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EGP and its first 10 years for the development of renewable energies and sustainable development

7 min.

EGP and its first 10 years for the development of renewable energies and sustainable development

On 1 December 2008, in a climate of uncertainty, a group of people were ready to bet that renewable sources would be the energy of the future. Our series of articles on Enel Green Power’s ten years of history begins here: a story closely intertwined with geopolitical and economic events, which we managed, chased and sometimes anticipated.

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2008 will probably be remembered as the year of the collapse of the global financial system. Its effects – ten years later – still dominate the planet’s political and economic life.

A complex decade, characterised by policies of austerity on one hand and by exciting and disruptive innovation on the other. They have been years of digitalization, social media and radical change in individual behaviours and social interactions. They’ve also been years of fluctuating oil, its prices oscillating like crazy on all the international markets, putting traditional energy systems in crisis.

The energy revolution, which is leading to a business future based on efficiency and environmental sustainability, was born then and there. Big players in energy looked toward the decarbonization of the economy with renewed, or better, renewable hope, to mitigate rising temperatures and to create a new concept of potential development.

2009 was when the Copenhagen Accord made the limit of a 2°C rise in atmospheric temperature official. It asked industrialised countries to set their own national emissions goals for 2020. There was immediately much to be done – work was needed to accelerate the energy transition toward renewables.

Enel Green Power’s story is a result of these years: a continuous balancing exercise between the challenges of climate change and guaranteeing energy security in a world where global population growth and increased energy demand, especially electrical, as reported by the International Energy Agency in 2010, force us to reckon with resource availability.

 

The Beginnings of Enel Green Power

Enel Green Power’s first CEO, Francesco Starace, defined the Enel Group’s renewable choice as a challenge to push past the hesitations on climate from nations that have had trouble abandoning old patterns, for fear of losing competitiveness on global markets; beyond the old economic canons, which still see the economy strongly linked to fossil fuels.

 

“The foundation of Enel Green Power, 1 December 2008, was very challenging: we had so many things scattered around the world, assembled in different ways over time, without anything holding them together. Reconciling the diaspora, that is, putting together all the parts that had been separate for years, in some cases, never united, and creating something connected, with a sense of self and a point of unity and common development around certain issues – that was a big gamble.”

– Francesco Starace, CEO Enel

 

Enel Green Power didn’t exactly start from nothing. Green power had been present in Italy long before the birth of Enel in 1962, and its main colour was blue: the blue of water. From the Alps to the Madonie, the energy of thousands of rivers and streams crossing the boot was harnessed in the early twentieth century with a network of hydropower plants. This inspired the early industrialisation of a country essentially devoid of fossil energy resources.

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This “blue power” was joined by white, the water forced deep into the earth in Larderello, Tuscany, in contact with hot boric-acid fumaroles that transform it into steam to power the turbines of the first geothermal power plant in the world.

The earliest photovoltaic goes back to the late 1970s, when, cycles of history recurring, the second big oil crisis led Enel to inaugurate the first concentrated solar plant in the world. It was built in the sunniest place in Europe, the Sicilian town of Adrano, in 1981. 

 

“We can summarise EGP’s history with an image: from an empty box to a global leader in renewables. We rose with the support of our predecessors and we’ve built a lot in just a few years.”

– Carlo Pignoloni, Head of Italy for EGP

 

EGP and Italy

Enel Green Power’s first area of development was, naturally, Italy. In its early years, EGP’s activities focused on a series of investments in wind, with the Acquaspruzza 2 and Monterosso plants in Molise, for a total of 39 MW. There was solar, too, with the construction of the Montalto di Castro photovoltaic plant in Viterbo, the largest in Italy and one of the largest in Europe at the time. 

 

“One of the most important steps for us: we completed it in 2009, it generated about 6 MW. I remember the extreme difficulty at the beginning and then the excitement when the plant was completed. It’s incredible to think that, at the time, it seemed like a miracle to us.”

– Umberto Magrini, Head of E&C, EGP

 

In its first two years of life, EGP managed to build about 200 MW in new renewable capacity a year, with the goal of getting to 1000 MW. The group and EGP found themselves with a new challenge: searching for and attracting specific skills in the renewables sector.

 

“We had to create something that didn’t exist anywhere in the world before. This made it seem like an unreachable goal, but exciting at the same time.”

– Vittorio Vagliasindi, Head of E&C, Global Thermal Generation

 

EGP is Listed on the Stock Exchange

After the right people, the second step was a long-term strategy to bring Enel Green Power into the future. This goal involved concrete actions, like listing on the stock market in late October 2010. This key step allowed the new company to stand on its own legs and have the autonomy necessary to proceed with its own ambitious growth plan, which would lead to its becoming a leader in the world of renewables in the future. 

 

“It was an intense time, full of tension – the world was afraid of renewables, they considered them unreliable due to their intermittency and non-programmability, and for blackout risks. A mistrust that we broke down with facts and numbers. This is what happened, and we helped make it happen.”

– Roberto Deambrogio, Director of Communications, Enel

 

The search for innovative solutions was clear from the beginning. In Nola, on the roofs of the CIS and Interporto Campano factories, 20.3 MW of green energy were installed, in total architectural integration on an overall area of about 615,000 square metres. The modules in triple-junction amorphous silicon technology, guaranteed the production of electrical energy even in low sunlight and partial shade. The technology chosen was both ecological and extremely resistant to atmospheric agents.

In the meantime, in Catania, at the foot of Mount Etna, Enel Green Power committed to an equal joint venture with Sharp and STMicroelectronics, created the largest production plant of photovoltaic panels in the country, and one of the largest in Europe: 3SUN. Enel Green Power stands as the only integrated power utility that can rely on an internal plant to produce panels meant to partially meet its own need for its projects around the world.

EGP closed out 2010 with two achievements that illustrated its strength, formed by installed capacity and the skills of its people.

On 13 October, the world celebrated the rescue of Los 33, the Chilean miners trapped for 2 months over 700 metres deep in the San José mine in the Atacama Desert. One of the leaders of the rescue, which would go on to inspire a film, was EGP’s Stefano Massei, an engineer from Pisa. Thanks to the drilling experience he gained in the geothermal sector in Larderello and around the world, he contributed significantly to the work of the international team gathered at Atacama to save the miners.  

On 31 December 2010, Enel Green Power could count on a generated installed capacity of over 6,000 MW distributed in 16 countries, including the United States.

Though it was born in a turbulent context, Enel Green Power quickly demonstrated its talent, determination and vision for growth in its first two years. From here, an exploration phase of new markets and opportunities could began.

Read the second chapter.

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