31 October 2012
Rural areas attract a large portion of the deployment of renewable energies. But do they really benefit from it? Using case studies assessing 16 rural regions in Europe, Canada and United States, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) has investigated this in a two year on-field research project. Solar Novus Today Senior Editor Andreas Breyer has asked Raffaele Trapasso, Economist with the OECD Rural Development Program and author of the OECD report titled “Linking Renewable Energy to Rural Development” about the major results and the role of solar energy herein.
Solar Novus Today (SNT): Mr. Trapasso, when you look at the 16 regions you investigated that range from Prince Edward Island in Canada to Extremadura in Spain: What do they have in common in their deployment of renewable energies?
Raffaele Trapasso: All of them try to have multiple outcomes from renewable energy (RE) deployment. RE policy should mitigate climate change, improve energy security and create job opportunities (and economic development). However, when it comes to implementing the projects, harmonizing these three drivers is very hard. In some cases, they are actually conflicting…
SNT: Were you able to identify general benefits of RE deployment in these rural areas?
RT: There are several benefits. For instance, rural communities hosting RE installations have increased their tax base, or receive money from developers. These funds are used to improve public services. Some valuable jobs are created in rural communities. There is a sort of empowerment of local institutions and communities, who have to deal with complex projects. And, for the remote (or very cold) areas there is also reduction of fuel poverty or fuel cost. In general, when the RE policy is tailored to the local features and needs, benefits are more evident. For instance, in mid-Sweden (one of the case studies) forestry is supplying the regional district heating system with forest residuals. This allowed forest owners to diversify their business and to get an extra income from their activity. At a smaller scale, a municipality in Abruzzo, Italy, has installed PV panels on the roof of the local school. The municipality used feed-in-tariff to refurbish the local school.
SNT: What are the prerequisites that renewable energies can really help to develop rural economies?
RT: In general, RE should not be considered as a stand-alone sector within the rural economy. It should be connected to local activities and businesses; possibly to a core specialization within the community. Also, it should tap into the renewable resource of energy that is abundant in the area. There are communities that are trying to deploy wind energy, despite their relatively weak wind resource. Likewise, large PV installations may have little sense where sun irradiation is not abundant. RE is place sensitive, so why the RE policy should not be place sensitive too?
SNT: Are there any obstacles to overcome, such as limited subsidies or lack of training that might endanger the sustainability of the benefits?
RT: Subsidies need to be targeted. We met communities that were complaining about the lack of support for technologies that would have been efficient in their area. Concerning training, it takes 3 to 5 years to train people. Less, if the RE technology is embedded in activities people know to deal with. In Finland forest cooperatives are very efficient in providing cheap renewable heating as they know how to deal with forest residues very efficiently. Very limited training was needed to trigger RE deployment there.
SNT: Which role does solar energy (PV, CSP and solar thermal energy) play in the regions you investigated?
RT: Solar energy has a great potential. However, current policies focus mainly on PV, little less on CSP, and do not consider solar thermal energy to heat water. In many cases, RE policy supporting PV favored large installations instead of diffused production. It seems public authorities are trying to promote RE energy, and in particular solar and wind, without changing the energy system. For instance, most RE policies do not support an effective transition to smart grid and diffused production. Also, we discovered that renewables do not represent a shortcut to rural development. Policy interventions should be carefully designed and implemented to match local issues and potentials. Policies need to involve a large number of stakeholders (not a limited number of large developers) and should tap in the renewable resources that are available in a given area, rather than promoting the same technologies all over a country. For instance, in Italy, solar energy is equally supported in Lombardy and in Sicily, while the potential for such a technology is clearly different in the two regions.
SNT: Mr. Trapasso, thank you for the interview.
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