The year 2008 was just yesterday, yet in some ways it is already ancient history. It was a year when most of the world was still convinced that global warming was an invention, when the concept of sustainability was the remit of philosophers and petroleum was burnt with no consideration for the consequences that would soon begin to make themselves felt. This is because, as Voltaire wrote: “men argue, nature acts.” And unfortunately, nature does so with extreme phenomena: desertification, climate tropicalisation and the melting of the polar ice caps.
In 2008, that year which is so close and yet so far away, was a time when, as Francesco Starace, CEO and General Manager of Enel, noted, “renewables were considered to be of secondary importance.” There were, however, some people who decided to act instead of argue. They created a business to harness the power of the sun, the wind, the water and the bowels of the earth in a way that no one had yet managed. Their visionary approach imagined a future free from coal and petrol. And, after they had imagined it, they worked to make it reality, one plant at a time, one dream at a time.
That business was Enel Green Power.
Ten years on, Enel Green Power, which began as a startup with pioneering ideas, is the global leader in the renewables sector, with 43+ GW of managed capacity and 100 TWh of energy generated by over 1200 plants in five continents. Furthermore, the business is also a powerful accelerator for sustainable development. This concept has been divided into 17 crucial goals for the planet’s survival by the United Nations Agenda 2030. These goals cover various sectors which range from education to big data, from inclusion to employment, from a revolutionary way of managing power sites and their relationships with the local communities to projects for bringing energy, and in a certain sense life, to the billion people, mostly in Africa, still without it.
“The dream has come true. The success of Enel Green Power is due to its having always been a little ahead of everyone else. This is in addition to being curious about the new things to come, seeing them as already being outdated, and so pushing on ahead again. The special thing was building a system that brought together extraordinary people around a vision, one that at the time was pretty idealistic”
Francesco Starace, Enel CEO and General Manager
To mark the first 10 exciting years of the dream that came true, #Renewables4All, which was held on 5 December in Rome, focussed on the on-going energy transition and future prospects for the sector, in the presence of a select panel of influencers from four continents. The keynote speakers were Antonio Cammisecra, CEO of Enel Green Power and Patrick Dixon. He is the President of the research institute Global Change Ltd. and the author of 16 books on global macrotrends. He is also an internationally renowned expert on themes such as innovation, trend analysis and corporate strategy. Not only that, he was included by the authoritative site Thinkers 50 as one of the 20 most influential management intellectuals in the world in 2005.
“Our behaviour over the next 20 years will determine the future of humanity for the next two thousand,” Dixon stated emphatically. “Today we already have the technology necessary to save the planet: for example, an hour of solar light transformed into energy could potentially fuel all human activity for a year and a 40 km park of solar panels could provide energy for the whole of Europe. The point is: can we build these structures before it is too late?”
It is a pressing question that Antonio Cammisecra believes each of us will contribute to answering: “the essential stimulus for change – said the Enel Green Power CEO – will come from people, from our customers, who will make their choices in an increasingly informed way. They will want renewables not just because they cost less but also because they are socially more acceptable.”
Echoing this, Dixon is convinced that “the future will not be shaped by technological innovation or politics alone, but mostly by emotions and by the passion they generate. People are not going to stop throwing plastic into the sea because of legislation, but because they were moved by the sight of a whale suffocating on rubbish bags.”
And, talking of passion, these first 10 years were only the beginning for Enel Green Power: “we have to keep our desire to explore, change and critique what we are doing,” said Cammisecra. “We don’t just sell energy, we sell a solution for sustainability with the pride of being the world number one.” Sustainability, obviously, is no longer a philosophical concept but a way of doing business.
“Even when building a renewable energy plant, we are conscious of making an impact and so we work to reduce that to a minimum. We are now used to seeing the plant, its surrounding environment and the local communities as a single ecosystem, where it becomes our duty to create shared value. Renewable energy is already an outdated concept for us: today we want to talk about sustainable energy”
Antonio Cammisecra, CEO of Enel Green Power
Despite its present size, the large Enel Green Power team has kept the spirit of the startup it once was, and is aware of the new challenges that need tackling. They include macro trends that have become unstoppable, like urbanisation, the increase in population, the growth of emerging economies and the rise in global demand. They all require an increased production of electricity from renewable sources at a faster pace (an urgency that is essential to avoid the apocalyptic scenarios caused by global warming forecast by climatologists) and an improvement in the storage, in order to distribute that electricity in the most efficient way possible. Above all, they require a ceaseless commitment to innovation, just like a startup. This will allow Enel Green Power to make the most of the infinite business opportunities offered by a sector that was a niche market in 2008 and a decade later is a solid reality expanding at the speed of light. Solar and wind technology are becoming more competitive by the day, when compared to conventional thermal plants (just six years ago the installation of a solar plant cost 2.6 million euro per megawatt, while today that cost has dropped to 0.8 million euro). At the same time, consumers are becoming increasingly responsible and aware of the environmental impact.
Enel Green Power is perfectly positioned to act on these opportunities and, like all pioneers, is able to move faster ahead and determine trends. It is already doing so, for example, by testing new smart solar panels, the latest generation wind turbine blades, high efficiency storage systems, future marine energy and IoT technology plants. The aim is to reach an additional installed capacity of 4 GW per year for the next three years.
Yes, nature acts, but if mankind moves faster it could save the planet and with it its own children.