Electrification, the road to sustainability

Published on Tuesday, 14 September 2021

“Electrification is the essential pathway for the energy transition. It’s happening now and we need everyone to take part in this acceleration.”

– Francesco Venturini, CEO of Enel X

Alongside four-wheeled transportation, two-wheeled vehicles are also forging ahead on the road to electrification. E-bikes in particular are driving the sector but electric motorcycles have also carved out a space, thanks to the prestigious showcase of the MotoE Championship (FIM Enel MotoE World Cup) .

An important breakthrough is also taking place in public transport. Around the world, the number of local administrations that are choosing to switch to electric bus fleets is rising, ensuring a substantial cut in greenhouse gas emissions and opening up a range of possibilities: the end goal is a sustainable and integrated public transport system, monitored in real time and managed in a smart and flexible way, that will be the structural framework for the smart cities of the future.

Finally, the maritime sector, which is responsible for 11% of transport emissions, has also embarked on a journey towards sustainability. In Italy, the first port electrification initiatives have been launched, beginning with the docks and including fleets of hybrid or electric boats for port activities, shuttle services and tourism.

The smart home

The second major field that is extremely promising for electrification is household energy use. In Italy, a growing number of people are choosing to switch to using electricity for appliances traditionally powered by polluting fossil fuels. The most obvious example is electric boilers, which are more efficient than gas boilers. The same can be said for heating air, too: a heat pump uses four times less energy than an oil or gas boiler, therefore boosting efficiency as well as sustainability. Then there are cooling systems, which, thanks to electricity, have improved people’s quality of life. 

In the kitchen, induction stoves have numerous benefits compared to gas stoves: they are twice as efficient (92% compared with 40-45%), they are better for cooking because of the complete contact of the base surface of the pan with the stove, there is no dispersion of heat from flames and temperatures can be regulated more precisely.

Taking this progress to the next level, many new buildings are being designed to be “fully electric”, using electricity is their only energy source. In addition to improving safety for people and buildings, this also generates a substantial financial savings.

The other major direction envisaged by electrification is home automation – the application of new digital technologies for the management of the home, which then becomes “smart”. In a smart home, an integrated system manages energy consumption in a centralized way, including the infrastructure for charging your electric car in the garage. The possibilities are virtually limitless and range from remote controlled security systems, electrical appliances and thermostats, to the possibility of setting a maximum capacity for individual devices so as not to interfere with others – or, thinking even further ahead, washing machines that automatically start when the cost of electricity is lower or windows and shutters that open and close autonomously based on the internal and external light conditions. And all of this could be powered by an independent photovoltaic system.

When it comes to the energy efficiency of homes, electrification is an important ally. Today, energy renovation projects contribute to reducing consumption and therefore costs, with modifications to avoid heat dispersion.

Industry and agriculture

Electrification is a huge opportunity for the traditional productive sectors of industry and agriculture, as well. In fact, the switch to electricity as an energy vector significantly reduces the energy intensity of industrial processes. This applies to large factories as well as the small and medium-sized facilities that are the backbone of Italy’s industrial fabric. This is even more relevant for cutting-edge technology industries, like the aerospace industry: the main companies in this sector are actively committed to improving their own energy efficiency.

Naturally, electrification is advancing in step with renewable sources, for example with the installation of photovoltaic panels on the roofs of factories, accompanied in some cases by an energy storage system that can mitigate the intermittence of production reliant on weather conditions.

As with residential buildings, energy efficiency involves the installation of more efficient appliances for a wider variety of uses, from electric ovens in the catering sector to new generation compressors for the steel industry. But it also implies added value services like energy diagnoses, which assess and pinpoint the most appropriate changes to implement. Just like in the case of smart homes, the future is smart industry, in which real-time monitoring allows the informed and efficient management of consumption.

In addition to these services, similar to those in the residential sector, the electrification of the industrial sector offers further possibilities in the field of energy management. In particular, the demand response mechanism allows industrial clients to play a leading role in stabilizing the electricity grid by reducing or postponing their energy consumption at times of peak demand in exchange for economic compensation from their energy supplier on an annual basis (for example, in the form of a discounted rate); this can benefit both the electricity company and the industrial client and, above all, the national electricity grid and everyone who uses it.

As far as agriculture is concerned, the use of electricity accompanied by technological innovation makes various futuristic scenarios possible, like precision agriculture. For example, an integrated electrified system enables the efficient management of water resources and therefore contributes significantly to environmental sustainability. In particular, smart irrigation reduces water waste thanks to data collected in real time and the ability to independently regulate use based on weather forecasts. But reality goes even further: smart agriculture – thanks to the use of GPS sensors, drones and satellites to monitor the land, combined with artificial intelligence – ensures that seeds are sown more efficiently and helps to preserve biodiversity.

The agriculture sector is perfectly suited to advance decarbonization: both through the use of electric agricultural vehicles and with the integration of renewable sources, both important steps towards sustainable agriculture.

“We’re committed to strengthening the natural alliance between renewable sources, sustainable energy solutions, and the agricultural sector. Integrating agriculture with the development of renewables moves us closer to achieving the country's climate neutrality goals and forward in the transition towards more sustainable business models.”

– Carlo Tamburi, Head of Enel Italia

Benefits for all

Environmental sustainability is the most important benefit of electrification. But the new role of the customer is also an opportunity for citizens and businesses alike to participate in energy management more actively, and is therefore a tool for social sustainability and for improving the living conditions of the whole population.

“Electricity has already proved to be the lifeblood of cities and this will continue to be the case as electrification grows around the world.”

– Francesco Starace, CEO and General Manager, Enel

Electrification is crucial also from an economic perspective: for consumers, through savings on their bills; for suppliers, with greater efficiency and less waste; and for production on a national level, with substantial growth margins for local supply and production chains.

Above all, the fundamental benefit for society concerns health. Cities that are less polluted mean lower rates of illness.

Finally, in the long term, electrification is an essential tool for combating global warming and safeguarding the lives of future generations.

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