Electrification, the road to sustainability

Electrification, the road to sustainability


Today we can imagine a future that is clean, green and free from emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants in the atmosphere: a future that is powered by electricity produced from renewable energy sources.

Electricity from renewable sources is, in fact, the most efficient, sustainable and cost-effective energy vector, providing solutions to decarbonize industry, boost transport efficiency, reduce pollution and advance digitalization.

While the 1800s was the century of coal and the 1900s the century of oil, ours is on track to become the century of electricity.

What is electrification?

Today “electrification” is understood as the progressive use of electricity from renewable sources in services and activities – like mobility, heating and industrial production – which until now have been mainly powered by fossil fuels, thereby making energy consumption more efficient, widespread and sustainable. Electricity, as a form of energy that can be generated from green or zero-emissions sources, is the most efficient energy solution: it is clean, cost-effective and has high performance levels.

The energy transition

The shift towards this scenario takes the name of the energy transition, a revolution that is now irreversible and involves all areas and actors in the energy system.

Renewable sources, which are now fully competitive from an economic perspective as well, naturally play a leading role. Established renewables like hydroelectric power and geothermal are now being joined by “new” and fast developing sources like wind power and photovoltaic, not to mention emerging technologies like marine energy, which harnesses the power of waves and the tides.

The production structure is changing, too. The old model was based on a few large centralized power plants, while today the scenario is based on numerous small facilities, often managed by the consumers themselves, who produce energy for their own use but can also feed it back onto the grid as part of a system that is now decentralized.

In terms of transmission and distribution, the energy transition is characterized by digital networks smart grids – capable of managing new multidirectional flows and ensuring that the energy distribution system is reliable and flexible. At the other end of the system are the end uses: it is here that electricity is playing an increasingly decisive role.

New electrification

Since Enel was founded in 1962, we have made a decisive contribution to bringing electricity to the whole of Italy: an endeavor that has changed our country in profound and defining ways, driving it into the modern age. Today it is electrification’s turn: there is a growing spread of electric power in areas such as transport, household consumption and industry.

In these three major sectors, it is estimated that the overall share of energy consumption provided by electricity could rise from 17% in 2015 to 46% by 2050. These forecasts were outlined in the Electrify Italy report, published in 2020 by the Enel Foundation in collaboration with the Energy Center at the Politecnico di Torino and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

For us, electrification is a crucial tool for decarbonization: in the three key sectors mentioned above, thanks to electrification, emissions of greenhouse gases will be reduced by 68% by 2050 compared with 2015 levels. This fits in perfectly with our industrial plan; electricity, above all when generated from renewable sources, is the most sustainable energy vector, in line with our strategy.

The shift towards electrification is a global trend as part of the energy transition and is supported by various stakeholders from industry, trade associations and institutions involved in protecting the climate. This has given rise to the Electrification Alliance, an international network that Enel belongs to through Eurelectric, the European organization of electricity companies, that has launched the campaign #ElectrifyNow. Its goal is to raise awareness about electrification and promote its application in the most diverse sectors.

Transport, the heart of the sustainable city

Hear the words ‘sustainable mobility’ and you think of electric cars. Electric cars are three to five times more efficient than their combustion engine powered counterparts. In Italy, the fleet of electric vehicles is growing constantly and is predicted to reach 83% of the total by 2050. This is partly because technology is gradually overcoming every obstacle standing in the way of greater sales: the cost of electric vehicles is competitive with those powered by combustion engines, the range provided by the batteries is increasing each year, while charging times are getting faster and faster. Finally, the network of charging infrastructure, even on roads outside the city, is now so extensive as to ensure drivers the peace of mind that they will not be left high and dry. This is a fundamental aspect and for this reason Enel has already installed 13,000 charging stations for public use in Italy and aims to have installed 21,000 by 2023. These are in addition to the private charging stations located in people’s own garages or those of company car fleets. Beyond these statistics, innovation is progressing further and faster: futuristic concepts, such as the V2G (Vehicle-to-Grid) technology developed by Enel, allow cars to feed surplus stored energy back into the grid, basically becoming batteries on wheels.


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.”

– Nicola Lanzetta, 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.

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.