Rural community embraces sustainable energy
A small town in the Po Valley has switched to 100% renewable energy for its municipal energy users. A mix of different technologies now provides all the heat and air conditioning it requires during traditionally cold winters and hot summers.
"The overall energy profile of the project amounts to a reduction in CO2 emissions of around 255 tonnes per year."
Candido Roveda, mayor of Roncoferraro
The new green power plant at the heart of Roncoferraro’s district heating and cooling network has been up and running since December 2006. It replaced seven individual boilers and should reduce local CO2 emissions by more than 250 tonnes a year.
Gas boilers get replaced
Roncoferraro is located some 140 km south-east of Milan. Its 6 700 inhabitants are spread over a wide area, with most working in the agricultural sector. However, several of the town’s public buildings – three schools, a swimming pool, sports hall, and two municipal administration buildings – are located within just 700 metres of one another. This close spacing sparked the idea of supplying all local energy needs with a single high-tech district heating (and cooling) network running on woodchips, as a replacement for seven gas-fired boilers.
One of the project’s main aims was to provide a fossil-free energy system by using locally produced biomass. This is in keeping with the Po Valley’s urgent need to diversify its agriculture beyond livestock rearing and crop production.
EU funds covered half of the project’s total cost, with the rest coming from national financing. The main partner was the town of Roncoferraro, with support from the Province of Mantua. Local members of the CNER, a national private farmers’ association supporting renewable energy, provided a vital guarantee that there would be enough local biomass for the new system.
Optimal technology mix
While each of the technologies implemented is fairly conventional, together they form an optimal mix for the town’s district heating (and cooling) network. At its core is the new and aesthetically designed biomass central station, with an automatic woodchips/pellets furnace able to meet all local heating needs in winter. Its roof consists of 130 square metres of glassless solar collectors, which can produce sufficient hot water in summer for the open-air swimming pool, sports hall showers and the nursery school. Lastly, the central station includes an absorption chiller, itself fuelled by the woodchip furnace, for provision of air conditioning to two municipal buildings.
The new system replaces 96 toe/year of fossil energy (natural gas) with the equivalent amount of renewable energy. This has boosted the local economy for farmers producing woodchips and above all demonstrated how even a small community can make use of renewable energy.