and uses it to the extent necessary to meet the operating needs of the grid. Enel works constantly to ensure maximum availability and the ability to enter service to ensure the best flexibility support for the electricity system. With regard to the possible scenarios of use for the future, in an energy system that will present an increasing incidence of renewable sources in the generation mix, it is foreseeable that the pumping stations will be able to consume energy in the central hours of the day and then produce it at different times with less wind and photovoltaic production, returning to levels of use similar to or higher than those of the past. Both the PNIEC (Integrated National Plan for Energy and Climate) and the recent Grid Development Plans indicate the need for additional storage capacity with capacity objectives: in particular, up to 10.5 GW between systems is expected by 2030 distributed and centralized, of which 3 GW of pumping. Maintaining the efficiency of existing plants and developing new capacity by market operators thanks to competitive mechanisms will therefore make it possible to have an overall storage capacity suitable for the new levels of presence of renewables.

It would be interesting and appropriate to have more clarifications on the exact methods of making strategic resources such as hydroelectric pumping available to Terna, yes, without emissions unlike thermoelectric plants fueled by fossil fuels. The fact remains that making better use of existing pumping systems and creating new ones would be essential to the much-vaunted process of decarbonisation of the national electricity system, exploiting intermittent renewable sources such as solar PV and wind power. A choice of this type should be outlined by ad hoc energy policies and not only by market logic (L. Berlen –

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