With the industrial revolution, energy changed the world forever: unfortunately, in just over one century it also made the world unsustainable. At this current juncture, changing once again and returning to our lost sustainability is something that can only be achieved through energy.
This, in short, was the conclusion reached on 14 November during #EnelFocusOn in Madrid, the fifth edition in the cycle of global events organised by our Group to discuss issues linked to the future, innovation and, above all, sustainability.
“Sustainable Solutions for the Energy and Power Industry” was the title of this edition, which followed on from events in Rome, London, San Francisco and New York. The Madrid event was chaired by Alexis C. Madrigal, journalist from the American magazine The Atlantic, expert on the subject of renewable energy and author of the book “Powering the Dream. The History and Promise of Green Technology”.
What comes best to journalists, explained Madrigal to an audience of influencers from Europe, South America and Russia, is to ask questions. Therefore, his speech was punctuated by a series of queries. The first: how can we overcome our obsolete perceptions concerning renewable energy and sustainability?
“The oil crisis of the 1970s and the OPEC embargo led us to understand for the first time that the world’s resources are not infinite,” explained the journalist. “In the 70s the concept of renewable and, therefore, sustainable energy was associated with counterculture movements. The people involved were outside of the system and had something hippyish about them, such as the transcendentalists and tool freaks, maniacs of technological efficiency. Consequently, they were viewed with a certain suspicion. This is a shame because among them were many of those who, less than two decades later, effectively laid the foundations for the web as we know it today.”
If we analyse the relationship between man and energy during the 1970s and we superimpose it over the current situation in order to try to solve the problems, what we can learn from that period, according to Madrigal, can be summed up in four points. Firstly, the moment has come for a change on a planetary scale. Secondly, the mental and digital tools can lead to radical alterations in the physical world. Thirdly, a serious commitment to research and development by companies is crucial for the development of renewable energy. Fourthly, it is important to focus not so much on our needs, but rather on how to satisfy them using the minimum amount of energy possible. Energy, in this case, is intended as what can be measured with a counter.
Another question that we must continue to ask in order to imagine and, therefore, shape a better future, is: how will our ideas change about houses and transportation in the digital world?
“Houses will rapidly become increasingly porous,” claims Madrigal, “in the sense that more things will enter them, and more things will leave. In the case of Energy, for example, the excess produced by high efficiency solar panels on the roof will enable its storage and emission onto the grid to be sold to the electricity company. Houses will be designed to have a minimal impact on the environment, or rather, they will contribute to preserving our resources. In California, where I live, the state burns enormous quantities of energy to pump huge volumes of water from the north to the counties of the south. If everybody in the south had a house with a roof like the one we find ourselves under today, we would save a whole lot of money.”
Madrigal was referring to the offices of Endesa, the subsidiary of our Group that is the leader in the Spanish electricity market and the venue for this edition of #EnelFocusOn. The building, a genuine monument to architectural sustainability (it was awarded a triple certification for energy efficiency, environmental management and internal air quality) has among its many features a pitched roof with a rainwater collection system that uses the retrieved water to irrigate the surrounding greenery.
Concerning how our conception of transport will change, or how it is already changing, Madrigal used his own personal experience as an example. “Until not long ago I travelled to work in my car, which used traditional fuel. It could take up to three hours to travel 40 kilometres in traffic. It was a nightmare! Today I use a combination of bike sharing and public transport, which is almost completely electric. Now I don’t pollute and I arrive in half the time.”
The question with which Madrigal concluded his speech was about mobility and how it will be revolutionised by artificial intelligence. The journalist offered two examples of a future that is already palpable, and that has almost reached our homes before we have had time to turn around and acknowledge it: the driverless taxi service developed by Google that has just been presented in Phoenix, Arizona, and Amazon’s warehouse robots that are capable of moving goods around on the shelves in complete autonomy. The latter example not only translates into more efficient logistics but also, even more importantly, seeing as robots are able to work in the dark, means that the lights can stay off in the warehouses and this means energy savings.
Yes, energy is the key word for the future, concluded Madrigal prior to the debate with the influencers and the transfer by Endesa’s electric cars to The Cube, where the guests were able to preview our new Enel Innovation Hub two days ahead of its inauguration.
“Energy is the key and it is fundamental that people understand that renewables are a reality that function well and are efficient. This is something that Enel has understood and has made its own, transforming it into a company philosophy. We must all do the same, but unfortunately we never think seriously about energy. It happens only when we flick the switch and the lights don’t come on”
– Alexis C. Madrigal, journalist and expert on renewable energy