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The importance for the future of the production of thermal energy from renewable sources lies in the fact that most of the energy we consume to produce hot and cold and not to turn on or turn off light bulbs. In Italy 45% of total final consumption is linked to consumption of thermal energy (heating and cooling) which exceed the energy consumption for transport (34%) and abundantly double the typical electricity consumption.
Forecasts say that between now and 2030 there will be a significant increase in consumption of thermal energy from renewable sources and this will give a strong boost to raw materials, systems and technologies such as biomass, heat pumps, solar thermal, geothermal energy and district heating.
How does the production of thermal energy? According to 2011 data (the latest available), the main source of thermal energy is natural gas (63%) followed by petroleum products (diesel, LPG, fuel oils ...) with 17%, solid fuels (coal) at 6% and 6% of derived heat consumption (cogeneration). Consumption of renewable energy for thermal uses weighs just over 7 percent but is constantly increasing.
A first important aspect ofthermal energy is that final consumption occurs through devices or systems for the production of heat installed at the users and not directly through a network distribution, as is the case with electricity. This will have a positive impact on the related industries (production, sale and maintenance of technologies) which in the case of renewable thermals will benefit the national economy since the above devices are often products of the Italian industry articulated on different supply chains (thermo-hydraulic, thermo-mechanical , agro-industrial). Therefore the incentives, if there are any, will benefit the tricolor industry instead of ending up abroad.
In the last 20 years, the consumption of thermal energy from renewable sources has increased fivefold
A second aspect, consequent to the first and revealed by the trends, is that the spread of consumption of thermal energy produced with renewable sources is determined by the choices of final consumers, families and companies, and not by large energy production companies as occurs in the electricity sector. This suggests that the choice of the energy source, and of the technologies with which it is consumed, will come increasingly from below and will depend on the degree of sensitivity of people.
Which renewable sources of thermal energy? In the case of dry woody biomass, Italy has good potential and is also a manufacturer of stoves, boilers and thermo-fireplaces, which in large part it exports. From a predominantly domestic consumption one could move on to industrial and network consumption, but never detached from an ecological and sustainable management of the raw material wood.
For the consumption of thermal energy renewable from aerothermal (air-air or air-water) and geothermal (open or closed cycle water-water) heat pumps the national action plan foresees a strong increase between now and 2020 and for the Amici ella Terra association which deals with energy issues the spread of these devices will be even greater.
Even for solar thermal, the PAN indicates a strong development in the 2020 perspective (in this case, however, the estimates of the Friends of the Earth are more cautious). The 140 ktoe of thermal energy consumed in Italy in 2011 (which correspond to 3 million square meters of thermal solar panels installed) will reach 1250 ktoe according to the Friends of the Earth in 2020 (over 1500 according to the estimates of the PAN).
The front of the direct uses of is also very interesting geothermal energy, which generally takes place through the exploitation of hot waters for thermal bathing, agricultural, aquaculture, industrial and district heating uses. According to estimates by the Italian Geothermal Union, very significant growth is expected between now and 2030 for direct low enthalpy.