Enel Green Power CEO Francesco Venturini recently wrote a very candid and well-articulated piece on the future of renewable energy, Towards the Next Frontiers of Energy Technologies. It’s rare to see a CEO go beyond the litany of well-trotted renewable energy successes—emphasizing cost declines, deployment surges, and next-generation technologies. European power companies that faced their energy transition far before North America have taken the lead in many respects to shifting their business models and focus for the future. Having worked on projects with a number of these and similar companies on strategies to address this transition, it’s obvious that there is a recurring theme: no one technology or geography will be the perfect solution. The future requires a global, networked approach, and successful companies will need to constantly be taking an “all of the above—and in between” strategy.
CEO Venturini writes: “The final goal is to improve the competitiveness of the renewable sector against the conventional one.”
The Next Frontier
Enel Green Power and its competitors, such as ENGIE, Iberdrola, and others, have all struggled to find robust growth strategies. The energy transition hasn’t been easy, but at this point, there is no other option. More than ever before, it’s really just a matter of time. Looking back at the past 15 years of renewable energy deployment, it becomes clear that the next 15 years are going to be even more revolutionary as companies push the next frontier in terms of scale. CEO Venturini points out Enel’s activity across solar, wind, innovative geothermal plants, hydro, marine, microgrids, and energy storage technologies—and the impending incremental advances. But it is the small stuff that customers won’t be able to see—the really, really small stuff—that will enable the next 15 years of deployments. Digitization, flexibility, and customer choice are the new pillars required for this next phase of growth, which we here at Navigant Research refer to as the Energy Cloud. We track innovative companies exploring this growth phase in our Energy Cloud Company Database.
CEO Venturini points to a few of the key areas Enel Green Power is pursuing in the future—artificial intelligence, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT)—to which I would add predictive algorithms, distributed energy resources management systems, and transactive energy platforms. While these technologies are not going to be visible to customers as they look up at rooftops or along the countryside and shorelines from above—they will be visible on their electric bills. The digital ones and zeros are increasingly the glue that will enable a higher penetration of renewables at scale as fossil fuels shift to a supplementary role.
Although some of the litany will always remain (e.g., the need for supportive policies), the tools required to enable the Energy Cloud are not dependent on tax credits and financial incentives. The tools being developed are enabling access to energy markets and customers under current rules, with existing technology. As rules and regulations catch up, these incremental deployments CEO Venturini describes will turn exponential.
Enel is not alone in this approach—but it is being one of the most vocal—out of necessity.