EGP Beyond 2018: Full Speed Ahead for a Sustainable Future thanks to renewable energies
Let’s imagine the future starting from 1492. It’s 3 August and the Santa Maria, the caravel captained by Cristopher Columbus, is ready to set sail from the Spanish port of Palos de la Frontera. As Columbus is about to lift the anchor, an emissary from the Crown of Castile, accompanied by a regiment of guards, stops the commander at the order of Queen Isabella, seizing the Santa Maria and the two other caravels. Escorted to the Royal Court, the incredulous navigator is informed that the Queen no longer considers the exploration of the New World a priority, and intends to concentrate state resources on the internal economy. If a scenario like this had actually occurred, maybe we never would have known America as we know it today, and with it, jazz, Hopper’s paintings, Hemingway’s novels, the Apollo missions and the Cheeseburger.
The creative imagination of a dystopian future serves to underline how humanity, approaching certain technical and cultural revolutions, must resist the forces that prevent change. Returning for a moment to the present, in 2018, this rearguard action comes from those who, by leaving the Paris Agreement on climate change, endanger not only the future of sector in full growth, like renewable energy, but the future of the entire planet. In the words of Enel’s CEO, Francesco Starace: “We are counting on achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, to help contain the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees. Enel will continue to rely on the most advanced technologies to accelerate the process of decarbonization, improving infrastructure and promoting efficiency, because being sustainable today means being competitive tomorrow.”
Exploring New Paths to our Place in the Sun
Enel Green Power’s tomorrow arises from a very specific goal, to be achieved with innovation and sustainability to ensure maximum efficiency in terms of plant performance and the general well-being of communities involved. Growth objectives in terms of renewable power installed are set at about 4 GW a year. This will be concentrated by EGP’s presence in mature markets, and in new key markets with incredible renewable potential, like Canada, Australia and India.
The South Asian giant has launched an ambitious development plan for renewables, with the goal of reaching 40% “green” power by 2030 through a tender system that will assign 40-GW projects each year. The first, small but significant step in EGP’s Indian adventure was winning a contract for the construction of a 285-MW wind plant in the state of Gujarat, set to begin operation in the second half of 2019 and part of the fourth tranche of the government tender dedicated to wind energy.
“In the future, we expect to expand further in India and see growth throughout the Asia-Pacific region, taking full opportunity of the enormous supply of renewable sources and the growing demand for energy in the area, without forgetting Europe and especially Italy.”
- Antonio Cammisecra, CEO of Enel Green Power
The words to best demonstrate how, very often, the best conditions for developing business arise from harmony between the private sector and policymakers, come from Antonio Cammisecra: “I had the opportunity to talk with President Modi of India, the man elected by the greatest number of citizens on planet Earth. Talking about the future of renewables and solar energy with someone who responded with the knowledge of an electrical engineer, I have to say it was pretty impressive.”
Speaking of steady political inclination in favour of renewables, let’s move continents, to Canada, where Justin Trudeau’s government will definitively say goodbye to coal and will aim to cover 90% of the energy demand with sustainable sources by 2030. Like in India, the legislature decided to open the energy market to international investors through a tender system. Enel Green Power responded to the appeal from Ottawa, winning two Renewable Energy Support Agreements lasting 20 years for 288 MW of new wind capacity in Alberta. The capacity gained from the tender will allow us to triple EGP’s installed capacity in Canada, which is currently over 103 MW.
Completing the triad of these large global markets, we have Australia, where Enel Green Power is already present with the Bungala Solar photovoltaic park, currently in an expansion phase. Once operational, it will boast a capacity of 275 MW. And EGP’s growth down under has continued, with the awarding of a 15-year contract for 34 MW with the State of Victoria for energy production and issuing green certificates generated by the Cohuna Solar Farm. Made up of about 87,000 bifacial panels, the plant will be able to generate up to 77 GWh/year, avoiding the emission of about 70,200 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere annually.
The Future of Renewables is Powered by Technology
The progress of humanity is doubly linked to our ability to innovate. Just like improvements to naval engineering allowed the explorers of the fifteenth century to explore lands previously thought to be inaccessible, modern renewable technology is evolving to recover every last watt from the sun, wind, water and earth.
We’ve been innovating at the 3SUN factory since 2008. The latest evolution of the solar panel is the HJT module. This technological leap is opening the gates to a new line of latest-generation bifacial photovoltaic modules in amorphous/crystalline silicon hetero junction technology (HJT). In the near future, the panel will be integrated with smart inverters and optimised with new plastic materials, with the goal of increasing cell efficiency by more than 22% in the next 10 years.
But the technology that, more than any other, promises to be a definitive leap in the quality of renewables as a main driver of development is energy storage. Energy storage systems are the missing link to eliminating the intermittency typical of renewable sources. They will allow for the storage of surplus energy collected from solar panels and wind turbines, to be released to the electrical grid whenever the sun is covered by clouds or the wind stops blowing.
The storage systems emerging with greatest force are based on lithium batteries, a diverse set of technologies that use lithium ions and materials like cobalt or graphene. Because prices have dropped by 80% since 2010, lithium batteries present availability issues for the raw materials involved. Another issue is the environmental impact of their recovery and disposal at the end of their product life.
But Enel Green Power is already focused on the batteries of the future, more environmentally and economically sustainable, like Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES) and Liquid Air Energy Storage (LAES). These are fairly similar technologies, which use compressed air or air compressed and cooled to liquefaction, to store energy. Their advantage lies in the cost, which decreases notably the bigger the plants are, without any significant degradation in storage capacity over the plant’s lifespan.
Another wave of innovation will come from the sea, thanks to the collaboration agreement signed by Enel Green Power and the Australian renewable energy producer Carnegie Clean Energy for the development of CETO 6, an energy generator using marine waves that will be able to generate 1.5 MW of power.
Energy Joins the 4.0 World
Another front for innovation in the world of renewables is in the use of the most advanced information technologies.
“Technology has changed our perception of space: wind and solar have got bigger and bigger. We’ve gone from solar plants with 5/10 MW, where if something malfunctioned, someone had to physically go there and repair it, to plants as big as the sea. This change in size has changed the complexity and management of our work and the maintenance choices we make”.
- Luigi La Pegna, Head of O&M for Enel Green Power
Some projects are already in operation, like drones run by artificial intelligence for the remote control of solar panels at our photovoltaic plants, or the use of robots for their construction and maintenance. Furthermore, after developing an IoT (Internet of Things) platform, we implemented it for the pilot project Wind Blades Monitoring, which monitors the health status of wind turbines in real time. Projects which are still just in the imagination of some young visionary, on the other hand, will find an outlet at the “Innovation Hub & Lab” in Catania. Enel Green Power’s research centre works in synergy with the network of Innovation Hubs created by Enel in the world’s most innovative areas like Madrid, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago de Chile, Tel Aviv and San Francisco.
“We want to be the intelligent, winning, affordable and sustainable solution. I think we’re doing that, but we also have to be humble. We are living in a sector in strong, dynamic expansion and evolution. If we ever feel like we’ve made it or that we’re number one, we’ll soon become a company like any other. We have to maintain our desire to explore, change, critique what we do. If we can do this, we’ll uphold the fresh spirit that has characterised Enel Green Power since it began. This is the simple but complex recipe we must put in action and that must characterise us."
- Antonio Cammisecra, CEO of Enel Green Power
Renewables are like a caravel that the wind of innovation pushes toward the promised land: a world free of fossil energy. Enel Green Power is at the helm. And it will do everything it can to maintain its leadership.