ADVOCACY: Driving a just energy transition together, through technology
Energy is critical to our well-being and development, as well as fostering a just transition. Eni is investing in innovation that will effect real change in the race to decarbonise
Energy has been at the centre of the development of our modern society since at least the invention of the steam engine. But its role has never been more central than today. Issues around forms of energy and how they are produced are key not only to economic growth and energy security and prominent political choices, but they are also crucial to global environmental survival. There is no longer an argument about the urgent need to decarbonise the world’s energy system. The debate can only be about how best to achieve the quickest transition in realistic terms.
An unprecedented effort
Advocating realism means adopting an inclusive and holistic approach, which includes governments, institutions, international agencies, the private sector and citizens and, in particular, it involves the energy sector, from which two-thirds of annual greenhouse gas emissions derive. By 2050 we will have to produce and consume clean energy, use it more efficiently and, at the same time, meet the demands of nearly 10 billion people. A challenge of this magnitude requires an unprecedented collective effort. No actor can delude themselves into being able to achieve the result alone.
There is little incentive, for example, for a single country to be the first to implement what can be perceived as economically and socially painful decisions on decarbonisation, if its industrial system is rendered uncompetitive by high energy prices compared with countries that forgo enacting certain climate-friendly policies.
Working together pragmatically also means driving a transition that reduces inequalities around the world. It is in this spirit that Eni has entered into several partnerships with international organisations, such as with the International Renewable Energy Agency, in the framework of which we will work together to accelerate the development of renewable energies, especially in contexts where the objectives of decarbonisation are closely linked to those of energy access. Indeed, to this day, hundreds of millions of people still lack access to electricity, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.
As a person who has dedicated his entire professional life to energy, I am aware that there is no magic bullet to solve the current energy puzzle. There has to be a mosaic of decarbonised energy sources and Consumption-reduction initiatives, such as circular production and consumption cycles, which suit the myriad different conditions and contexts in the real world.
At Eni, we have embraced carbon neutrality by 2050, adopting very strong quantitative targets and basing our future on an energy mix that will be increasingly made up of green and bio energy, building on circular economy initiatives and on a progressively reduced and decarbonised hydrocarbons portfolio. The experience and passion of our people, with whom we are working to develop the innovations needed for the energy of the future, will drive our own transformation.
Innovating and investing
Transitions must be gradual, but technology can accelerate them. My company is investing large amounts in well-established renewables such as wind and solar, but it is also focusing on developing cost-effective industrial-scale new technologies and breakthrough solutions. We have been working with partners such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on magnetic fusion, which uses deuterium and tritium present in sea water and in the earth’s crust, with exceptional results: the plan is to build, by 2025, a small-scale prototype and the first industrial-scale plant by the first years of the 2030s. It would not just mean clean and safe energy, but access to a potentially inexhaustible source: a bottle of heavy water could produce energy that is equivalent to that produced by a 250MW power plant for a year. That would completely revolutionise the energy landscape.
We are also investing in energy from marine motion, as well as new generation solar panels and energy-generating windows, together with new processes for the production of biofuels – both biodiesel and jet fuel – as well as waste-to-fuel conversion, the production of bioplastics and biomethane.
Collectively, Eni’s R&D, with around 7,500 patents and 450 projects, will be a catalyst in accelerating the energy transition. To support our research efforts, last year we switched on HPC5, one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, and the most powerful among non-government ones. We also currently have relationships with 70 universities and research centres at the international level.
Urgency and speed on climate action are currently two overarching priorities. So we need to do what is doable right away and accelerate new technologies through research.
In Europe, the reformed carbon trading system has yielded a high price for carbon that can effectively incentivise technologies for decarbonisation, like, for example, carbon capture storage and utilisation. Carbon pricing is a clear example of the necessity for governments to cooperate, with the objective of agreeing on global standards so that we all can compete on an international level playing field to develop and implement the best climate-saving technologies in the fastest time possible.
As we all realise, the challenge is enormous, but I am confident: there is an increasing awareness of the need for global coordination, not only to counteract climate change but also to ensure a just transition. And this will enable us all to have the access to energy that we need for our well-being and development.