Corriere L’Economia: Green transition – the knights of geothermal energy
“It is a clean and reliable source,” explains Ernst Gostner, co-founder and CEO of Fri-El Green Power, which was founded 30 years ago and now has a turnover of over 380 million. And that with the Pangea Project aims to build 15 new plants in northern Italy, also to reduce dependence on gas .
From wind to biomass, from water to earth. For Fri-El Green Power, a group founded in Bolzano in the 1990s on the initiative of brothers Ernst, Thomas and Josef Gostner, renewable energy is a true mission that must embrace every clean resource that nature offers us. And after becoming a major player in Italy, especially in the world of wind power, the next challenge the company has set itself is geothermal energy. Fri-El Green Power, in fact, has recently presented the Pangea Project, which aims to exploit heat from geothermal sources in the subsoil to produce thermal energy in built-up areas.
“Until now, our group has built plants that produce electricity from renewable sources, but we realised that Italy needs thermal energy,’ explains Ernst Gostner, co-founder and CEO of Fri-El Green Power. Geothermal energy is the only source that can produce this type of energy reliably and continuously, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
Italy has a long history when it comes to geothermal energy. In Larderello, in the province of Pisa, the first plant of this kind was built and in Tuscany, between the provinces of Pisa, Grosseto and Siena, there are now about thirty. There are other areas of Italy where this energy can be released, but as of 2019, according to Enel Green Power data, geothermal demand was just under 2 per cent, or 5 per cent of the renewable component alone.
In the Po Valley alone, the construction potential is estimated to be between 100 and 150 geothermal plants. And Fri-El Green Power’s plan is to build at least 15 such sites in northern Italy over the next 10 to 15 years, which would reduce gas demand in these areas by more than 1.5 billion cubic metres.
Il primo è già in costruzione, a Ostellato, in provincia di Ferrara, e sarà inizialmente utilizzato per riscaldare le serre idroponiche dell’azienda, che si estendono per oltre 30 ettari. Il costo previsto è di circa 220 milioni di euro, per un impianto geotermico a media entalpia: una tecnologia grazie alla quale sarà possibile raggiungere una certa profondità, tra i cinque e i sei chilometri nel sottosuolo. “Prevediamo la fine dei lavori di costruzione nel 2025: quando l’impianto sarà attivo, avrà una potenza termica tra i 200 e i 240 Megawatt, e sarà quindi in grado di riscaldare 120 mila abitazioni”, dice Gostner. Non è una tecnologia nuova, è stata sviluppata da anni in Olanda e in Germania e ha già dato ottimi risultati, perché è a impatto zero e non ci sono rischi sismici. Abbiamo il pieno sostegno del Ministro dell’Ambiente e della Sicurezza Energetica e siamo certi che questo progetto avrà un grande impatto sulla strada della transizione verde, contribuendo a risolvere i problemi di dipendenza energetica.”
With the Pangea Project, Fri-El Green Power wants to both diversify its business and increase its annual energy production, which already exceeds two Terawatt hours, thanks mainly to wind power. A journey that started some 30 years ago, during the privatisation of the electricity sector in Italy, the context in which the three Gostner brothers took their first steps into renewable energy.
“We started out by acquiring hydroelectric power plants in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, then we expanded to Lombardy and Piedmont,’ says Gostner. ‘After a few years we realised the potential of wind power, on which there was not much know-how in the country in the 1990s. We tried to acquire as much knowledge as possible, and thanks also to partners like Edf, we built and started up our first wind farms in Italy.”
The group has grown over the years: in 2021 it had a turnover of EUR 381 million (with an Ebitda of EUR 250 million), while in the first half-year of 2022 revenues had already exceeded EUR 300 million. There are about a hundred subsidiaries, including the listed Alerion, and the managed plants exceed 50 units, although in 2021 Fri-El Biogas Holding was sold to Ecofuel, a subsidiary of Eni.
Although the renewables business has grown in recent years, the targets set by the European Union on sustainability are still far off.
“At this rate we will never reach the targets set by the EU by 2030,’ Gostner concludes. ‘An acceleration is needed, especially with regard to permits: we have noticed a strong focus by recent governments, but the institutions must change their way of thinking in order to reach the decarbonisation targets.”
Fri-El Green Power is the brainchild of brothers Ernst, Josef and Thomas Gostner and operates in the world of renewable energies, from wind to biomass, from hydroelectric to geothermal. Today, the group has about a hundred companies, with an annual production of green energy exceeding two Terawatt hours.
Ernst Gostner, co-founder with his brothers Thomas and Josef of Fri-El Green Power, of which he is CEO. The group was born 30 years ago with the privatisation of the electricity sector in Italy.
20.02.2023 – L’Economia