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Italian Solar Generation Surpasses Wind for First Time

As Italian solar photovoltaic (solar PV) development continues its furious pace, data has emerged that solar out produced the country's wind turbines in 2011.

This may be the first time that a developed country has generated more electricity with solar PV than with wind energy. Gestore dei Servizi Energetici (GSE) reports that not only did solar PV development grow dramatically in Italy during 2011, as widely reported, but that solar PV generated nearly 10.7 TWh of electricity for slightly more than 3% of internal consumption. Wind turbines, on the other hand, generated only 10.1 TWh for slightly less than 3% of supply.

Moreover, both solar PV and wind now produce significantly more electricity than Italy's famed geothermal power plants.

Modern geothermal electricity generation was developed in Italy long before power plants were developed in Iceland, New Zealand, or California. During the past four years geothermal has consistently produced about 1.6% of Italian electricity supply.

New renewables together generated 11% of Italian electricity in 2011. With existing hydro, of which Italy has significant capacity, renewables now meet nearly 25% of Italian consumption.

While Italy remains second fiddle to Germany in total installations worldwide, growth of new solar PV installations continued robustly with nearly 2,500 MW installed in the first half of 2012.

Total installed solar PV capacity at mid year in Italy is about half of that in Germany: ~15,000 MW in Italy, to 28,000 MW in Germany.

Italy uses feed-in tariffs to pay for solar energy, but uses a cumbersome quota model to develop large wind farms. In the Americas, quota systems are known as Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS).

Italy's Geothermal resources were developed using a traditional utility model.

While a significant portion of solar PV capacity in Italy is found in large solar plants, nearly one-third of Italy's total solar PV capacity was installed by homeowners, farmers, and small businesses in 2011.

Some 97% of the solar PV systems installed in Italy are less than 200 kW in size. The average size system installed in the 20 kW to 200 kW class is about 80 kW. This is a common size used by farmers and small businesses.

Despite sharing similar Mediterranean climates, and similar size populations, Italy has developed five times more solar energy per capita than California has after a decade of development.

While California gets better press, probably because of its proximity to Hollywood, Italy is doing more with its solar resource than the "Golden State".

Lead image: Solar panels via Shutterstock

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