All 17 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are important, but most of them depend on number 7 – providing access to “affordable and clean energy” for all enables the creation of the most favourable conditions for widespread, sustainable economic and social development.
That would explain why the Vienna Energy Forum 2018 (14-16 May) focused on SDG 7, bringing together governments, international organisations, companies and experts. This multi-stakeholder model had already been successfully implemented in the five previous editions of the event.
This year, too, our Group played a significant role in the Forum, which was organised by the UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization), the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and the Austrian Government.
A keynote speech by Jeremy Rifkin introduced the opening panel on the subject of the transformation of the energy system. Rifkin is an internationally-renowned economist, author of bestseller The Zero Marginal Cost Society and President of the Foundation on Economic Trends. His task was to present the complex phenomenon of the fourth industrial revolution, where the convergence of network digitalisation and the development of renewable sources will have the effect of “democratising energy.” This is also because limitless resources like solar and wind power have zero marginal costs. We will shift from vertically-integrated, centralised infrastructures to a horizontal, more evenly distributed and more resilient system where the consumer is also a producer, and will exchange energy with the grid through advanced, intelligent storage systems. Rifkin summarised his presentation with the slogan “Power to people,” where energy companies will adopt a new business model – instead of producing energy they will sell services to promote network access.
The process, which is already underway and is now unstoppable, is set to be complete within the next 20 years. The convergence of renewables and digitalisation is already transforming the energy mix in many countries. “It is crucial that the legislation reflects technological development,” said Lamberto Dai Pra’, Head of Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Australia at Enel Green Power, quoting Morocco, Egypt and South Africa as examples. “The green revolution has been under way for 10 years and still has much to offer. Storage has existed for some time, even though it is only now that low costs are beginning to enable the implementation of industrial applications that are changing the very foundations of the electricity market – but the real transformation on the horizon is the digital revolution, although this too must be backed up by suitable legislation.” Dai Pra’ also said that it is impossible to predict with any certainty where technological development will lead – take, for example, Enel Green Power’s ongoing research into ocean wave energy.
The challenge involved in replicating best practice on an international level was also a theme in other speeches at the Forum. “We already know that more than a billion people have no access to energy,” said Rachel Kyte, CEO and Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for SEforAll. “The important thing is to focus on the progress we can make over the next five years in countries like Bangladesh, Togo and Uganda. We should also shift subsidies from fossil fuels to clean energy sources.”
The subject of access to affordable and clean energy does not only involve developing countries. Megan Richards, the EU’s Director of Energy Policy, explained that one of the objectives of the Energy Union is to unshackle countries from their dependence on a single source of energy. There should also be a focus on decarbonisation and, above all, energy efficiency. This is, in fact, a crucial yet often undervalued aspect, emphasised Scott Foster, Director of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. “When I was a child in Alabama my father had no access to water or energy, so I’m well aware of just how much progress has been made, but we should be careful not to become prisoners of technology like the people who abandoned the Earth in the film Wall-E. It’s better to adopt energy efficiency as an objective – smarter buildings, for example.”
As Robert Denda, Head of Network Technology and Innovation at Enel Global Infrastructure and Networks and a guest at another panel at the Vienna Energy Forum, explained: “The digitalisation of the network is the main qualifying factor in achieving SDG 7. The reduction in losses and increased transmission and distribution efficiency will partly offset the predicted growth in demand for energy. In 2014 global transmission and distribution losses stood at 1,970 TWh, the equivalent of 8.2% of world generation that year.”
Enel is placing a great deal of emphasis on energy efficiency, moving in the direction indicated by the UN’s Agenda 2030. At last year’s Vienna Energy Forum Robert Denda announced the partnership with UNIDO in the SEforALL Electrification Accelerator, a project whose aim is to accelerate electrification in local areas, contribute to the fight against climate change and help make it possible to achieve SDG 7, universal access to affordable and clean energy.