Provincial Environmental Energy Plan: the role of research centres
April 2023

The research performed by Invest in Trentino in the subjects of energy and energy saving continues.

In the first chapter of our story, we started from afar, illustrating the origins and development of the main tool that the Autonomous Province of Trento has at its disposal to direct the territory along a clear strategic line: the Provincial Environmental Energy Plan (PEAP). This important policy document has guided Trentino's energy choices since 1979 and in forty years has grown with the times, adapting to changing needs. The primary goal of the 2021 - 2030 PEAP is to reach the end of the decade with a 55% reduction in the level of climate-changing gas emissions compared to 1990, in order to achieve the total decarbonisation required by the EU in 2050. An ambitious undertaking, which requires the contribution of everyone, from politicians to entrepreneurs, from industry to civil society.

Halving the 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels is an extremely challenging process involving a great deal of effort. But not only that. It also, and above all, requires an effective strategy that can clearly indicate the right tools and the right actions to take.

To create the foundations on which the Plan was erected, the Province therefore turned to those who study energy on a daily basis: the research centres of Trentino. The University of Trento, the Bruno Kessler Foundation and the Edmund Mach Foundation worked on the PEAP with the aim of outlining possible scenarios and identifying the technologies needed to achieve the decarbonisation goals in the right timeframe and in the most cost-effective manner. 

Fondazione Bruno Kessler: the scenarios

The Bruno Kessler Foundation was involved in the project through the Centre on Sustainable Energy which promotes the development of technologies, tools and methods for environmentally friendly energy generation, storage and distribution.

As part of the PEAP, the Centre outlined the scenarios through which the Trentino energy system will be able to achieve the decarbonisation targets set by the European Union. Within these scenarios, the technologies in which investments will have to be made were identified as well as how they should be used. All taking into account the necessary costs and the level of decarbonisation brought about by the individual scenario.

Tools used:

  • the EnergyPLAN software, which makes it possible to assess the hourly balance between energy production and consumption in all sectors in Trentino (civil, industrial, agricultural and transport)
  • an evolutionary multi-objective algorithm coupled with EnergyPLAN, which made it possible to analyse thousands of scenarios with different characteristics in terms of the technologies to be considered, also characterising the costs and CO2 emissions

Out of 15,000 scenarios analysed for 2030 (and as many for 2050), 150 were deemed optimal to enable the province to achieve precise decarbonisation targets at the lowest possible cost.

It emerged, for example, that for the thermal sector, in conjunction with energy efficiency measures, it will be crucial to increase the role of heat pumps, while for transport, it will be important to push for electric and in some cases hydrogen-powered vehicles (in the latter case, especially in heavy vehicles, trains, buses and trucks). These technologies are in fact able to make the most of the abundant renewable electricity production present in Trentino linked to water sources and the increasing role of photovoltaics.

University of Trento: the civil sector

The University of Trento has been involved along with the Department of Civil, Environmental and Mechanical Engineering (DICAM) which mainly focused on the civil sector. The research activities of the University of Trento initially focused on the current situation within the province, and then outlined possible interventions with which to improve the energy efficiency of the building stock, with a particular focus on increasing the use of renewable energy.

As far as renewable energy is concerned, researchers at the university have, for example, tried to understand how far one can go on the energy self-sufficiency of buildings, not only by coupling heat pumps with photovoltaic panels, but also through innovative control strategies, so as to make the most of the storage capacities that can be obtained in various ways (batteries, water tanks, etc.).

It was also shown that the Internet of Things and energy communities will play an important role in this game, which can be thought of either at the level of a single apartment block or as a collection of several civil buildings with commercial and industrial activities, with different load profiles. 

The University, like FBK, also carried out thousands of simulations using specific software (Transys and EnergyPlus) and analysed various building types in order to represent the most probable scenarios. In doing so, the researchers also took into account the climatic differences in the Trentino region. They then identified which climates are the most characteristic and involve the most buildings, choosing Trento, Pergine, Cles, Baselga di Pinè and Moena as representative locations. 

Edmund Mach Foundation

The Edmund Mach Foundation collaborated in the elaboration of the 2021-2030 PEAP through the Bioeconomy Unit of the Research and Innovation Centre, which, in line with the principles of circular economy, carries out experimental and specialised support activities aimed at the energy and agronomic valorisation of organic waste.

The Foundation's technicians made their expertise available to quantify the organic waste and waste matrices produced at territorial level, of different origins and natures (livestock manure, separately collected organic waste, agro-food and agro-industrial waste, sewage sludge). The interest in these matrices is manifold:

  • contribution to energy production from renewable sources: these matrices contain energy potential that can be harnessed through the anaerobic digestion process for the production of biogas and biomethane, which is then used to generate electricity, heat and possibly biofuels
  • agri-environmental aspects: the organic matter and nutrients present in these biomasses represent important resources that can be recovered as soil conditioners and organic fertilisers for agronomic use to replace synthetic fertilisers, in line with the EU 'farm to fork' strategy

The Edmund Mach Foundation conducted a survey at the downstream community level of the various available matrices, drawing on data from various provincial bodies, such as:

  • Autonomous Province of Trento: production of sewage sludge
  • Provincial Health Services Agency: livestock effluents
  • Consolidated Environmental Declaration Forms: waste

This resulted in a timely snapshot of the matrices present throughout the Province of Trento, with an indication of their current uses. These will be summed with the waste and by-products of the agro-food chains, whose contribution - identified through subsequent investigations and in-depth studies - will allow the quantification of the overall energy potential and the definition of new basic scenarios, in which the combined treatment of various types of matrices within the same plant will make it possible to optimise the anaerobic digestion process, improve the facility’s economic sustainability and produce a greater share of energy from renewable sources.