COP28 confirms: accelerating the energy transition requires renewables – but also resilient and flexible grids

COP28 confirms: accelerating the energy transition requires renewables – but also resilient and flexible grids

Collaboration at all levels is essential for the energy transition. This became abundantly clear during the recently concluded COP28 in Dubai, where, for the first time, all 198 countries called for a shift away from fossil fuels in energy systems. The key role of renewables and resilient, digitalized power grids took center stage.

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Climate summits are a complex web of divergent positions among participating countries, but they always play a major role in capturing global attention and creating a space for international dialogue and cooperation. It is with this in mind that world leaders, representatives of international organizations and private companies – including, of course, representatives from our Group – met recently in Dubai for the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28), eventually managing to arrive at a significant outcome, even if considered by many to be insufficiently ambitious: a document agreed upon by all 198 countries that aims to promote a shift away from fossil fuels in energy systems "in a just, orderly and equitable manner" and to accelerate action within this decade to achieve Net Zero by 2050, a goal now considered imperative by the scientific community.

The overriding goal, however, is still to limit global warming to within 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, as stipulated in the 2015 Paris Agreement, and two key words emerged during this COP28: renewables and grids.

 

Renewables and grids

The only certainty, as was reiterated in Dubai, is that limiting climate change requires cutting global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. Enel Group's trajectory takes us ahead of the targets required by the European Union and those set in the final agreement reached at the COP, as confirmed in our new Strategic Plan 2024-2026: we will close our last coal-fired power plant as early as 2027 and aim to achieve net zero emissions in 2040 – a full 10 years ahead of the deadline set by the European Union and COP28.

It is increasingly evident, as was very clear in Dubai, that two basic and complementary tools must contribute to reducing emissions. On the one hand, the renewable energy mix, the rapid growth of which must continue to accelerate. This is in line with our new strategic plan, which foresees 13.4 GW of additional renewable capacity by 2026, thanks to more than 12 billion euros of gross investment, or about one third of our total investment.

On the other hand, distribution networks: in order to fully enable the integration of intermittent renewable sources, such as wind and solar, efficient, flexible and resilient grids are indeed needed. This means, for example, digitalized, intelligent networks: smart grids, but also storage systems to store the electricity produced and release it at times of highest demand. This is what we need to focus on: precisely what our Group is doing, having allocated more than half of its total gross investment (more than 18 billion euros) to grids in its new strategic plan.

 

The renewed value of power grids

Several events at COP28 touched on this central theme, most notably the panel titled "Green Powered Future Mission (GPFM) Innovation", which was attended by Viviana Vitto, Head of Market Strategy & Regulatory Analysis at Enel Grids & Innovability®, our Group's division dedicated to grids and innovation.

The GPFM is an initiative led by Italy, the United Kingdom and China – with the participation of institutions and companies including our own – which aims to foster public-private partnerships to demonstrate the ability of electricity systems to effectively integrate up to 100% intermittent renewable energy by 2030, keeping the energy system safe and cost-effective: a mission fully in line with both our strategy and the ambitions of COP28.

"The model, role and responsibilities of distribution grid operators are changing. The transformation is due in part to the increasing presence of prosumers. On our grids, for example, in 2022 we exceeded 1.4 million producer-consumers," Vitto explained. "But it’s also due to electrification, with increased consumption in new areas, such as mobility."

To meet these challenges, Vitto continued, "we need a regulatory framework and market models that favor early investment, because if we don’t move forward by preparing the grids, we cannot then increase the value of the contribution of renewable sources."

 

Digital solutions from Europe to Latin America

Enel was also among the panelists discussing "3DEN Initiative: Implementing Tomorrow's Smart Power Systems", in which Viviana Vitto outlined our Group's role in the 3DEN (Digital Demand-Driven Electricity Networks) project.

Led by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and funded by the Italian Ministry of the Environment and Energy Security, 3DEN was created to encourage the modernization of energy systems, with a focus on distributed generation and with pilot projects in developing countries. One of these is the one launched in Colombia by Enel Grids.

"We were pioneers in the digitalization of electricity grids, especially with second-generation electronic meters," Vitto explained, "and now we’re transferring that experience to other countries in order to accelerate the energy transition." That’s exactly what we’re doing in a pilot program in the metropolitan area of Bogotá, which is experiencing a sharp increase in electricity demand. "So we need to manage the grid more flexibly, improving our relationship with our customers," Vitto concluded.

So we decided to adapt an innovation we’re experimenting with in Europe to the Colombian context: the DERMS (Distributed Energy Resource Management System), a digital solution to optimize the interaction between distributed resources and grid operations almost in real time."

 

More efficient, resilient and digitalized grids

The centrality of grids and the new role of operators – priority issues in our 2024-2026 strategic plan – were among the most frequently addressed topics during COP28. Daniele Agostini, Head of Energy and Climate Policies and European Affairs at Enel, also spoke about them in the panel titled "SEforALL Energy Compacts: Advancing Commitments towards SDG7 from Billions to Trillions", dedicated to investments for the seventh of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), SDG7: "Affordable and Clean Energy for All."

Investing in grids, as Agostini explained, is critical for at least three reasons:

  • enabling distributed generation, produced mainly from renewable sources;
  • increasing levels of digitalization, with future benefits for everyone – starting with customers – both in terms of cost and service quality;
  • strengthening the resilience of infrastructure, particularly against extreme weather events made more frequent by climate change.

It is therefore essential to enable grids to meet these challenges to ensure the continuity and security of energy supplies under increasingly challenging climate scenarios.

So if renewables are the irreplaceable basis of the energy transition, efficient grids are equally essential to capture its full potential, as Ludovico Del Vecchio, posted by Enel Green Power to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), reiterated in Dubai at the EGP-led renewable energy event organized by the Alliance for Industry Decarbonization (AFID), the IRENA-coordinated alliance for decarbonizing the industrial sector.

 

A new collaboration

COP28 was a significant event for Enel for other reasons as well: Endesa, our Group's Spanish company, was awarded "Energy Transition Changemaker" in the Renewables category for the new project with which we aim to transform the Andorra (Aragon) thermoelectric power plant into a hub for renewable energy, while creating the conditions for socioeconomic development in the region.

Also officially launched in Dubai was the Utilities for Net Zero Alliance (UNEZA), formed under the auspices of IRENA, with the support of prominent partners such as the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the endorsement of the United Nations through the UN High-Level Climate Champions.

The alliance currently brings together 31 members, including 25 large electricity companies (including Enel), who share an awareness of the decisive role that industry can play in promoting a just, sustainable and inclusive energy transition.

Therefore, UNEZA's mission is to create a space for meetings and collaboration to foster dialogue and the emergence of new partnerships, both among companies and with institutional players, perfectly in line with the spirit of COP28: the goal is to remove obstacles on the path towards the achievement of net zero emissions by 2050, with a focus on the development of renewables and infrastructure.

We’re confident that this new initiative will attract the interest of other important partners and bring new strength to the energy transition: the only way to ensure a sustainable future for generations to come is through the commitment of all stakeholders, public and private, from all countries around the world. By working together, we can.