A craftsman is busy working wood in a village while a drone makes a 3D survey of a digital construction site: these are not two different worlds. They are two aspects that coexist in Enel’s renewable energy plants that feature the most innovative technologies and, at the same time, prioritise the sustainable development of local communities.
In Viesca, in the desert of Mexico, on 22 March we inaugurated Villanueva, the largest photovoltaic installation in the Americas. More than 2.3 million solar panels installed on an area of 2,400 hectares: once fully operational, in the second half of 2018, the plant will be able to produce more than 1,700 GWh a year.
The project shows how innovation and sustainability are two sides of the same coin for us. On the one hand, technology is fundamental even from the construction phase, involving robots for the automatic installation of the panels, drones for monitoring the work and GPS-controlled machines for earth moving. On the other hand, there is sustainability: to mitigate the impact of our activities on the environment, we have requested expert advice for the conservation of biodiversity, dedicating an area to the repopulation of flora and fauna and controlling the recycling of waste and water consumption. A construction site that is both digital and sustainable.
Alongside environmental sustainability, we pay the utmost attention to social sustainability. To promote the social and employment integration of the local population, we have trained a group of local inhabitants in carpentry, providing them with wood from the crates in which the solar panels were transported: a creative example of circular economy.
The reuse of wood and the inclusion of the local population are part of our approach also in the project for the Rubi photovoltaic installation, the largest in Peru, inaugurated on 21 March.
The Enel Group’s leadership
Renewable energy sources are the backbone of environmental sustainability, and at Enel we promote them using a wide range of resources: hydroelectric, solar, wind, geothermal and biomass. For the future, we are also exploring technologies to harness wave energy. And that’s not all: we have built futuristic systems that integrate the various sources. This is the case, for example, with the Stillwater solar geothermal plant and the Cove Fort geothermal hydroelectric plant in the United States: at both of these locations, the very best of technological innovation is put to the service of sustainability.
In total, our installed renewable power amounts to 37 GW. And the figure is constantly increasing, as the examples of Villanueva and Rubi show. Overall, zero emission sources supply 46% of our electricity, making us one of the world’s leading clean energy producers.
This is also why, according to the report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), we are the energy utility that is best interpreting the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, together with the US wind power giant NextEra. But our goals are even more ambitious: our Group aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.
Innovation is not only about building increasingly advanced plants, but also about making them more efficient and sustainable. For example, we have tested the use of drones for inspections of photovoltaic power installations and wind farms in North America and for animal protection in Spain.
To further improve the efficiency of solar panels, in collaboration with the company Alitec, we have developed a tool called the Solar Tracker Tester, which can measure the inclination of the panels, comparing it with the optimal curve required to harness the sun’s power during the day and optimise energy production.
Solar energy in the countryside and social inclusion
Renewable energy sources have a value in terms of sustainability that goes beyond purely environmental factors: solar energy, for example, is also a tool for bringing electricity to the most remote areas. The Liter of Light project, which we have launched in South Africa, is teaching young people in rural areas how to build solar power plants by recycling waste materials such as plastic bottles. The project therefore combines renewable energy, the spread of access to energy, support for job training and the promotion of the circular economy.
In Latin America, with our Barefoot College project, illiterate or semi-illiterate women from small rural communities become the protagonists, and we give them the opportunity to travel to India to learn how to prepare and install solar kits. In this case, in addition to protecting the environment, we promote employment development, particularly among women, who are often penalised, especially in emerging countries.
Carpenters in Mexico and Peru, young people in South Africa, disadvantaged women in Latin America: many stories of social inclusion in the name of Enel and clean energy.