Electricity at the centre of the energy transition

Published on Tuesday, 17 May 2016

After decades of stagnation, the energy system has been recently experiencing a rapid evolution towards a zero emissions future. This paradigm shift is comparable to the second industrial revolution of 1870 or the large-scale use of oil since the Second World War. The time has come for renewables, fostered by an unprecedented technological boom. In 2015, investments in renewable energy reached a record-breaking 286 billion dollars, despite the drop in oil prices since 2014.

‘The energy transition can be summarised in one sentence: it entails a decarbonisation process, in which the electricity sector will play a key role.’ Natalia Fabra, Joint Academic Director of Cerre (Centre on Regulation in Europe) and Professor at the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid, presented a report by Cerre entitled The energy transition in Europe: initial lessons from Germany, the UK and France, at the Enel Foundation headquarters.

The study is composed of four sections: an introduction by Natalia Fabra (who coordinated the report) on the energy transition scenario in Europe and three case studies on the sector in Germany, the UK and France. According to the study, the modernisation of European economies is the result of a combination of three factors: innovation, competitiveness and growth. A successful balance of these factors can only be obtained by focusing on the sustainability and security of supplies.

The increasingly rapid transformation of the electricity sector will therefore have a strong impact on the global economy, since low-carbon electricity can be used in sectors in which the reduction of emissions in the production process is complicated. ‘You can generate electricity with a wind turbine, but you cannot make a car move by installing a wind turbine on top of it. This is where electric vehicles come into play. An increasing number of sectors will need electricity, and this will lead to an increased demand.’

To ensure the large-scale development of renewables in Europe, the Professor explained, there must be a solid regulatory framework for the whole continent; one that directs investments towards renewables and that is able to address the various problems that may arise along the way, such as the security of supply.

‘The European Union has been encouraging national legislators to contribute to the acceleration of the transition for years, and several countries have adopted measures to achieve short- and long-term emission reduction targets. Governments establish regulations and incentives, which must be adjusted in order to ensure that utilities and citizens make the necessary investments to complete the transition: renewables, energy efficiency, transmission networks and interconnection,’ concluded Natalia Fabra.

According to projections by the International Energy Agency (IEA), more than half of the energy that will be consumed in the world in 2040 will come from renewable energy sources. Enel expects to achieve this goal in 2019, with renewables constituting over 50% of our installed capacity. This objective represents an important step in the journey towards carbon neutrality, which we will achieve in 2050 in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.