Energyaccess - Climate change and emissions: can the electricity industry be decarbonised


"Trying to resist the transition to renewables to defend the existing picture or trying to be an agent of the change". These are the inevitable options that energy companies are facing, said Enel's Head of European Affairs Simone Mori at the roundtable recently promoted by The Guardian and sponsored by Enel. Experts from the energy industry, heads of study centres and companies, of institutions and associations that are daily engaged in issues regarding climate change and energy transition held a debate on the carbon-free energy industry a few days before the opening of COP21, the UN Summit on climate change that starts today in Paris.

The increasing importance of renewables, which in 2014 accounted for half of the new plants installed across the world, is the main acceleration driver of the transition towards a low-carbon energy sector, but the results achieved so far alone are not sufficient  to ensure that the industry will be fully decarbonised. Solid and common policies, regulatory systems that meet the needs of long-term investments and new energy models are essential to facilitate the transition towards a clean energy system after the century-long – still ongoing – predominance of fossil fuels.

The example of emerging markets and their green breakthrough bears testimony to the fact that renewable sources are not only the answer to climate change but also the driver to the establishment of a new sustainable development model tout court. In fact, Simone Mori recalled that "renewables are becoming the best option in the larger geographies… not just for the environment, but for answering energy demand in emerging economies." For Enel, the ongoing experience in Latin America and Africa speaks for itself and the constant increase in plants, especially solar fields and wind facilities, confirms a trend in which plant profitability and substantial investments turn competitiveness combined with sustainability into a reality.

The usefulness of the European Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) is another important element on the path towards a carbon-free energy industry. In fact, participants in The Guardian roundtable agreed upon the need for a "rejuvenated" CO2 emissions market, which Europe established in the continent in 2005 and China will launch in 2017. "When the EU ETS carbon market was working properly, the price of carbon was an important determinant of our investments and our business plan … the EU could re-engage with this" revitalising an instrument that has been both a useful parameter for controlling emissions and an incentivizing factor for the development of carbon-free policies between companies and institutions.