World Environment Day follows hot on the heels of Earth Day (April 22nd) and the International Day for Biological Diversity (May 22nd). Nature, or rather the challenges associated with it, has become increasingly talked about. But what about the solutions? Enel is committed, every single day, to driving the decarbonization process forward, to developing renewable sources, to protecting biodiversity, and, more generally, to guiding us ever more effectively and decisively towards a sustainable future.
“Only One Earth”: this is the slogan, the guiding principle, with which, during the Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972, the UN General Assembly launched the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and designated June 5th as World Environment Day. The first edition was held the following year and today it represents, more than anything, an opportunity to promote international environmental awareness and action. Over the years, the initiative has grown to become the largest global platform for raising awareness about environmental issues. With UNEP at the helm, more than 150 countries, along with major corporations, non-governmental organizations, communities and celebrities around the world, are adopting the World Environment Day brand to support causes aimed at protecting our planet.
The science is indisputable: global warming is putting the future of humanity at risk. Therefore, the energy transition process, i.e., generating electricity from renewable sources and using decarbonized electricity carriers in other sectors, is the only effective option for powering the world without compromising the environment. To this end, we are firmly engaged in designing and adopting solutions to protect the environment, natural resources and biodiversity, to combat climate change and to contribute to sustainable economic growth.
The challenge of nature
The balance that provides the basis for life on Earth is made up of animals, plants, microorganisms and the interactions between them. In a word, biodiversity. Depleting and losing diversity in the animal and plant world comes with severe consequences for the planet: for example, in terms of food and energy insecurity, increased susceptibility to natural disasters, and, from a macro standpoint, a decrease in the level of well-being for society as a whole. That is why Enel currently has numerous projects underway to protect and restore animal and plant biodiversity, particularly relating to the installation of new power plants. For example, thanks to the Wind Wildlife Challenge project, we are working to minimize the impact of wind farms on birdlife and bats. In 2022, we are planning a series of trials (in Italy, Spain, the United States and Canada) to test a range of innovative sensors and instruments. These devices are based on radar, video camera and ultrasound technologies that are capable of detecting, deterring, and possibly triggering the automatic shutdown of turbines that are potentially causing problems.
Promising results have also been obtained from tests conducted in recent months on so-called agrivoltaic plants in Spain, Greece and Italy: the coexistence of solar panels, crops and wildlife has created a virtuous circle of effects in terms of agricultural yield, animal welfare, protection of various endangered species (such as birds and other pollinators) and water consumption, without impacting negatively on energy output.
Protecting the land
Increasing levels of deforestation, overbuilding and urbanization, together with the increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, are damaging the land, causing hydrogeological instability and erosion, which in turn is making it dangerous to use. Prati armati® (literally “reinforced fields”), an initiative that’s been launched in Italy and is also set to be developed in Spain, is an example of how ancient wisdom and techniques can be harnessed to solve a modern problem: planting a seed mixture, composed of different deep-rooting herbaceous plants, to halt the process of soil erosion. These are non-genetically modified plants, with a root depth of up to 4-5 meters, that are resistant to aridity and are able to adapt to any type of soil and weather conditions. Thanks to the method used, once sown, they take root very easily. It’s a natural, sustainable solution that is able to stem the erosion process while simultaneously facilitating the renaturating of problematic slopes, fostering biodiversity and accelerating ecological succession, i.e., the process by which different species succeed those that are in a particular area and modify it. And that’s not all: the species used are also able to capture up to 400 per cent more carbon dioxide than other plant types.
The raw materials of the circular economy
Another activity that’s key to safeguarding the environment is the promotion of the circular economy. We’re doing this on several fronts: one example is the circularization of raw materials. Decarbonization and the circular economy are areas that our Group has been putting significant effort into for many years now, focusing on renewable sources, electrification, and applying a circular approach along the entire materials supply chain. Areas include: the issue of targets and shared innovation with our suppliers, the Gigafactory’s circular innovations for photovoltaic systems in Sicily, the second life of electric car batteries in Melilla and the full reuse of plastics from old generation smart meters to produce new ones.
For example, WaVE (Water value enhancement) is a project aimed at saving water in new facilities, starting with our planet’s driest regions (such as the Atacama Desert in Chile). The purpose is to reduce the specific water consumption, fresh water extraction and the use of potable water for industrial purposes. How? By reusing wastewater, desalinating seawater or even reusing wastewater from other facilities, and in so doing saving precious fresh water. At the same time, we are devising and implementing various solutions to improve the sustainability of the raw materials used in wind and solar power systems, one example of which is using recycled polymer panels rather than those made of glass.
These are just some of the projects Enel is working on for the future. Our long-term goal - ten years ahead of the objectives established by the Paris Agreement - is to achieve “net zero emissions” by 2040, and to halt biodiversity loss by 2030. In order to achieve this, our approach is to devise solutions that are inspired by – and support – nature, are cost-effective, and which generate environmental, social, and economic benefits.