FRI-EL GEO Kraftwerk

Made in Italy excellence in renewables now turning to geothermal energy

Family management, environmental awareness and innovation: the recipe for success of the Fri.El Group as told at the presentation of the SACE Risk and Opportunity Map by Ernst and Daniela Gostner, father and daughter at the helm of the family business.

The growth of Fri.El Green Power, the company led by the Gostner family, is closely linked to the growth of renewables in Italy over the last two decades. Founded in 1992 by three brothers, Thomas, Josef and Ernst, it is a leader in the wind power sector, operating 21 hydroelectric plants, a solid biomass plant and one of Europe’s largest liquid biomass power stations. Assets located throughout the country are worth EUR 2 billion. And today it is investing in geothermal energy, with the aim of bringing it to population centres.

Family management, environmental awareness and innovation are the ingredients of a recipe that is a guarantee of success.

“My son, says Ernst Gostner the Managing Director of Fri.El Green Power speaking at the presentation of the SACE Risk and Opportunity Map 2023 – who heads the Group’s Gas Holding division, had the idea of using the heat dispersed into the atmosphere by the company’s 23 biogas plants to heat hydroponic greenhouses for growing agricultural products. To do this, we imported a state-of-the-art, computerised technology made of glass and metal, and built no less than 30 hectares, creating an economic and employment induced of 400 people in Ostellato. They are LED-lit greenhouses, so they produce even in winter, but they are very energy-consuming both thermally and electrically.”

Turning an obstacle into an opportunity, the family decided to focus on geothermal energy, ‘which is the only clean source capable of providing thermal and electrical energy 24 hours a day and 365 days a year,’ explains Ernst Gostner. “A geological study that we carried out showed that throughout the Po Valley there are a few hundred wells drilled by Eni and thousands of seismic wells, which are the surveys of the subsoil. We realised that we had a water formation from five to six thousand metres with temperatures of 150° and that it was therefore possible to produce green and safe energy. We obtained all the authorisations to proceed quickly. We started with the construction and are currently drilling the first well in Ostellato: we are already at 3400 metres.” Translated with (free version)

Hence the idea of distributing geothermal energy to the major cities of the North, through the Pangea project. “We already have about fifteen projects open around the largest cities in the North, Milan, Bergamo, and Brescia, which will be able to connect to district heating. Just to give you some figures: our Ostellato plant, when fully injected, i.e., zero emission, will have a thermal power of 200 to 240 MW. 200 MW today can heat 120,000 homes: it is an enormity. In the Po Valley we could easily make more than 100 of these plants, which would halve the number of boilers in an area where pollution is already very, very high.”

Creativity and method of a company that is not only promoting the country’s energy transition but also facing the generational transition of its management. An issue that closely touches many of the small and medium-sized family businesses in Italy. At the presentation of the Map of Risks and Opportunities, together with her father Ernst, Daniela Gostner, who takes care of all financial and administrative management for the family business, also spoke. “We are facing the generational transition in a very positive way: in recent years we have managed to form a family team in which everyone has found their position and is able to make their contribution within the company. And this is not to be taken for granted, because, unfortunately, this path is not always so easy: there are different generations in comparison, which often have different expectations, and also strategic choices are not always shared.”

In this context of challenges and opportunities, SACE has been a solid partner of the Fri.El Group for many years now and will continue to be so in view of the company’s present and future projects.

“I will do everything I can,” Ernst Gostner concluded, “to help hand over planet earth to the next generation in the best possible way.”