Electricity is the backbone of energy transition toward a sustainable system. And just as the backbone is connected with the other parts of the body, so electricity must integrate with all the components of the energy system and, more generally, of the economy: from transport to digital systems, from agriculture to water and waste management.
It is an issue that is fundamental and always topical, and for this reason it was at the center of the recent study carried out by the World Economic Forum (WEF)—with the contribution of important companies, including Enel—which was presented during the annual meeting in Davos.
For an Organic Vision
The report has the title “Electricity+: Electricity as the Backbone of an Integrated Energy System” and it aims to assess the state of the art and then identify opportunities and areas of improvement.
The starting point is that limiting the increase in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels requires a move to a net-zero emissions energy system—a requirement that can be met by taking electricity from clean sources and putting it in an efficient and integrated system.
While many efforts are understandably focused on energy generation, it’s equally important to consider the efficiency of the energy system as a whole. This system is the result of activities and technologies that are often conducted individually and without an organic vision: hence the urgent need for reasoned and coordinated integration.
Six crucial areas are identified in the paper:
- gas infrastructure,
- digital systems,
- hydrogen and liquid fuels,
- management of water resources,
- waste treatment and recycling.
In each of these areas, integration with electricity is able to bring about improvements in terms of efficiency, economic value (and therefore employment) and environmental impact (and consequently on health).
This applies to all aspects of the electricity system:
- generation—both large-scale and distributed,
- transmission and the modernization of the interconnection infrastructure,
- increasingly digitalized distribution,
- the storage necessary to ensure the stability of the system,
- the electrification of final applications.
Enel and Sustainable Agriculture
Four key economic sectors will benefit from this integration:
In this regard, we can cite the example of Genagricola, the largest Italian agricultural company, as a case study: thanks to an all-embracing collaboration launched with Enel, Genagricola aims to become the first Italian agricultural company with zero impact. The agreement provides for the installation of photovoltaic panels, the transition to a fleet of electric company vehicles and an integrated control system to optimize consumption.
The study then goes on to consider the possible applications of the model described. The analysis focuses in particular on three advanced but different markets: Spain, the United Kingdom and California.
They are representative examples of a model that can then be adapted, with the necessary adjustments, to other geographical and economic areas. For each of the three examples, the strengths are highlighted along with the objectives to be achieved and the interventions that are necessary for reaching them.
In general, in order to make truly organic integration between electricity and other areas of the economic system possible, it is necessary to stimulate:
- targeted technological research,
- the training of qualified personnel equipped with the necessary soft skills,
- innovation in business models,
- and above all, a functional organization for the management of all operations, as well as the active contribution of citizens, their behaviors and their market choices.
All of these aspects should be addressed according to the context and their level of evolution.
This study therefore provides the basis for starting a discussion at all levels in both the public and private sectors. It can be a stimulus for encouraging the creation of collaborations and a tool for governments in the adoption of appropriate policies, with a view to constructing an increasingly integrated, and therefore more efficient and sustainable system.
Accelerators for Energy Transition
The urgency of energy transition and the central role of electricity are topics of such importance that they have inspired several other WEF initiatives: two accelerators were launched at the meeting at Davos for directing the necessary actions over the next decade.
The accelerator programs, which are based on the collaboration of public and private contributors, each have two objectives:
- on the one hand, to encourage the implementation of concrete initiatives by governments and companies,
- on the other, to share the solutions that have proven to be effective both in terms of policies and business models.
The first accelerator, "Clean Power and Delivery Accelerator," will address the interconnected issues of the climate crisis, the energy transition and the protection of biodiversity.
This is why it is necessary both to increase production of clean energy—renewable sources and green hydrogen—and to improve the efficiency of the infrastructure, especially of the distribution networks.
The second, "Electrification Accelerator," will look at consumption: switching to electricity in sectors such as construction, transport and industry is a key part of the energy transition because it improves efficiency and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Electrification Benefits the System
“When you look at electrification, since electricity is cheaper, safer and environmentally sustainable, then you also start to consider it for new applications,” explained our CEO and General Manager Francesco Starace during the press conference organized by the WEF for the presentation of the accelerators.
“For example, the entire global automotive industry is moving toward an electric system, but so too are other sectors such as construction and heating.”
“However, this is not something that industry can do alone,” Starace added. “While utilities can act directly in the decarbonization of electricity generation, switching from gas heating to heat pumps is a choice for consumers: our role as a company is to help them understand its advantages and overcome their doubts.”
Extending the electrification of consumption needs investment and innovation, and so the role of institutions is fundamental: “For this to happen, decision-makers need to understand that the transition from fossil fuels to electricity benefits the entire system.”
The new initiative comes into play for all three aspects— economic, technological and institutional—as our CEO pointed out: “These are all areas in which a new accelerator for electrification will be able to create a database with examples of good practices that can help things to continue in the right direction and enable others to adopt them without having to reinvent everything every time.”