Zero emissions energy: an achievable challenge

Zero emissions energy: an achievable challenge


I remember well the enthusiasm generated by the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2015, when all the leading nations on Earth made a commitment to limit the increase in global temperature to under 1.5 °C. The images are still incredibly vivid: the announcement by France’s then-Minister for the Environment Laurent Fabius, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry signing the agreement with his granddaughter on his lap, and the idea that we could deliver a sustainable future to younger generations. What followed, however, has been a story of broken promises, like the difficulties involved in effectively reducing CO2 emissions, the exit of the United States from the agreement (before then rejoining in 2021), the failure of the Madrid summit, and the trauma of the Covid-19 pandemic that captured all the attention.

The UN COP28, held in Dubai in December 2023, rekindled optimism by bringing us back to the spirit of Paris. This United Nations conference on climate change ended with an agreement that was momentous in many ways, marking a significant shift in global negotiations on the issue. In fact, the words “fossil fuels” were included in the final text for the first time. It was a striking recognition of the need to move away from fossil fuels, explicitly linking them to the worsening climate crisis.

It is necessary to counteract the climate emergency, that of greenhouse gas emissions, by tripling the production and distribution of renewable energy by 2030 and simultaneously doubling the energy efficiency of electric distribution grids, two goals in line with our 2024-26 Strategic Plan.

At the same time, another crucial point emerged from COP28: that it is essential for every energy transition strategy to be carried out in a methodical and equitable manner, without leaving anyone behind, in order to generate concrete benefits for all communities and unite the strategies with the sustainable development needs of our territories.

This is why the work and outcome of the summit should be looked upon in the same spirit in which the generation before mine viewed humans traveling to the Moon and the astronauts setting foot on its surface: to see the unthinkable actually happen and redefine our idea of the future. In contrast to the generation inspired by John F. Kennedy’s “Moon Shot” speech, our mission is not to conquer the Moon but to protect the Earth and continue to aim increasingly higher as we are already doing. For example, through programs such as Solaris and Artemis, launched by NASA and ESA, we are studying the possibility of generating, managing and producing energy in space in collaboration with Thales Alenia Space.

Even the 2023 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reiterates how, at present, there are a number of avenues through which greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced and climate change caused by human activity can be addressed. These alternatives are already available to everyone and highlight the importance of taking bolder and more timely action, but also show that small everyday gestures and energy-conscious choices can make a difference.

The report stresses the urgency to act with concrete measures that go beyond mere environmental risk mitigation and can ensure a positive impact on a global scale, guaranteeing a livable and sustainable future for all.

This is a goal that is impeded by the current geopolitical and climate crises that are certainly exposing the vulnerability of the traditional energy model and demonstrating how crucial it is to strike the right balance between reliability, affordability and sustainability, the so called “energy trilemma.”

It is therefore the moment to have the courage to go from the “what” to the “how", from proposals to actions. In this scenario, the climate can and should be a common ground for peace, and we hope that nations and international organizations find the most effective way to cooperate on the most important issue: the future of life on Earth.

In the middle of the last century, it seemed impossible to do what Kennedy promised: for a human being to set foot on the surface of the Moon. Yet, it happened. It seems equally impossible today to cut emissions so sharply that we reach net zero by 2050. However, we at Enel are so convinced it can be done that we have inserted this ambitious goal into our strategy, and brought it forward to 2040, while confirming our exit from coal in Italy by 2025 and globally by 2027. 

Our strategic plan has as its pillars financial, economic and social sustainability and a focus on efficiency, resilience and improving the Italian electricity grid, already one of the most advanced in the world. Returning to the subject of space, our grid would cover in kilometers as much as three times the Earth-Moon distance.

This plan allows us to promptly respond to the growth in the rate of electrification of consumption and facilitate the progress of distributed generation, accommodating our customers’ demand for flexibility and continuing to support the widespread adoption of renewable energy sources.

This is how we want to continue to lead Italy along a path to a fair and inclusive energy transition and to create value for the generations of today and tomorrow.

Nicola Lanzetta
Director Italy