The ASPO-Italy conference in Torino

The logo of the ASPOItaly-2 conference. It shows, superimposed to the classic ASPO peak, the mythical "post peak car", the battery powered, retrofitted Fiat 500

Conference report, many links and some pictures below the fold.

The second national conference of the Italian section of ASPO, ASPO-Italy, was held in Torino on May 3rd. Among the speakers, many were well known to readers of TOD. We had Euan Mearns as guest of honor, but also Ugo Bardi, Pietro Cambi, Marco Pagani and Eugenio Saraceno; all of them have signed posts on The Oil Drum.

The conference's language was mainly Italian. It is a general problem: a lot of good work on depletion is being done in many non-English speaking countries. However, translations are expensive and time consuming; so the interaction with the rest of the world is limited. The best that I can do here is summarizing what was said so that you can have a feeling of what is being done in Italy and how the situation is here.

First, something about ASPO-Italy. It is not so much geology-centered as ASPO international is. It is mostly a group of technology-minded people, several are specialists in renewable energy. They have quickly understood the question of the peak and they have derived from it a sensation of urgency that something is to be done, and fast. It was for this reason that we chose as logo of the conference not just the traditional ASPO peak, but also the "post peak car", the retrofitted, battery powered, Fiat 500 created by Pietro Cambi. This little car has become a sort of symbol of the emphasis of ASPO-Italy for solutions.

ASPOItaly-2 was perhaps the first post-peak ASPO conference in the world. Recognizing that crude oil may be already in decline, we chose to focus on natural gas with the help of Euan Mearns, from The Oil Drum, who spoke about the security of European gas supply. I think I don't have to say that the picture that emerged out of the several talks on depletion was not optimistic. The second part of the conference was dedicated to solutions, with a presentation on what we might call the Italian answer to peak oil: high altitude wind power ( developed by Massimo Ippolito. It is a very promising idea but still in the early prototyping stage.

How about impact? Well, we had some but, despite crude at 120 $/barrel, peak oil is not mainstream news in Italy. We were interviewed in TV, something appeared in the newspapers, something more will appear in the coming days. On the whole, however, in Italy people are ignoring peak oil and everything that has to do with resource depletion; just as the rest of the world is doing. The day after the conference, going back home, we saw the A1 highway packed with cars: a long parking lot: hundreds of kilometers. It should not be a surprise: if we are at the production peak it is the historical moment of the largest amount of oil available. The point is for how long.

But it may well be that Italy will be the first industrialized country in the world to experience peak oil for real. Economically weak, strongly dependent on fossil fuels, Italy, despite being known as the "Sun Country", has done nothing exploit renewable energy to weaken her addiction to oil. Italy may well be the miners' canary of peak oil. The national carrier, Alitalia, may be the first major airline in the world to go bankrupt because of high oil prices. Not just Alitalia, but the whole country may go bankrupt if a major supply crisis arrives. It will be an interesting story; stay tuned!


Visit ASPO Italy (mainly in Italian) or the ASPO Italy Blog (all in Italian).

ASPO Italy members have been active in writing guest posts for The Oil Drum. Here is a list:

Peak Minerals by Ugo Bardi and Marco Pagani

The Post Peak car by Ugo Bardi and Pietro Cambi.

Peak Water in Saudi Arabia by Ugo Bardi.

Peak Oil and the limits to growth by Ugo Bardi

France and Italy: is nuclear energy the way to energy independence? by Eugenio Saraceno

Cassandra's curse by Ugo Bardi

An extended abstract of Euan's talk is available here (in Italian) and a pdf of the abstract in English can be downloaded from the TOD server.

Here are a few photos:

Euan's speech.

A Fiat 500, this one still running on oil.

What a fantastic location for a meeting.

Turin has a comprehensive tram network, it seemed to be well used.

Local prices from Monday 5th May 2008. With 3.785 l/USgal and 1 EUR = 1.533 USD, 1.42 EUR/l = $8.25 /USgal.

Calling Steve Andrews and Randy Udall: The 2 ASPO USA conferences (Boston and Houston) have been among the best conferences I ever attended. That 7 am to 7 pm work ethic is something else. But you gotta admit that the more relaxed Italian style (third picture from top) also has certain virtue.

Thank you ASPO Italia for superb hospitality:-)


I love Italia, the land of "la dolce far niente"! Just curious though, does the green sign on the fuel prices at the pump, the one that says "senza piombo" imply that Italians can still choose between leaded and unleaded gas?! I sure hope not. Heh, I still remember climbing around the cobblestone streets of hilly Bergamo in a little Fiat Cinquicento with five adults on board, I do hope that of all the people in the world the Italians will agree that driving those ugly SUVs flanking the little red beauty is a travesty!!! I also miss my old Alfa Romeos especially, my little red convertible spider quadrifoligio. Given the opportunity I would still go live in Italy, even if I had to use public transportation ;-)

Well, I don't know why they still say "senza piombo", unleaded. Leaded gasoline was phased out in Italy already several years ago. I guess it is just the force of habit. Anyway, Italians are still using those old 500s, but many have switched to SUVs. Too bad!

Grazie,Ugo! I have a good friend who owns an Italian shop "Ital Auto" here in Florida and some of his customers have 500s, it can be quite a sight to see one next to a Humvee...

I love Italia, the land of "la dolce far niente"!

It is quite unfair to characterize Italy simply as the country of il dolce far niente. Most Italians are very hard working, and are doing so for salaries which are so low that many foreigners would not even be thinking about moving a hand ...
But I fully agree: Italy is a very charming and beautiful place, and Italians are great people.
(NB: Just for clarity: I'm not Italian ...)

Oh for criminy's sake lighten up will ya :-). If you read what I wrote again you will see that I really like Italians and especially their ability to not take life so damn seriously that they don't know how to stop and smell the roses now and again. Trust me some of the hardest working people I know are Italians and they also happen to be some of my best friends.

I think you are right, Magyar. Italy used to be the land of the "dolce far niente". Now it has become a land of fanatical workaholics. I don't think this is progress.

You mention what you call the Italian answer to peak oil, the high altitude wind power concept "kitegen".
I have been following this idea very closely for a long time now, and I'm convinced that it is one of the most promising renewable energy ideas around.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to get any up-to-date information about their project status. Their "new" website doesn't give any hint as to where they stand. My understanding is that they have huge problems in finding (venture) capital and are therefore stuck with very small scale test prototypes, far away from the vertical axis generator they are aiming for. It seems that years ago they won a huge Italian government award for developing the concept, but have never received any money from that (probably the quick succession of new governments in Italy didn't help very much ...).
At the ASPO-Italy conference, was there any new information about where the kitegen project now stands? Is there any new development in this project which you could share with us?

I agree: the kitegen idea is very, very promising. In Torino, we had a presentation about the state of the project; they are moving on but - as usual - innovative ideas are very difficult; almost impossible; to fund. As far as I understand, they have succeeded in testing a prototype; a single kite that generates energy by going up and down. It has been successful, they are moving onwards. Incidentally, Massimo Ippolito, the mind behind the kitegen idea, is a longtime member of ASPO-Italy; so I hope that I'll be able to make a post on TOD with the updated situation of the kitegen. But there are so many things to do that I'd need first to clone myself a few times. So is life.

Thanks, Ugo. A TOD post on the kitegen would certainly be more than welcome. I think that this project can use (and merits) every kind of publicity possible.
The last news I have heard was that they want to build a version of their single-kite-prototype on top of a ship. But not to pull the ship, but to produce electricity. The point is that the small truck which they used before was too light and the kite risked pulling it off the ground ...
Even if I repeat myself: It is really a shame that such a promising, innovative idea cannot find any capital!

It's a shame that Google went with financing Makani rather than Kitegen.

The guys in Holland behind laddermill don't seem to be able to get the financing either - pathetic when you consider how desperately the power is needed, and how much cheaper it could be than wind-turbines.

I suppose that means that it is deeply unattractive to the power industry, as after all the more turnover they have in the industry, the better their position - the last thing they want if cheap, plentiful power.

Rather like the way that development on molten salt reactors was stopped - no good for weapons, would need very little uranium mining, and the fuel does not need processing into rods, a major source of income to the reactor builders, so no-one was interested.

The consumer gets shafted again.

Not Italy related, but for UK voters there is an Early Day Motion EDM 1453 proposed by MP John Hemming,

That this House notes that current movements in energy and food prices are in conformance with the predictions as to what would happen as oil production peaks; and calls for the Government urgently to review its predictions as to when peak oil occurs with a view to determining whether or not urgent policy adjustments are called for..."

You can encourage your MP to support this EDM using this link:

Best hopes for PO aware politicians.

"But it may well be that Italy will be the first industrialized country in the world to experience peak oil for real. Economically weak, strongly dependent on fossil fuels, Italy, despite being known as the "Sun Country", has done nothing exploit renewable energy to weaken her addiction to oil. Italy may well be the miners' canary of peak oil."

I suspect that honor may well go to Spain. (Unless you are just dismissing Spain from the industrialized countries from not being a member of G-7). That's because Spain's current account deficit is 9.2% of GDP while Italy's is only 2.5%. To make the comparison more meaningful some qualitative data is needed, specifically what percentage of food and energy consumption is imported by each country.

Italy for sure is in worse shape in the fiscal front (2.6% of GDP of budget deficit vs 0 in Spain, and also much higher public debt/GDP). Still, it shouldn't matter much if the debt is mostly held by locals, i.e. if they owe it to themselves. Interestingly, Spain had a budget surplus of 1.8% last December, while Italy's deficit has held constant since then.

And while in Club Med, Greece and Portugal have the dubious honor of combining the worst features of the aforementioned countries (12% & 8% CA deficit, 2.5% budget deficit).

Well, comparing two countries is always difficult. Spain is doing much better than Italy in terms of renewable energy, but the account deficit is lower for Italy than for Spain, indeed. But the newly elected government of Mr. Berlusconi has grand plans to remedy that. Building a bridge across the Sicilian strait, for instance.

You write:

The conference's language was mainly Italian. It is a general problem: a lot of good work on depletion is being done in many non-English speaking countries. However, translations are expensive and time consuming; so the interaction with the rest of the world is limited.

Google Translate might be of some assistance to you – it's free of charge and incredibly fast and easy to use. I've just tried it out with an extract from your website, and I think that the translation would be quite tolerable after some post-editing by somebody with a fluent command of English.

Here's the Italian:

L’aumento dei prezzi del petrolio è stato continuo e inarrestabile dal 1998 circa. Partendo da meno di 20 dollari al barile a quel tempo, i prezzi hanno raggiunto e sfondato nel Maggio 2004, il “tetto” dei 40 dollari al barile. Un valore che, in moneta costante, è pari a quello che nel 1973 dette origine alla prima grande crisi del petrolio

Here's the English:

The increase in oil prices has been continuous and unstoppable around since 1998. Starting with less than 20 U.S. dollars per barrel at that time, prices have reached and broke in May 2004, the "roof" of 40 U.S. dollars per barrel. A value that, in constant currency, is equal to that in 1973 gave rise to the first great crisis of oil.

Google Translate is here:

For over two years I was involved in a machine translation project at the European Commission (at the directorate general for research) and in the meantime I've had the opportunity to compare a number of different MT products. Google Translate is the best I've ever encountered. It has a vast range of language pairs (including even Bulgarian, Romanian and Czech), and costs nothing.

And now back to reading more about your conference ...

Thanks, Obscurus. I had tried machine translation programs, but so far the results had been always disappointing. I tried the google program on the German ASPO site, and I see that it provides a fighting chance of understanding what is said, even for people like me who don't speak German. These programs seems to be getting better and better. If we do arrive to have automated translation really working, that would really improve communication over the internet!