The European energy transition: Eurelectric’s leadership

The European energy transition: Eurelectric’s leadership

The annual Power Summit of the European Union of the Electricity Industry in Florence: this is how it has changed under president Francesco Starace, who has now handed over the reins to Sweden’s Magnus Hall

Leadership as a vision, a guide for change, as the ability to make a mark on the real world – this was the main theme at Eurelectric’s annual Power Summit (Florence, 20-21 May). The organisation represents Europe’s electric industry, providing a voice for more than 3,500 companies from 32 countries. The subject of leadership was almost inevitable a week before the election of a new European Parliament, but it went beyond merely electoral deadlines, taking in a scenario that includes the fight against climate change and the promotion of sustainability as crucial factors in the future of the planet and the business world. It’s also a question of a new leadership that can guide the countries and enterprises of the Old World towards making coherent choices that will combat a global emergency. 


Eurelectric's transformation

The Florence Power Summit also marked the end of the organisation’s two-year presidency held by Enel CEO Francesco Starace. In 2017 Starace began his mandate with the publication of a Manifesto based on three key themes – changing the general mentality, embracing the future and transforming the present. As a result, “Eurelectric has shown itself to be as important as energy itself,” said Starace in his final speech as president, prior to handing over to his successor Magnus Hall, President and CEO of the Swedish company Vattenfall. As a successor, Hall represents continuity, after the organisation’s relaunch with a rebranding and rationalisation of the internal structure. “They have been two complex, demanding years, and I’m proud to have led the organisation through a profound transformation where electrification and decarbonisation have become the sector’s watchwords,” said the outgoing president. 

After two years, Eurelectric is now united and far more aware of its front-line role in the energy transition. Its leadership has also had an effect on the choices made by Europe, a continent that is now at the global cutting edge in the fight against climate change, in both the results achieved in reducing CO2 emissions and the decarbonisation objectives it has set. Indeed, this year the European Commission has approved important directives like the Clean Energy Package and the Mobility Package. “European institutions have listened to us, and it’s been a constructive dialogue,” said Starace, while the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, recalled the demonstrations staged by young people supporting the climate that have filled European city centres over the past year, the millennials led by Greta Thunberg demanding a change in pace in the war against climate change. 


A new narrative for citizens

A new leadership needs a new narrative to inform European citizens about the benefits to be gained from electrification, not only in terms of the environment but also in terms of access to new technology, new services and new jobs – it is said that 1.2 million green jobs have already been created. This is described in “Leading the Charge”, a series of 18 mini-documentaries produced by the BBC for Eurelectric and screened for the first time at the Florence event. The project confirms the electric industry’s commitment to sustainability and seeks to highlight the ways Europe’s leadership can also make a real difference to citizens’ lives.

The arrival of new players and the development of innovative business models means the sector is changing quickly. “There is increasingly complexity,” said Starace, who believes that “the distribution networks will play a key role,” as they digitalise and transform themselves to accept increasing amounts of renewable energy from thousands of distribution installations.

“Electrification is the most significant enabling factor in a carbon-neutral future for Europe. We want to collaborate with industry and politicians to accelerate the electrification of transport, heating and industry,” said Magnus Hall in his first speech as president, adding that we must “speed up the energy transition” in every sector. “Each generation fights its particular battles. The enemy now is climate change, but we have a solution – electrification. The next 10 years will be crucial”, said Kristian Ruby, general secretary of Eurelectric.

The subject of leadership was touched upon in almost all the speeches. Scientist Johan Rockström, head of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, described the impact of CO2 emissions on climate change, concluding that “We know the right technology and the solution to the climate emergency – now we must combine this with the right leadership.”

In the opinion of Bjarke Møller, director of Think Tank Europa, “Safeguarding the environment should be something that excites people – it’s like creating a new project for humanity on the Moon.”


Speeding up the transition to renewables and makin it inclusive

All the speakers agreed on the need to speed up the transition to renewables. And if decarbonising electricity generation is the key, then interconnection, developing storage technology and smart grid flexibility are the solutions to the intermittent supply problem associated with sources like solar and wind power.

The transformations taking place in the sector are, and will continue to be, disruptive, and so they must be “handled with care.” That is why Eurelectric believes it is vital to talk about a “just transition,” i.e. one that is fair and inclusive, and which leaves no-one behind and does not forget those who fear the changes taking place, or who do not understand their urgency. To carry this forward we must explain the benefits the changes will provide for all citizens – not just one section of the population – starting with the effects on daily life. One example is e-mobility, a laboratory for the future that is undergoing constant change – cars will become mobile batteries that enable their owners to supply energy to the grid when their car is stationary, enabling them to extract value in totally new ways. 

“Going beyond the traditional business model means changing consumer experience,” says Enel X CEO Francesco Venturini. In a panel on the subject of “digital retailers of the future” he gave the example of what Amazon has done with “one-click” purchasing to explain the difference between a real “digital strategy” and one that is simply “data-driven.” 

The impact of digitalisation on the energy market was the central theme of several parallel events hosted at the Enel stand. Taking part in these “Power Talks” were Ernesto Ciorra, our Group’s Chief Innovability Officer, Roberto Deambrogio, Director of Communications, and Giuseppe Montesano, Deputy Director of the Enel Foundation. Proceedings in Florence were also enlivened by a number of “boot camps” and real-time surveys that used the Eurelectric App to register participants’ opinions on a range of subjects. The most frequent reply to the question about the most significant obstacle to investment was the uncertainty of the regulatory framework, another theme involving leadership. “But the stability of the rules is a problem in a sector that’s changing very quickly,” said Enel Green Power CEO Antonio Cammisecra to the panel on technologies for accelerating decarbonisation. “It’s more important to anticipate change by collaborating with the authorities and policy makers. Stable and easy is a thing of the past – the future won’t be stable”.