The principles of the circular economy can guide the repurposing of thermoelectric power plants that are no longer operational by focusing on regeneration and thereby transforming this process into an important opportunity for sustainable development and value creation. This was the message revealed in the study “Circl-e: from decommissioning to regeneration”, compiled by Enel with ARUP, world leader in sustainable construction, and Intesa Sanpaolo, our Group’s partner in the Alliance for the circular economy.
To date, decommissioning has usually been tackled according to a linear model – “produce, consume, dispose”. Using this line of logic, decommissioned power stations are considered collections of valueless, waste materials that are a cost for businesses rather than an asset. However, this new study shows that it is possible to invert the paradigm and explains how by applying a circular approach, decommissioning and regeneration can coincide and the disused materials and plants are no longer viewed as a burden but as a resource able to generate significant returns for all the stakeholders involved: energy companies, investors and local communities. When applied to the creation of new power stations, the circular economy can offer a range of tools to improve both design and management of plants, while also simplifying future dismantling operations.
The Circl-e study outlined a methodology based on the principles of the Circular Economy – a strategic cornerstone for the Enel Group, from renewables to electric mobility – that can be applied to the decommissioning of thermoelectric power stations and also to the creation of renewable facilities, such as wind and photovoltaic plants. This perspective prioritizes aspects such as renewable inputs (even during the planning phase), modular design, maintenance in order to prolong the life cycle of the plants, resource sharing, the reallocation of some assets on secondary markets and a reappraisal of the end-of-life concept for equipment and materials through upcycling, reuse and recycling.
This was the starting point for defining a range of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to evaluate the technical, social, financial and environmental sustainability of the decommissioning process in all its phases: planning, execution (from the call for tenders to repurposing) as well as measuring the benefits. For example, the technical KPIs consider the percentage of reuse of the existing infrastructure (roads, railways, buildings), equipment and waste materials. The social KPIs measure the number of jobs created, and examine how the territory will be used (green spaces, public use, commercial use) and the level of involvement of the stakeholders. The environmental KPIs assess emissions levels, water consumption and the extent that renewables are used, while the financial KPIs look at the return on investment (ROI), variations in local GDP and the capacity to attract innovative businesses.
To demonstrate their efficacy, the indicators were tested on one of the sites involved in Futur-e, the Enel Group’s most important circular economy programme, which is repurposing 23 decommissioned thermoelectric power plants and a mining area in Italy. The test was applied to the planning phase of a power station regeneration operation, using the proposals received by Enel in answer to a call for tenders. The brief was to give new life to the site while also respecting the requisites of sustainability and leveraging the special characteristics of the local area. Two proposals registered a good performance under the KPI system, in terms of technical (planned reuse of a significant part of the existing buildings and roads and 85% of the waste material) and social measurements (creation of a number of jobs equal or superior to those provided by the plant when it was active plus conversion of a large part of the area into green spaces). All of this has confirmed how the circular economy can help us to grow sustainably.