Sustainability in the fields: Enel and smart agriculture

Sustainability in the fields: Enel and smart agriculture

In the province of Ferrara, Enel has an ambitious project: it plans to bring innovation in all fields. Starting with rice, continuing with corn, wheat, barley, sugar beet, and finally orchards and vegetable gardens, for a total of more than five thousand hectares.

What does Enel have to do with agriculture? Very much, to the point that the project that the energy multinational has developed for Bonifiche Ferraresi, the largest Italian farm holding (with 5500 hectares of land in the provinces of Ferrara and Arezzo and in the Arborea area in Sardinia), received the special “Best in class” Award on 10 October at the 15th edition of the Sodalitas Social Award: the most prestigious accolade for Italian companies and organisations, which, with their initiatives, are leading the way to a sustainable future, through the promotion of economic growth combined with the values of sustainable development, innovation and social inclusion.

The jury, presided by the rector of the Catholic University of Milan, Franco Anelli and including, among others, Assolombarda, Legambiente and the Italian Ministry of Economic Development, awarded the Enel project, called “Agriculture Smart,” as the one that has best succeeded in integrating and expressing those values.

These values are not feigned at all, as recalled by Carlo Antonio Pescetti, Managing Director of the Sodalitas Foundation: “Today, Italy is lagging behind in sustainability. Bridging this gap is essential to make Italy stronger and more competitive, and is a challenge that we cannot win if there are no companies to lead the way.”

How do you make agriculture smart, to translate the title of the project into reality, making crops increasingly sustainable and bringing the environmental impact increasingly close to zero? The first step was to bring innovation developed in the electricity sector to the agricultural sector, starting by leveraging alternative energy produced from renewable sources, especially photovoltaic power (Enel will install about five thousand square metres of solar panels on the roofs of the stables and the rice mill). Self-consumption will be maximised through the integration of photovoltaic energy with a large-scale photovoltaic energy accumulation system. Vehicles used to move about the production area have been replaced with electric vehicles - from bikes to cars - as well as sensors and remote control systems for precision irrigation and Enel’s revolutionary Vehicle To Grid system, which will transform electric vehicles into batteries available for the use in the agricultural district during the hours in which they are not being used.

But Enel did not stop here. We have allowed Bonifiche Ferraresi to access our innovation hubs, in particular the one based in Tel Aviv, where various meetings were held with the most important startups engaged in innovating through precision farming, in one of the world’s most innovative ecosystems in this field. It is an example of Open Innovation, which, by leveraging also expertise and innovations that are being developed outside the company, has allowed to support Bonifiche Ferraresi in innovating its core business too. It is a service that Enel makes available to all companies, whether large or small, which are interested in gaining access to the most dynamic innovation ecosystems in the world.

The figures speak for themselves: the market for smart agriculture is expected to grow strongly, from USD 5.2 billion in 2016 to USD 11.2 billion in 2022. This is the reason for the partnership with Bonifiche Ferraresi: Enel wants to contribute to this change by sharing all its experience in the electricity sector, starting with the creation of the largest “smart” agricultural district in Europe.

The project inauguration is planned at the end of 2017.

“To help our partners to innovate is the starting point of innovation that is also sustainable,” said Marco Gazzino, Head of the Partnerships and Innovation Intelligence Unit of the Group, who received the Sodalitas Award at the Assolombarda auditorium in Milan. “Collaboration with Bonifiche Ferraresi has allowed us to implement measures to support the use of renewable sources, zero-emissions mobility and the development of sustainable industrialisation, in keeping with the sustainable development goals set by the United Nations. The only innovation possible is sustainable innovation in the long term; otherwise it is bound to be short-lived."

Over a century and a half ago, the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “The first farmer was the first man, and all historic nobility rests on possession and use of land.” Today, one may add, it seems that it can also be the foundation for a noble future for our children.