Published on Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Off-grid systems integrating various renewable sources with storage solutions that ensure stable access to electricity and around-the-clock energy independence. All this while also eliminating greenhouse gas emissions and benefiting individuals and communities. These are not futuristic visions from a contest to imagine the city of tomorrow, but rather projects that Enel has already carried out in various countries in which it operates, achieving a virtuous alliance of technological innovation and sustainability.

The development of off-grid systems in which electricity generation, distribution and consumption take place within a local closed loop that is not connected to regional or national grids and plants, is increasingly being named as a solution to ensure access to electricity in rural and remote communities that electricity lines have not reached. In African countries that lack energy infrastructure or places such as islands and mountain villages, cut off from electricity systems by natural barriers,  DIY has always been a necessary option, even when it comes to energy. However, the advent of renewables and evolving technologies are attach new connotations to this particular type of self-consumption, with solutions that can prove useful even to large urban centres and developed areas.

The model achieved in the Canaries by Enel in 2014 is an already operational example that shows how islands can become fully renewable and energy independent, requiring no  fossil fuel imports and or reliance on continental distribution grids. In fact on El Hierro, the smallest Island in this Spanish archipelago, Endesa has completed a hybrid hydro-wind plant that ensures each year not only energy self-sufficiency, but also the elimination of 18,700 tonnes of C02and saving €1.8 million that in the past was spent to meet the island's energy needs with oil imports.

In Italy, the island of Ventotene offers another example of how technological innovation can produce economic and environmental benefits for a small community whose geographic isolation would otherwise exclude it from the evolution of the country's domestic electricity sector. On this island, located off the coast of the central Italian region of Lazio, Enel has installed a storage system with ion-lithium batteries that make it possible to store the electricity produced by small local generators, thus avoiding winter waste and summer blackouts, reducing the use of fuel and the  emissions associated with it. Ventotene's sustainable model could be replicated on 286 European islands with benefits for the environment and more than 10 million inhabitants.

Renewables, storage and off-grid systems are also at the centre of the Enel project in the small village of Ollagüe, in Chile, where the desert hinders connecting with Chile's national energy infrastructure, and for this reason the local population lacked access to electricity. Located at an altitude of 3,660 metres, among volcanoes and salt lakes, Enel Green Power has built an off-grid hybrid plant consisting of 1,538 solar PV panels totaling 250 kW, a 30 kW a wind generator with storage batteries, a backup diesel generator and two Trinum concentration solar co-generation thermodynamic systems that simultaneously generate electricity and thermal energy.  Due to the peculiarities of the local geography and climate, various cutting-edge technological solutions have been adopted, ranging from a vertical-blade turbine to molten salt batteries, ensuring the plant's proper functioning under conditions of high radiation and low air pressure such as those on the plateau. Overall, the plant mainly consists of 'passive' systems, (i.e. with few electronic components) which require less specialised maintenance and can therefore be managed directly by the community, based on the training programmes provided by Enel Green Power.