«In Italy, a programmatic tool would be needed, which would include desalination among the solutions of an integrated water supply system. Instead, for years we have been assisting the proposal of ideas by the administrations and utilities in periods of greater drought, which then find it difficult to become concrete projects". Pietro Tota, country manager for Italy of Acciona Agua, the division of the Spanish group Acciona specializing in the integrated water cycle sector and one of the world leaders in the desalination sector, with over 90 reverse osmosis plants built all over the world and present in our country since 2000, outlined a picture of desalination in our country for Il Sole 24 Ore, through a position paper created ad hoc.
The map of watermakers in Italy:
Despite being surrounded by the sea, and despite the ever more frequent problems of water scarcity which afflict above all a crucial sector for our economy, agriculture, Italy has not yet invested as much as it could in the development of desalination plants. This is demonstrated by the comparison not so much with Middle Eastern countries – where for obvious geographical and climatic reasons this water withdrawal system has been the prevailing solution for years – but with a neighboring country similar to ours such as Spain, the fourth nation in the world for the production of fresh water from salt water, with 765 plants which in total produce over 5 million cubic meters of desalinated water every day. Of these, 99 are large-capacity infrastructures, capable of producing between 10,000 and 250,000 cubic meters of water per day.
Well: in Italy the largest desalination plant in operation today is the one (for industrial use) of the Sarlux di Saras refinery, in Sarroch in Sardinia, built by Acciona itself in just 9 months and started operating in 2018, whose capacity is just 12 thousand cubic meters per day. In 2006 the Reggio Calabria plant (for drinking use), with a capacity of 18,000 cubic metres, came into operation, but today the plant is stopped. Just as the vast majority (80%) of the approximately 40 desalination plants currently present in Tuscany, Lazio, Puglia, Sicily and Sardinia, all of medium-small size, are currently not functioning. Their overall production capacity, equal to 17.8 million cubic meters per year, is therefore entirely theoretical, or an average capacity of about 2,000 cubic meters per day. «Two thousand cubic meters against Spain's 5 million – underlines Tota -. Not to mention that the majority of these plants, 71%, are active in the industrial sector, there are few desalination plants for drinking use, 29%, and none are used for irrigation purposes, although in Italy a great deal of water is used precisely for agriculture".
Two projects are currently underway: one promoted by Amap, in Palermo, and one by Acquedotto Pugliese in Taranto, which will be the largest in Italy with a capacity of 55,400 cubic meters per day.
A long-term vision
"It is important to get out of an emergency logic, to treat this issue with a long-term perspective", observes Jose Diaz-Caneja, CEO of Acciona Agua. Things are actually changing in Italy too, as demonstrated by the measures introduced by the recent drought decree, including the appointment of an extraordinary commissioner for the water emergency, Nicola Dell'Acqua, and the approval of rules that simplify the authorization procedures for the construction of desalination plants. The growing water crisis has in fact increased the interest of governments and local administrations in these infrastructures which, thanks to new technologies, have over the years reduced the energy and environmental impact which in the past represented an obstacle to their construction.