Interviews

Stelio Montebugnoli: SKA will be Green thanks to Italy


With the first, and certainly not the last, SKA Green Energy Day, last February 29, INAF and MANAGEMENT INNOVATION have called together all the Italian companies in the sector for a competition of all made in Italy ideas to find technological solutions for the energy autonomy of SKA, a series of radio telescopes distributed in the desert areas of Australia and / or South Africa. It is one of the largest iresearch infrastructures of the world and Italy will give its contribution, to tell how and when it is Stelio Montebugnoli, senior engineer of THENAF, who follows SKA together with colleague Germano Bianchi.

1) What does the SKA project consist of?

The Square Kilometer Array represents the next generation radio telescope with an electromagnetic radiation collection area of ​​1 million square meters. It will be able to explore in detail the farthest corners of the universe and will allow many radio astronomers to observe different portions of the sky at the same time. At the moment, the consortium has been funded by the Netherlands, England, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, China and other countries that will join the group shortly. It should be fully operational perhaps around 2025.

LOOK: the images in computer Graphics of the SKA antennas

2) What will be the green power contribution "asked" from Italy?

At this time, the greatest effort of the industrial realities of our country is aimed both at the generation of energy from renewable sources but also, extremely importantly, at how to store the energy produced. For example, photovoltaic panels provide, by their nature, energy only during the day and therefore it is necessary to store the excess produced and then use it during the night.

The Italian industry and research centers are already thinking about accumulation methods based on various innovative principles, the tests of which are giving enormous results.

3) A competition of made in Italy ideas was held for this: how many participated?

The Italian consortium is enriched day by day with new companies with great experience with a high technological content able to provide highly innovative solutions. Many industries have participated in the technical discussions that we are carrying out within our working group and we hope to find a good collaboration with all of them so that Italy can provide the best solution for SKA.

The design of SKA started in 2001; an intense study was initially developed on the part concerning the antennas but it is only a few years ago that the power sector and energy generation / storage have been analyzed.

4) What ideas did you come up with?

From a "power" point of view, the vast majority are oriented towards photovoltaic or solar thermodynamic. As for the more complicated problem of energy storage, we are considering exploiting water electrolysis, without however discarding other solutions such as high efficiency batteries or systems for storing thermal energy through special salts. However, we are still in a phase of discussion and fine-tuning of the technologies, instrumental configurations and input from the astronomical researchers who provide the desired observations.

5) Which areas or regions and which typologies were the most active in proposing?

In the first meeting held at the INAF at the end of February, organized by Emilio Sassone Corsi and INAF, companies specialized in the renewable energy sector met for the first time and it was the first opportunity to begin to enter into the merits of energy requests by SKA. The companies almost all came from central Italy and it was a starting point for the formation of the group of national companies that will compete with ideas and proposals in a hopefully short time.

6) How do you judge the Italian panorama compared to the European one in terms of green power?

In Italy we need a serious energy plan, which is still missing. Only some regions and municipalities are carrying it out independently. Surely Italy is the land of the sun and it could have been expected that the use of technologies for the production of energy from RES was more advanced than that in countries where the sun is normally less present, but in reality this is not the case. . Germany, for example, has many more photovoltaic systems than Italy, but for the simple fact that it began a green energy policy long before our country. Only last year Italy was still wondering, through the referendum, whether to go nuclear or not, while Germany has already established an energy program based on renewable energy sources for 20 years. Sweden, to quote another sun-starved nation, manages to generate energy from methane produced from biomass. In Italy, regulations have not yet been made to introduce bio-methane into the national gas pipeline network and therefore we cannot exploit this enormous source of clean energy.

7) Any brilliant ideas to reveal?

A number of innovative ideas in the RES power generation sector for SKA are emerging. What is difficult to understand at this stage of the design is how reliable these systems are in hostile areas such as the desert, where the temperature drops to zero at night and can rise to over 40 degrees during the day! In various parts of the world, experiments are being carried out on various types of cold fusion today, and it appears that promising results are being obtained.

Interview byMarta Abbà

LOOK: the images in computer Graphics of the SKA antennas

READ: The "Competition of Ideas" INAF for the SKA project

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