Earth Day 2017, the electricity of change
Declared for the first time in 1970, April 22nd is Earth Day. The theme this year is Environmental and Climate Literacy to improve the knowledge of environmental issues and the awareness of global and local ecological issues. To safeguard the planet and protect its resources, a grassroots effort is needed: often times, the environmental problems are seen at global level while neglecting their impacts at local level.
Green electricity to drive change
Cities already today gather most of the world’s population. This trend is bound to grow and is making it increasingly critical to safeguard urban ecosystems, from China to Europe, from North America to the mega-cities of South America.
Living comfort, mobility, economic development, and urban planning are all factors that impact on air, water and soil in cities. Let’s take air. The main sources of pollution are heating and transportation, in addition to industry. These are factors that pose a challenge to be effectively tackled and for which electrification is a simple and feasible path.
Electricity is the ‘smartest’ carrier. This means that it can be transmitted already in its state of final use over long distances and therefore allows the decoupling of the place of emission from the place of use.
This has been the case ever since the discovery of electricity. Suffice it to think of public and private lighting or household appliances. For other technologies, instead, it is a recent transformation that can bring considerable benefits.
Electric mobility, for example, allows eliminating polluting emissions in urban areas, with a positive chain reaction at all levels. And in this context, we should mention innovative technologies such as Vehicle to Grid, which transforms the batteries of parked electric cars into a storage system for balancing the grid. As regards air conditioning, heat pumps can increase energy savings and contribute to reducing pollution associated with heating, by replacing conventional technologies based on fossil fuels, with electric technologies. The same applies to induction hobs that use electricity instead of fossil fuels.
These are all solutions available to everyone, which thanks to digitalised and integrated grids, contribute to the development of smart cities and new energy models with an impact also at local level.
This is the line that Enel has chosen to follow to rethink its business model, from services to the digitalisation of assets, from the design of plants to the decarbonisation of the energy mix.
Decarbonising, from the city to the village
From the electric car to the induction hob, all applications based on electricity allow eliminating local emissions. This result has already been achieved today, with the current production mix.
By increasing the share of renewable energy that powers these applications, emissions would be reduced nearly to zero even at a global level. One possible scenario: green technologies have experienced strong growth in recent years both at industrial and domestic level, and their penetration has strongly redesigned production and the role of utilities and users.
“In the energy industry, investments in grid digitalisation, as well as the growing efficiency of storage systems and distributed generation, enables a more active and participatory role for customers, providing them with efficient solutions for the production, storage and management of their energy requirements”
– Francesco Starace, Enel CEO
It is a participatory model which, as our CEO recalled in a recent article, has been implemented by Enel in Ollagüe, in the Andes mountains, on the border between Chile and Bolivia. Here, the installation of an innovative stand-alone system has allowed the electrification of a wide rural area: a hybrid power plant that combines storage, solar and wind energy.
From the very early stages, the project was conducted involving local authorities and communities and the University of Chile-Antofagasta which helped our engineers in the feasibility analysis, design and planning. The maintenance and management of the plant have been entrusted to the local community, making the solutions adopted sustainable from all points of view.
The decentralisation and decarbonisation challenge of energy production through the development of renewables, however, does not completely eliminate the environmental impact of energy supply.
For this reason, our company has adopted an open approach to technological innovation, so it is always ready to heed the needs of users and stakeholders.
The objective is to identify innovative, sustainable and replicable business models, such as the circular economy, to reduce the use of natural sources and transform waste into resources. This also applies to other fields of action, such as biodiversity, to measure, mitigate and eliminate the impact on ecosystems associated with human activities, combining development and shared value creation.