Every era has its revolution. The revolution of the twenty-first century is undoubtedly that of globalization, a phenomenon that makes the concept of "borders" obsolete: from the markets to communication, by now everything is related to a global dimension. A real overturning of the traditional paradigms is underway: technologies and transportation are now able to reduce the geographical distances, redesigning the role of the “citizen-customer”, goods of all kinds are traveling around the real and the virtual world at exorbitant speed and each of us can reach one another anywhere in a few steps. All this has revolutionized the traditional concept of the economic value chain by offering an innovative redistribution of roles: the consumers themselves also become the producers of news, opinions, goods and services and the companies, organizations and citizens constantly participate and interact in a proactive manner.
The extent to which electricity is experiencing this revolution is amplified, since it is an enabling factor for the entire production chain, an essential carrier of energy able to support the development of each country. Starting from the raw materials up to the production of electricity. Environmental concerns, the geo-political balance, population growth and scientific research have an impact on the global energy mix. In recent times, we have witnessed an escalation of events that has helped to change the global energy scenario: the tsunami that devastated the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant which seems to have curbed the development of this technology, the Arab Spring that has brought to the fore the importance of the security of the supply of primary energy, the new technologies for extracting unconventional natural gas (shale gas) that are increasing the availability of this raw material, and technological innovation to support the development of renewable energy that is constantly growing and more and more accessible to the consumer, who simultaneously becomes a producer. All these conflicting phenomena are related to a steady increase in the demand for energy, resulting from the population and industrial growth of the emerging countries and an increasingly difficult challenge in the fight to reduce climate-changing emissions.
In this scenario, electricity is the most efficient and easily accessible solution which, thanks to new technology, is distributed in a way that is ever more widespread and inexpensive to consumers. The distribution network is also experiencing its own revolution: it is evolving. Power lines are becoming smart grids, smart networks that can handle bi-directional flows of energy and transmit data as well as electricity. This innovative platform employs new services and new operators alongside the utilities. The consumers produce electricity, the multinational companies produce the software and telecommunications companies design new applications and advanced services dedicated to the world of energy, the appliance manufacturers invest in innovative solutions for home automation and energy efficiency and the automakers produce electric cars. Electricity is expanding its status by becoming an added-value service.
The customers are the focus of this new paradigm of energy, aware actors of the demand for electricity, promoters of a more rational and efficient use of it and attentive to the quality of the service that is being offered. The electronic meter that measures power consumption in real time has been the first step for the implementation of the smart grids with which producers and consumers can communicate interactively, personally promoting the best and most efficient use of electricity. An architecture that also allows for an optimal integration of the distributed generation, renewable sources and electric mobility.
In this context of change, an aspect that has certainly remained constant is the driving force of electricity for social, economical and industrial development. Looking back upon the twentieth century, especially during the post-war period, we can see that the growth of the Western world was supported by the progressive spreading of electricity.
Even today, electricity is a key factor of economic development. The increasing expansion of the electricity sector entails the involvement of an increasing number of stakeholders: citizens, local authorities and institutions want to know about and actively work on the infrastructure projects that relate to the communities where they live or work. In fact, the rapport with the territory changes. More and more, it is the duty of the large companies, of the service providers, to inform citizens in a transparent and timely manner.
The financial crisis, that continues to destabilize the mature economies, requires a recovery that also needs to take place in the energy sector. In economic systems, this is the driving force to counteract the continuing downturn in the markets. An energy-efficient sector may indeed be the key factor for economic recovery, for the good of the citizens and for the development of countries. The cost of energy, in fact, constitutes a significant proportion of the economic accounts and affects the competitiveness of countries, and in the emerging economies it becomes the driving force for manufacturing and provides access to goods and services to even the poorest portion of the population.
This is confirmed by the fact that 1.3 billion people still lack access to electricity and 2.7 billion people use biomass, such as wood and other waste materials, for cooking. The so-called "energy poverty" has become an issue requiring the attention of institutions, media and businesses all over the world. For this reason, 2012 will be the International Year of Sustainable Energy for everyone and at the upcoming meeting of Rio+20 in Rio de Janeiro - celebrating the 20 years since the first World Climate Conference - the objective must necessarily be shared by all the countries: energy that is abundant, sustainable, affordable and accessible to everyone.
In this regard, Enel is committed to signing a pact with the UN to carry out ENabling Electricity, a program that brings together ongoing projects and new ideas for promoting access to electricity through three areas of intervention.
First of all, to support research and technological innovation to enable the spreading of electricity through the distributed generation and the strengthening of distribution networks to bring electricity even to the remotest areas. For example, by integrating solar panels with more rudimentary systems for cooking, fueling water treatment plants to provide water in desert areas, ensuring the electrical needs of small isolated communities through innovative small generation plants from renewable sources that are portable and can be combined with batteries to store energy and re-use it in the absence of sun or wind.
Secondly, we are committed to financing initiatives aimed at removing the economic barriers to the access of electricity in some regions such as Latin America. In Brazil, for example, we have initiated a program that "pays" for waste brought by the population to the recycling centers through discounts on their electricity bills. The mechanism sets in motion a virtuous cycle of environmental responsibility and economic support to the poorest populations.
Finally, we are working with local communities to build a culture of knowledge together, by providing our expertise and our experience to support the development of the disadvantaged populations, through exchange meetings and the creation of technical schools.
All this is part of our vision of the future: electricity as an intelligent, technologically advanced, affordable and environmentally sustainable resource, able to support the development of the economies of countries, and providing a concrete opportunity even in times of crisis.