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Sustainable and renewable communities in Italy

Sustainable and renewable communities in Italy

Rasiglia: where a committed local community has embraced energy sustainability

Is it possible to observe a river flowing by without realizing that it is also generating electricity? Yes, it is. The place in question is in Rasiglia, in Umbria, the so-called green heart of Italy, and is the second stop on our tour of “The greatest electrification success stories.” On our first journey we went to Uppsala in Sweden to see a building made entirely from sustainable materials and innovative photovoltaic panels for producing clean energy. In the case of Rasiglia, we turn to Alvaro Cesarini, a local historian and member of the “Rasiglia e le sue sorgenti” (Rasiglia and its springs) association. Cesarini, together with other inhabitants of the small town, persuaded Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage to recognize the value of the town’s historical machinery. Gradually, they recreated what had once been lost and in doing so created a visitor attraction that is sustainable, managed by local people and fully respects nature.

Water’s importance for social and economic development

As Cesarini explains: “Five streams of the Menotre River run through the small town of Rasiglia. Menotre means ‘the one that flows slowly.’ It is neither impetuous nor rapid on its long course, but in Rasiglia things are different, because the river experiences a drop in altitude and it travels at speed, flowing rapidly through ancient channels and finally returning to rest in what is now the town.” It is precisely because of this particular feature of the river that Rasiglia was founded alongside it: the possibility to harness the power of the flow made the area a social and commercial meeting point.

Rasiglia is known to have existed as a prosperous settlement since 1122.

“The oldest historical sources date back to this time, when there were already mentions of mills, stone millstones as well as wool mills,” Cesarini adds. Productive activities began to be concentrated along the river’s course, with wool mills, factories and paper mills appearing and growing over time. In order to power these and make them more efficient, the area’s first hydroelectric plant was built at the start of the 20th century.

The plant was one of the first in Italy and was designed by the engineer Luca Barnocchi. It was installed to speed up the production process for blankets. There was a huge increase in the number of looms that could be used: up to 15, employing more than 80 workers.



The process driving the energy transition for a sustainable world

Thanks to the hydroelectric plant and its surplus production, Rasiglia was the first town in the area to get electricity, back in 1930. “The villages in the valley only got electricity after 50 years: Rasiglia was the first. The surplus energy production from the plant provided access to a small quantity of electricity for each household, where one light could be turned on at a time. This privilege of having electricity in the home originated thanks to a synergy between man and nature, and was a highly significant result,” Cesarini goes on to say.

Rasiglia: a town reborn, thanks to its inhabitants

In 1997 Umbria was hit by a powerful earthquake. Rasiglia was also affected and the lives of many of its inhabitants changed as they were forced to move to areas that had not been damaged by the tremors. In 2007, exactly ten years after the earthquake, the remaining inhabitants decided to give the town a new boost by harnessing the value of its historical heritage, culture and beauty. “We had in mind the Rasiglia of 1901, with its numerous commercial activities, around 600 inhabitants, two hotels and a bank,” explains Cesarini. In 2007 there were few inhabitants, people had already moved away to nearby or larger settlements, but for those who had stayed behind in Rasiglia, the momentum was growing to bring life back to their home town.
For Rasiglia sustainability and electrification are fundamental aspects of the process of  bringing growth back to the town and restoring it to its former glory. “If we are talking about clean and renewable electrification, Rasiglia is a really good example,” says Cesarini. “There are small hydroelectric plants located along the course of the river upstream from Rasiglia and deviate its course for a mere three meters. This deviation enables the production of around 6 kW of clean and renewable energy. The riverbed remains covered, flora and fauna are not disturbed by the production of electricity and the water remains clean. To the eye of the observer, there is no sign that the flow is being deviated slightly because the water continues to flow undisturbed,” he explains.
In addition to new hydroelectric plants that benefit the community and the environment, the reconstruction process has brought employment and wellbeing to Rasiglia and has also made it one of Umbria’s top tourist destinations. Thanks to the work of the local inhabitants and the association that Cesarini belongs to, small and medium-sized enterprises are being set up once again in this locality: this is in marked contrast to the abandonment that occurred after the earthquake. Rasiglia’s revival has also been observed with interest by certain institutions. The historic machinery has in fact been awarded special protection status by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage.

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Rasiglia also boasts Italy’s largest paper mill, which was created to harness the powerful flow of the river. “Seven paper mills, which are among the oldest in Italy, were created along the course of the Menotre. The paper on which the first copy of The Divine Comedy was printed was produced in Rasiglia, thanks to the power of the river,” Cesarini explains. 

Rasiglia now has three active power plants. The largest produces 200 KW: the other two, which are closer to the town, produce 6 kW each. The electricity produced is not stored, however, but fed directly into the grid in order to reduce electricity costs. “If there were more small hydroelectric plants like ours,” says Cesarini,” communities would be cleaner and less polluted.”

Renewables for Enel X: a shared commitment

 “If renewables were more widespread, the use of fossil fuels for producing electricity would be significantly reduced, if not eliminated, and nature would not be damaged by the positive exploitation of it,” says Cesarini.


With renewable energy solutions, communities can enjoy cleaner air and energy at a lower cost. Reducing emissions would stabilizes ecosystemic balances, thereby decreasing the probability of climatic emergencies like drought, heat waves and extreme weather events.

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