Scambio Sul Posto
Small scale electricity generation, like small wind turbines or rooftop solar panels, where people need it is an elegant, and deeply conservative, solution to energy supply issues. It fosters a greater understanding of energy systems and minimises waste as consumers can better appreciate where their energy comes from and how much work it takes to produce electricity. It can also increase local resilience to national power outages and supply issues, and can empower individuals and their local community to take control of their electricity supply.
Despite these benefits, there are still some barriers to small scale electricity generation. This includes strict planning restrictions, which make it difficult to install solar panels or small wind turbines in many places, and the large upfront costs of installation. Furthermore, one of the biggest barriers for many is that small scale electrical installations will not meet an entire home's energy demand given the variability in the weather and the difficulty of on-site storage. This means that in sunny and windy weather a household could generate more electricity than it could possibly need, and in cloudy and still conditions it could have no electricity as storage capacity is limited and easily exhausted.
Scambio Sul Posto
In 2009, before many countries were fully grappling with these implications of renewable energy, the then centre-right government of Italy devised a solution called ‘Scambio sul Posto’ which translates to ‘Exchange on the Spot’. This is a form of energy billing known as net metering, where the producers of electricity can receive credits based on how much electricity they have produced, which they can exchange at any time for electricity from the national grid. This means that they can utilise the national storage capability, making renewable energy an effective way to reduce bills year-round. This was implemented by the centre-right party Popolo della Libertà which recognised that this market-based solution could encourage the uptake of renewable energy while at the same time strengthening the resilience of the electricity grid.
Net metering vs feed-in tariffs
This policy is similar in function to some feed-in tariffs, which offer long term contracts at a set price for electricity. These are not incompatible policies and Italy has had feed-in tariffs since 2007 - before Scambio sul Posto came in. But Scambio sul Posto is different from feed-in tariffs in Italy for two main reasons. Firstly, in Italy, the feed-in tariffs designed to support renewable energy generation are for larger-scale projects and businesses which can be relied upon for many years, rather than individual households which may move houses or be unable to maintain their systems. The second key difference is that Scambio sul Posto does not subsidise electricity generators by providing credits above market price. The point of Scambio sul Posto is that it will only provide enough credits to match what generators have managed to produce at an earlier date. Everything on top of this is charged as it would be for a household that didn’t have its own electricity generator.