Energy, resources and consumption: the future is circular
The circle is considered to epitomize geometric perfection. In a perfect world, there would be no waste or rubbish, just objects that take on a new life as happened in the Walt Disney film, Fantasia. Creativity and innovation also underpin the circular economy, a whole new paradigm hailing a pivotal shift that will make our planet more sustainable. It’s an approach that focuses on the three Rs of reuse, reduce and recycle, extending the useful life of objects, a sharing platform and business models that involve purchasing services only for a limited period.
The circular approach has many competitive advantages for businesses compared to a linear one: reduced costs, efficient energy use, fewer CO2 emissions and a safe supply chain. These are benefits which will positively impact everyone, and not just the companies that adopt them.
In the Global Material Resources Outlook to 2060, the OCSE (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) analyzed the potential consequences of economic development on the environment over the coming decades, and found that around half of greenhouse gas emissions are linked to the use of resources. However, technological innovation applied to the circular approach and the growth in the services sector can unshackle development from resource consumption and make recycling increasingly competitive.
The journey to achieving a circular economy will take time. In the presentation to the European Green Deal, the European Commission writes that it takes 25 years to transform an industrial sector from linear to circular. This is why it is important that, in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis, investment aimed at restarting economies across the world puts circularity and sustainability center stage.
Enel Green Power’s circular commitment
To drive the company in the direction of the circular economy, our Group has made sustainability and innovation an integral part of the entire value chain. It is thanks to this approach, in fact, that we are creating many practical circular economy solutions.
The clearest example is Enel Green Power’s commitment to developing forms of renewable energy, a circular sector by definition as the power of wind and water, the heat of the sun and the earth are all unlimited, inexhaustible resources. It’s a journey that is also linked to the Group’s goals, which include the complete decarbonization of its production mix by 2050. That said, we have already reached one important milestone: in 2019, Enel generated over 50% of its total electricity without creating greenhouse emissions for the first time.
Yet that is not the end of the story. EGP is already thinking of a solution to a problem that will arise with renewable technologies over the coming years: the decommissioning of wind turbine blades on wind farms. It’s a challenge that will involve both reuse and recycling, to close the circularity circle and make green power stations even more sustainable. The fibreglass from a blade, for example, can be used for producing many other things, from lightweight earthquake-resistant bricks to fast-draining asphalt that makes streets and roads safer. We are also managing repowering projects that extend the life of our plants.
However, generating clean energy using renewables is just the first step: our business embraces sustainability across all of the various phases of a project, from the building site for a new plant to collaborating with the communities in which we are operating. The sustainable building site model applied to our new solar farms in the Andalusia region in Spain uses on-site photovoltaic panels in order to cover part of the energy requirements and employs water-saving measures, such as the installation of water tanks and rainwater collection systems. Once construction is complete, both the photovoltaic panels and the water-saving equipment will be donated to local communities.
This focus on the local area also extends to respecting biodiversity and protecting the environment. There are myriad examples. In Morro do Chapéu in the state of Bahia in Brazil, for instance, we tested a system for reusing so-called gray water to irrigate vegetable fields and plantations in our Family Biowater project. At the Cornatel hydroelectric station in Spain, we are salvaging wood that accumulates in the dam grille and sending it to the biomass plant at Cubillos del Sil.
Respect for the environment is also one of the three principles of shared value creation that inspire our sustainable plant model. This is measured using specific performance indicators relating not just to Co2 emissions but also to the percentage of waste recycled and water reused.
Sustainability right along the value chain
The circular approach involves the entire value chain, starting with our partners. We have introduced global sustainability criteria for evaluating suppliers, and they mainly center around three factors: use of renewable energy, sustainability certification along the entire production chain and the application of circularity principles, particularly in terms of the use of recycled materials. We also adopted this approach on energy storage projects in the United States, and we will soon be extending it to the solar and wind sectors in all the countries where we operate.
Naturally enough, the value chain also embraces our clients to whom EGP offers the opportunity to co-finance a project to create shared value or develop a new one, by providing skills and know-how. This creates partnerships with our client companies, which, aside from supplying renewable energy, are looking to economic and social growth in the communities where we are present. And this, of course, closes the sustainability circle.