- freely available
Sustainability 2020, 12(4), 1424; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12041424
2. State of the Art
3. Materials and Methods
- The management of “energy” within the framework of ecosystem services refers to the production and consumption of both fossil and renewable sources, and the impact they have upon the environment. The “anthropogenic energy” topic, in relation to the ecosystem services, is still underestimated in literature. It considers only some man-made energy supply chains in relationship with ecosystem services (e.g., the biomass supply chain). Other, even more important sources, such as fossil sources, which display straight involvement within ecosystem services, are not fully described, probably due to the complexity of the relationship. This research analyzes the topic literature, in order to highlight and identify the ecosystem services involved. Energy management following forms of decentralization and energy localism are positively considered in relation to ecosystem services. It allows us to get close the demand and the supply, and therefore it demonstrates the efficiency achievement. This occurs when energy management is deep-rooted in territories and settlements and promotes participation and inclusive governance possibilities concerning the ecosystem dimension. The research analyzes the topic literature. This point aims to answer the following question: 1) in literature, is the relationship between decentralized energy systems and ecosystem services considered particularly important?
- The third step of the research is an operative assessment of the Italian context. Does energy decentralization (especially in Italy) create virtuous conditions in relation to the ecosystem services? A detailed analysis of local energy networks in Italy has been conducted and the first results are reported. The criteria used are the consumption efficiency (energy consumption and monitoring systems) and the impact on the social cohesion and inclusion. The results of this elaboration provide negative results. The district-heating systems analyzed in Italy do not seem to develop an effective relationship with the ecosystem services. The analysis also reveals elements of crisis in the development of the field itself, which must be analyzed in depth. The elaboration process, data used and the interpretations from which the results were obtained are reported below. This step aims to answer the question: In Italy does the energy decentralization process establish a positive relationship between the ecosystems?
- The study outlines some policy guidelines to consider in order of improving the non-positive trend for the development of Italian local energy networks. The question to be answered in the research is: Which are the prospects for increasing the state of Italian districts hating, in terms of institutional frameworks review for promoting the sector in relation to the ecosystem services?
- AIRU report  which reports the data of about 340 local networks, of which 150 (including the biggest ones) are in a detailed and complete form, and for the remainder few data are unavailable. The analysis is based on a sample base variable within this range, which is the most complete and significative sample;
- ISTAT (National Institute of Statistics) data  which provides information on the district-heating systems located in the provincial cities—42 district-heating systems of a total of 109 Italian capitals of the province. The ISTAT source has also been used for population and housing data that have been cross-referenced with the local energy networks data.
- There is a need for a broad program to promote the redevelopment of the inefficient plants and local networks that consume more than traditional systems, and of those that only achieve a low avoided consumption. In many cases, it is necessary to rethink the entire network or parts of it, in relation to the territorial changes that have occurred, to improve the physical–functional organization of a settlement, and encourage a greater diversification of outputs (cogeneration, heat and cold production). A stable institutional framework must also be produced to facilitate the financing of interventions with innovative forms.
- The energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources is becoming central to European and even global policies. It is necessary to facilitate the progressive, but rapid, conversion to renewable sources, as well as the construction of new local networks supplied by renewable sources. For endogenous energies, it is necessary to operate through the creation of production chains, in which the district-heating system and the energy production are part of a sustainable territorial development (for instance, the use of agricultural and forest biomass, waste-to-energy, the use of heat recovery from industrial processes, etc.) which can have a virtuous impact on ecosystem services and integration with the territories.
- Energy production and management at the local level has important potential for the creation of social cohesion. The process of energy decentralization can foster innovative bottom-up initiatives and projects, including collaborative projects (inhabitants + energy companies)—often promoted by Local Administrations. The process of the liberalization of the energy market is not only open to large operators, but also to potential prosumers and local communities. The most interesting line is the creation of corporate-collective entities (e.g., small public companies or local cooperatives) in which citizenship directly participates, called Local Energy Communities (LECs) or Sustainable Energy Communities, or Green Communities [27,28,29,30,31,32,33]. The institutional framework should combine the promotion of business-oriented lines with community-based values rooted in the territories.
- Local energy networks can find an important role in socio-economic development plans in the inland areas and medium-sized cities, and they can be integrated into urban regeneration plans. Along this systemic line, the energy–environmental value can be a driver for settlement redevelopment and social inclusion. In this context, policies and programs can act as starters for projects with an eco-energy aim, with the stable and progressive recognition of ecosystem services.
Conflicts of Interest
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