Here’s what the energy industry in North America should expect across renewables, innovative solutions, and clean transportation in 2021.

Enrico Viale, Head of North America at Enel

As we start a new year, it’s time to take a fresh look at the ongoing climate crisis. It’s undeniable that this year will be pivotal in our efforts to mitigate, contain, and ultimately reverse greenhouse emissions. With the renewable energy industry positioned for even more growth, it’s not a matter of if or when – but how we make the clean energy transition.

With a new administration pledging major investments in sustainable energy, and many state governments taking significant steps of their own, we can expect a torrent of activity on the sustainable energy front in 2021, leading to promising innovation and the further electrification of the economy.

Here are six ways I predict our collective efforts to grapple with climate change will impact society and the economy in 2021. While major challenges are still ahead, at Enel North America we are optimistic that our country is on the path to a clean energy future.

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1. The frequency, intensity, and impacts of extreme weather events coupled with an increased electricity demand will require bold, holistic action to modernize energy infrastructure

The past year marked a historic hurricane season in the Atlantic with the most storms in a single season, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These record-breaking storms on top of the other events like cold snaps, heat waves, and wildfires that devastated the country underscored not only the urgency of addressing climate change over the long-term but in developing solutions to mitigate the impacts of extreme weather in the short-term.

While longer-term grid-modernization efforts unfold, states and utilities must look to expand the use of distributed resources such as demand responseenergy storage, and EV charging units to help improve energy reliability and better balance demand on the grid now. We’ve seen successful programs in states like California and New York where distributed energy resources play a key role in mitigating blackouts when energy usage is high.

At the same time, we must focus on decarbonizing through electrification, including actions such as adding renewable capacity and increasing the adoption of electric transportation. These steps will increase electricity consumption – potentially by 40% by 2040. As the demand for electricity increases, we must invest now to expand grid capacity and create distribution infrastructure and transmission capable of managing this new, more complex, and decentralized energy system. Battery storage, demand response, and smart EV charging will be vital in supporting an integrated, holistic transition.

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2. While the energy transition continues, the massive opportunity for clean energy jobs will be a major economic and social driver

The great energy transition is already underway and will provide us with an opportunity to address climate change, economics, and social welfare. You can find evidence of this transition in Enel’s own business plan. We recently announced a commitment to expand our renewable growth capacity to 120 GW over the next ten years, with around 70 billion euro ($85B USD) in capital investments dedicated to renewables over the next ten years.

As the demand for clean energy grows, so does the demand for clean energy workers. In the years ahead, not only will the energy transition help communities that are struggling with the environmental and economic impacts of climate change, but it will also help those who face a shift in their way of life through sustainable job creation – including communities that have historically relied on oil and gas.

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3. Green hydrogen will become a driving force in the U.S. energy mix and will accelerate renewable growth

The United States will need a massive green hydrogen industry to decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors like manufacturing, transportation, and steel. Green hydrogen is growing exponentially around the world, paving the way for opportunities to integrate this innovative and sustainable solution into the larger renewable energy mix.

We see the incredible potential that green hydrogen presents to decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors and to support this, Enel is expanding its presence in the North American green hydrogen space in 2021. We recently signed a memorandum with NextChem to develop a green hydrogen production plant. Our project will be one of the world’s largest of its kind once completed andwill convert renewable energy from one of Enel’s solar plants in the United States into green hydrogen to be supplied to a bio-refinery.

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4. As the solar power industry grows, we’ll see solar energy development become smarter and more sustainable by integrating agricultural elements like crops and livestock.

Agrivoltaic systems hold promising opportunities for food production, water savings, and renewable energy production – while reducing the ecological impact. North America should expect to see an increase in the use of agrivoltaic systems and dual-use solar farms, especially as concerns from local communities surrounding new projects increase.

In close consultation with local stakeholders, Enel Green Power is planting vegetation native to the local ecosystem, often friendly to bees and other pollinator insects, to protect the diminishing population of endangered pollinator species. Early research shows that the increased presence of pollinators can actually increase crop yield for nearby farms and pollinator-dependent crops, such as soybean and apples. We are using our solar projects as living laboratories, like the Aurora Solar Project in Minnesota, to explore these benefits and other innovative solutions.

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5. Sustainability commitments will extend beyond large corporations as they increasingly require their supply chains to implement sustainability measures

It’s evident that companies and their customers value sustainability – even demand it. As such, many companies have publicly set ambitious goals for moving to zero or near-zero emissions over the coming years. A critical part of fulfilling that goal will be looking at companies downstream in the supply chain and pushing them to reduce their own carbon footprint—from the manufacturing of their raw materials all the way to the delivering and disposing of final goods. At Enel, we have set a target to reduce indirect emissions associated with the consumption of gas by our end-user customers (indirect emissions from the use of products sold), which represent a significant source of indirect Scope 3 emissions, by 16% by 2030. This circular economy mindset will be critical to meeting environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) goals.

Companies in sectors like agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation shouldn’t just prepare for this kind of scrutiny – they should be ready to meet the challenge. By committing to transparency and adopting best practices, companies can ensure that they will not lose business going forward to rivals that can make these commitments.

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6. Major investments in electric vehicle infrastructure will accelerate the electrification of transportation

The number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the road is growing exponentially. However, as this trend becomes more popular, it’s becoming clear that there isn’t the necessary infrastructure in place to meet this increasing demand. In order for EVs to successfully have an impact and to feed the budding consumer desire to drive them, doubling down on investments in EV infrastructure, including smart charging stations that provide added flexibility services for utilities and cost-savings opportunities for businesses and consumers, will be essential. 

2021 promises a year full of breakthroughs for the clean energy industry. At Enel North America, we remain steadfast in our commitments to accelerating the energy transition and providing a greener future for all. 

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