It’s like playing ice hockey: the best players don’t skate towards where the puck is, they skate to where the puck is moving.
Stephanie Kelton, professor of economics at Stony Brook University in New York, used a sporting metaphor to introduce her keynote speech at the 19th edition of #EnelFocusOn, which was dedicated to the topic of “Sparking the green recovery”. This was also the first entirely digital FocusOn event, taking place, as it did, in webinar format.
Every crisis can create opportunities
In his opening address Antonio Cammisecra, CEO of Enel Green Power, underlined that today we find ourselves facing a serious economic crisis and it is now time to start thinking about the recovery. He went on to outline the two main reasons why this needs to be a green recovery. On the one hand we mustn’t forget that prior to the pandemic it was already clear to everybody that the main global emergency was the climate crisis. On the other, “there are few sectors like the energy industry, and in particular renewable energies, that can combine the urgency of the economic recovery and that of completely transforming the level of sustainability of the modern economy”.
Every crisis can create opportunities, explained Kelton. Today anyone who still thinks that protecting jobs and safeguarding the climate are two contradictory positions is mistaken. Indeed, the opposite is true. “To secure our collective future on this planet” requires “investing on an unprecedented scale in green tech and renewables, and we’ll have to do it in a way that leaves no one behind”, said Kelton, who went on to namecheck the Green New Deal, the plan for massive public investment supported by numerous politicians and activists. Its name explicitly recalls President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to the Great Depression of the 1930s. This was the New Deal, with which the Green version also shares a focus on the creation of new jobs. “At the end of the day, there’s no escaping it: this transformation is going to require an enormous commitment of financial resources from the public sphere.”
Don’t stop the energy transition
In her keynote speech Kelton traced the similarities between the health emergency and the climate crisis. Both are problems that concern the entire planet and, as such, require global solutions. “Just as we have to fight Covid-19 through collective action, we also need to tackle climate change together”. According to Kelton, “the US and other advanced industrialised countries,” which “have been polluting at high levels for at least a century”, have a responsibility to help spark investments in poorer nations in the energy transition, for example, helping them to avoid making the same mistakes and to pass directly to clean energies. At the same time the international community must develop a strategy to help the economies that depend on fossil fuels, for example through the UN’s Green Climate Fund.
The energy transition concerns the entire world, albeit in different ways depending on the contexts, explained Cammisecra. For example, in Africa the sun and the wind can bring electricity to a significant proportion of the population that are currently without it. Moreover, in today’s energy market, the active role of customers is becoming increasingly important. Customers can make a significant contribution if they continue, as they have already started doing, to prioritise sustainable products in terms of clean electricity generation and raw materials. “If we become more aware of the power of consumers, then there will be no reason for companies not to pursue a strategy that values sustainability,” Cammisecra concluded during the webinar that also involved Stefano Pogutz, Director of Sustainability Vertical, Bocconi 4 Innovation at Milan’s Bocconi University, Kelly Speakes Backman, CEO of the Energy Storage Association, Sônia Araripe, Director and Editor of Plurale, and Pablo Bustamante, founder of GEOCyL.
Faith in public institutions
In her most recent book, The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and How to Build a Better Economy (which was published last month), Kelton disproved a number of common misconceptions concerning deficit and public spending while claiming that state intervention in the economy must become central once again. At the #EnelFocusOn event she also explained that the crisis “has strengthened our faith in public institutions: people see government as a force for good, as part of the solution and, in most countries, as competent guardians of the public welfare. Faith and trust in public institutions is vital as we embark on the green revolution”. Public investment in cleantech, in fact, can produce benefits not only in terms of employment and welfare, but also in the private sector. “We have to get beyond this idea that we have that the public and the private must live in tension with one another: we need to view the relationship between the two in a new way”.
The pandemic revealed the numerous vulnerabilities of our development model: just think of transport in the big cities. It’s an opportunity to rethink the economy and the energy system to create urban centres that are more sustainable and resilient.
The leadership of Enel Green Power
Not to seize such an opportunity would be unforgivable, according to the CEO of Enel Green Power. Within this context our Group intends to redouble its efforts to pursue the plan launched some time ago to close all our coal-fired power stations, construct new renewable energy plants and ensure a fair energy transition for everyone. Another available tool is hydrogen, which can be used in sectors where electrification could be laborious, but it can only be defined as clean energy if it is produced using renewable sources, an aspect that is frequently forgotten.
Our Group’s commitment to sustainability was also praised by Stephanie Kelton, who observed that “Enel has achieved a global leadership in clean energy because it is a company that saw very early on where things were headed.” It “skated towards the puck,” just like the best ice hockey players.