Enel wants coal exit quickly and its hydrogen 100% green, exec says

Enel's Fontes Solar 2 plant in Brazil. Source: Enel

June 15 (Renewables Now) - Italian energy giant Enel SpA (BIT:ENEL) is accelerating its plans to decarbonise its global power production, exit coal and make way for more wind, solar and a hydrogen venture, which could come to life in 2021 at the latest.

Speaking with journalists at a press briefing on Wednesday, Antonio Cammisecra, Enel’s head of global power generation and CEO of Enel Green Power, highlighted that if he could close the company's coal-fired plants tomorrow, he would, leaving no doubt as to the company's resolve to head into the renewables direction.

Underscoring that there is only one kind of recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, and it is the green kind, Cammisecra discussed Enel’s plans for hydrogen and renewables, the company's troubles with the coal phase-out, its position on offshore wind and marine energy and what offshore and onshore turbine makers can learn from one another.

Below is a selection of topics addressed at the briefing and some of Cammisecra’s answers.

ON HYDROGEN

Enel expects to have the first green hydrogen production facility within one year, Cammisecra revealed. The project is still in the development stage, with matters of finding off-takers and suitable markets still being defined.

While the company is still scouting for locations, Chile, the US and Spain are seen as the front-runners due to favourable regulation, availability of land, competitive space for renewables and the presence of large industrial consumers.

The first venture will combine a renewable energy project, wind or solar, of 300 MW to 400 MW and an electrolyser of 100 MW.

Cammisecra insists that there is only clean hydrogen, produced with renewable, zero-emission sources. “Any other form of hydrogen will be a trick”, he said.

ON OFFSHORE WIND

Enel has not changed its long-held position on offshore wind projects and will not enter that market any time soon. The executive did not mince words – "it is just not for us," he said, listing a variety of difficulties that come with implementing such a project.

Cammisecra added that he is curious about the technological exchange between onshore and offshore wind technologies and insists on visiting offshore wind turbine factories.

He believes the two technologies could benefit from one another. The offshore segment should learn about cost-reduction, while its land-based equivalent should learn how to improve reliability.

In real life, not only is this not happening, but the offshore and onshore divisions within the same company “hate [each other] fiercely”, “they are like enemies”, Cammisecra jokingly said.

“There is not a formalised process of cross-fertilisation between the two technologies, which is a big waste of information, of knowledge, of efficiency," he stated, adding that this process is starting just now.

ON COAL PHASE-OUT

Enel is stepping on the proverbial gas to exit coal as soon as possible. In Italy, the law requires all coal-fired units to be shut down by 2025, but the company believes it can close most of them around the world by that time.

Cammisecra was adamant that the exit is doable in all of Enel’s markets in which it has thermal power capacity based on coal -- Spain, Italy, Chile and Colombia.

Spain and Chile have enough land and abundance of wind and solar resources to enable the company to easily move from coal to renewables.

In Italy, the process will have to go through gas-fired capacity. Enel has four plus one coal-fired plants marked for closure in its native country. Four of them will switch to gas for a period of time and incorporate renewables.

Cammisecra explained that wind and solar will be producing the bulk of electricity at these sites, whereas gas will serve as backup.

Enel wants to move fast, but the Italian bureaucracy is not keeping up tempo and it needs to be pushed to wake up from inertia. A whole other problem is local opposition to the plant closures. Cammisecra described a situation when the company faced two protests happening simultaneously at the same plant. One gate was occupied by environmentalists, while the local business community gathered at the other gate to protest against the announced closure.

The executive stressed that the company has nothing against “logical, firm and legitimate opposition,” but the negativity of too harsh discussions would just delay the needed closures.

ON MARINE ENERGY AND FLOATING SOLAR

Enel wants to play it safe with its choice of renewables to bring about the decarbonisation, sticking only to mature technologies such as onshore wind and solar.

Floating solar, however, holds more promise than other emerging technologies and Enel is developing some projects on its hydro reservoirs. Cammisecra pointed to environmental issues with having a reservoir surface covered with floating structures given that some of these water bodies in Italy are old and have an established plant and animal life. Nevertheless, Enel has a pipeline of more than 200 MW in a "very preliminary phase". "I think, in less than one year, we may have a project ongoing,” he stated.

Enel is collaborating with small companies and investing in projects to better understand marine energy and its scalability and feasibility, but Cammisecra believes nothing sizeable in this segment will emerge in the next five years.

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Sladjana has significant experience as a Spain-focused business news reporter and is now diving deeper into the global renewable energy industry. She is the person to seek if you need information about Latin American renewables and the Spanish market.

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