The circular economy in the energy transition

The circular economy in the energy transition


The new commitment to fighting climate change and launching the energy transition is opening up an era of infinite new opportunities. Energy that is accessible to everyone will increasingly have to be produced in a sustainable and inclusive way.

And in order to make this happen, Enel is speeding up the processes to achieve fully sustainable electrification while respecting the environment and natural resources.


Tackling epoch-making challenges

This pathway also entails tackling big issues linked to the use of materials along the entire production chain, as well as the development of new skills. This is the case, for example, with the growing necessity and demand for batteries. Within this scenario Enel has set in motion a large number of innovation projects and partnerships for developing the use of new materials and extending the useful life of those currently in operation. This is in addition to training and reskilling people to meet the requirements of future energy scenarios, involving the entire supply chain.


An uncompromising commitment

The Group’s business model embraces the Paris Agreement (COP 21) and the new commitments to limiting the average increase in global temperatures to within 1.5°C. The targets also include the reduction of direct greenhouse gas emissions by 80% for the year 2030.

Enel has decided to follow the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with a particular focus on climate action. In July 2021 the Group joined the European Raw Material Alliance, a European Union initiative launched at the end of 2020 with the goal of ensuring access to the raw materials necessary for the European Green New Deal, the huge continent-wide project for achieving climate neutrality by 2050.


From sourcing to end-of-life

In line with these principles, the Group has adopted a circular economy concept, a business approach that is not just limited to reducing the environmental impact of operations but which also takes into account the origin of the materials used, maximizing the commitment to recycled materials in the construction of infrastructure and the recovery of products and materials at the end of their useful life. With that in mind, Enel has embarked upon a transformation together with the most advanced utilities, shifting away from fuels towards materials and electric energy.


The materials strategy

As far as materials are concerned, Enel’s strategy is based on the five pillars of the circular economy that involve a new way of designing and managing processes, products and infrastructure, extending the life of products, optimizing the use of products and services, focusing on sharing or the transformation of products into services. The final step is that of completing the circle: in other words, doing whatever’s necessary in order to reuse or recover component materials when a power plant, a battery or a device like an electronic meter reaches the end of its operational life.


The actions Enel Green Power is taking

This isn’t only happening at Group level. Individual Business lines are also committed to applying the principles of the circular economy. Enel Green Power, for example, is involved in reducing the impact along the entire the value chain, by tracking the materials used or establishing agreements with suppliers, both to verify the footprint of their productive processes and to ensure respect for human rights. The Group has also promoted and launched the Global Alliance for Sustainable Energy which brings together 17 international organizations to redefine the concept of sustainable energy and work to achieve short and medium-term goals, like circular economy and design, safeguarding human rights, reducing water consumption and eliminating CO2 emissions.

Moreover, Enel Green Power is working on developing new processes and technologies for the recycling and reuse of photovoltaic modules, wind turbines and batteries. Enel Green Power is also involved in the European Photorama program, which was launched in May 2021 with a view to automating the process of dismantling photovoltaic modules. Furthermore, the 3SUN Factory in Catania, one of Europe’s largest facilities for the production of photovoltaic modules, is developing new productive processes to use recycled materials and increase products’ circularity. The Wind New Life project, which was launched in Italy and Spain, is focused on studying and validating new methods for obtaining secondary materials from wind turbines at the end of their working life, while it also collaborates with startups and global players in the development of sustainable, more effective and recyclable materials for wind turbines. As for reuse, in Spain trials are underway for employing used electric car batteries in stationary electricity storage systems.


Enel X’s projects

The key focus of Enel X is on digital technologies, second life and the recycling of recharging and energy storage systems, geared towards both mobility and industrial and residential applications. The company belongs to the European Battery Alliance, which was launched in 2017 as a think tank to develop research, development and battery innovation, as well as the Global Battery Alliance, which was created as an initiative of the World Economic Forum. Moreover, it is also directly involved in an IPCEI (Important Project of Common European Interest) with a program to develop a pan-European production chain that has financial backing of 3.2 billion euros between now and 2031.

As part of this particular IPCEI, three research projects have been launched: the first concerns ultrafast charging for electric vehicles, the second the development of software capable of optimizing industrial scale energy storage plants and the third for new industrial solutions for logistics, transport, storage and automation in the dismantling of batteries at the end of their useful life. Enel X tests new generation storage systems for industrial and residential clients at its Storage X-Lab in Catania, while a second Storage X-Lab is under construction in Rome. This will be dedicated to new solutions for integrating photovoltaic, storage and charging systems in commercial and industrial applications. Finally, the company will take part, alongside the Aeroporti di Roma (ADR) and the Fraunhofer Institute, in the PIONEER project to develop a second life energy storage system for use in airports.


The circular management of networks and infrastructure

Lastly, Enel Global Infrastructure & Networks has created an innovation pathway to respond to the challenge of the new scenario, in which the role of electricity distribution system operators becomes that of fully-fledged orchestrators of various players that interact in the energy ecosystem. This scenario will no longer consist of an electricity grid with solely mono-directional flows of energy from production sites to consumption destinations. Rather, bi-directional flows will require the management and distribution of energy to and from “prosumers”, consumers who are also producers of energy thanks to their distributed renewable plants, micro-generation and vehicle-to-grid systems. The significant commitment to the circular economy has seen Enel Global Infrastructure & Networks embark on a challenging pathway to redesign its business processes, and its own value chain, adopting a model that reduces environmental impacts and maximizes the recovery of products and materials at the end of their useful life. The standout example of closing the circle is the Green Open Meter project, which is a virtuous example of applying the principles of the circular economy to our main energy-measuring tool. The new meters, which are produced entirely from regenerated plastic sourced from disused and 79% recyclable meters, make it possible to minimize the environmental impact, to the benefit of the customer, the local area and the environment. This marks a huge stride forward towards an increasingly sustainable industrial model that is innovative and efficient along the entire value chain, and that includes partners and suppliers.


The positive effects on the environment and society

And what are the benefits of these projects? Focusing on the value chain – from the extraction of raw materials to the end-of-life management of products – has direct consequences on protecting the environment and biodiversity. These actions pave the way for a new economy that is more sustainable, with new ways of using energy and new professional skills, which Enel is committed to developing internally through ongoing training that is open to all of its people in the various contexts in which the organization works.

Moreover, the Group has launched a pathway centered on Open Innovability, in which new technologies and knowledge are pooled and shared with other companies, startups and the academic world so that they become a common good that benefits everyone, promoting sustainable, highly effective and reusable solutions.