Circular economy

Enel’s pathway began many years ago and today the circular economy is a fully-fledged driver of business strategy and an accelerator for long-term growth along the entire value chain.

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In order to apply circularity systematically as a strategic driver of business, Enel is taking a complete and integrated approach in all business areas and involving suppliers and customers in rethinking the model, thereby creating connections and synergies throughout its ecosystem.

The circular approach is applied in all the main phases of an asset’s life: from design to production, all the way to end of life (management of sites, equipment, materials and infrastructure to identify new life cycles through reuse, upcycling, refurbishing and recycling).

 

Enel Green Power and Thermal Generation

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The value chain for the main technologies related to the energy transition, such as photovoltaic, wind power and energy storage, is being redesigned. On the one hand, this is in order to boost the circularity of input materials and, on the other, to identify solutions to maximize the value recovered at end of life.

At our 3SUN factory we are experimenting by introducing recycled materials into production processes and completely reviewing the design of photovoltaic modules in order to boost their circularity. We are designing panels with above-average efficiency and conversion rates, to facilitate a reduction in the quantity of materials consumed and the quantity of land occupied per kWh of energy produced. The recycling rate of photovoltaic modules is already one of the highest on the market for electric and electronic equipment, with recovery percentages for component materials – glass, aluminum and copper –ranging from 80% to 90% of the total weight of the module. On the downside, existing recycling technologies are not yet able to recover the more precious or rare elements contained in the modules, such as silicon or silver. This is why Enel is investing in innovation projects to test new technologies for recovering these materials.

From the perspective of making the wind power industry more circular, we are collaborating with startups and leading players in order to promote the development of new, more sustainable, high-performance and recyclable materials. For example, we are studying new towers for wind generators that are made entirely of wood, which are lighter, easily transportable and characterized by a negative contribution to CO2 emissions, as well as new models of turbine blades based on the application of textile materials commonly used in the nautical sector.

As for energy storage systems, we are advancing projects aimed at identifying innovative technological solutions as an alternative to chemical storage in order to mitigate the consumption of critical materials. Solutions include flow batteries, new chemicals that do not require critical materials and new non-electrochemical storage technologies.

 

Enel Grids

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Circular by design

We are applying a “circular by design” approach right from the initial design phase for grid assets: this makes it possible to rethink both the design of assets and the materials used in order to increase their sustainability. This strategy has enabled us to experiment with new solutions that consume fewer polluting materials, such as cement. In Chile and Colombia solutions have been explored in which concrete recovered from old wind towers has been used as a basis for building new towers that will be installed from 2022. In Brazil, Colombia and Spain the project for decontaminating PCB oil and regenerating it for use in the grid or in other industries has continued, bringing in a profit of 2.63 million euros, in addition to savings of 3.8 kt of CO2 and extending the useful life of current assets.

 

Grid mining

With the goal of maximizing the recovery of material at the end of an asset’s life cycle, Enel applies a strategy known as “grid mining.” This considers the grid assets as a “mine” of materials that can be recovered and reintroduced into the production cycle. Beginning with an analysis of the value chain, new business processes are identified for recovering precious and rare metals present in obsolete infrastructure. This is in order to minimize environmental impacts by focusing on the reuse and regeneration of materials at the end of their life and to maximize the positive impacts at local level and the creation of open ecosystems to promote the scalability of solutions. The first grid mining project was the “Circular Open Meter” which was launched in Italy and Brazil. It entails recovering the polycarbonate from the decommissioned meters to give it a new life. As part of the plan to replace the first-generation counters, 80 thousand units of the circular Open Meter were produced in Italy in 2021.

 

 

Enel X Global Retail

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In 2021 Enel X Global Retail continued its commitment to push the market towards higher standards that can serve as an example and a driver for other companies, both suppliers and customers.

 

Sustainability Boosting Program – the Circular Economy Score

Enel X Global Retail provides specific innovative consultancy tools that can help companies and public administrative bodies in plotting and developing sustainability pathways. The entire process, which is unique in terms of its thoroughness and innovativeness, is called the “Sustainability Boosting Program.” It is designed to promote circularity and social inclusion. When it comes to the circular economy, the starting point of the Sustainability Boosting Program is the Circular Economy Score. This measures the starting level of circularity of the solutions in the portfolio. By the end of 2021 more than 50 thousand solutions had been assessed in four different countries. The methodology for calculating the figure is based on the CirculAbility® Model. Each product is analyzed in terms of its upstream and downstream production processes in order to identify solutions for boosting its circularity. This is followed by the “circular intelligence” phase (an analysis of the market context, innovation and startup scouting) to pinpoint opportunities for boosting the circularity of various solutions, thereby completing the Circular Economy Boosting Program.

 

Enel X Circular Economy Client Report

In 2021 some 170 CE Reports were finalized. Through these, companies were provided with solutions that, if adopted, can generate potential annual savings of more than 17,000 tons of CO2 and 76 GWh of energy. In Italy important partnerships have been developed with the main strategic organizations on the ground. The goal is to promote the circular economy as a sustainable business model that can create economically beneficial and competitive opportunities, both for local areas, client companies and partners around the world.

Enel X Circular Economy PA (Public Administrative Bodies) Report

In order to accompany public administrative bodies in a more sustainable and circular way forward, Enel X has developed an assessment model. Its aim is to verify the circular maturity of a municipality and identify a series of solutions to deploy in the field as part of a roadmap of tangible measures that have an impact on the ground. The verification analysis takes place on two levels: firstly, concerning the entire urban/city perimeter and, secondly, relating to one or more specific sites (buildings and public structures) with a focus on energy circularity.

 

Circular City Index

Furthermore, the Circular City Index was made available in Italy in 2021. This innovative tool can measure the level of urban circularity of municipalities identifying both strengths and areas for potential improvement. To define a level of urban circularity four areas are analyzed: digitalization, environment and energy, mobility, and waste. Each is given a specific score based on comparisons with European and national guidelines and regulations, assessing the rate of adoption of policies and infrastructure that enable an area to begin its circular transition.

Market

The Market unit also plays an essential role in the relationship with clients through its continuous attention to their needs and the commitment to producing quality products and services.

In Iberia in 2021 we created the participatory "GEA" platform. This enables an exchange of perspectives on social and environmental uses, allowing customers to take part in sustainability and circularity projects to improve their community and the planet. The pilot project involved around 10 thousand customers.

In Italy the "Digital Register Email" has been developed in collaboration with the technological partner Infocert, enabling us to provide customers with a certified temporary email post box to ensure secure communications for formal notifications. Moreover, by replacing the physical transmission with digital delivery, there is a positive impact that is measurable in tons of paper and CO2 saved.

Find out more in the chapter on the “Circular economy” in the “Our performance” section.

For further details:

Circular cities. Cities of tomorrow

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Circular Economy Enel Position Paper

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Circular economy

Enel X’s commitment to encouraging sustainability is also evident in the application of the principles of the circular economy. The Group applies these in all of its business areas.