I already wrote about how Italian energy giant Enel is phasing out coal investments, and aiming for a 100% carbon neutral future. The Guardian has an encouraging update on this commitment from what it calls the world's biggest utility in terms of customer numbers.
Featuring an interview new Enel CEO, Francesco Starace, the article has several key takeaways that all of us should be paying attention to:
1) Starace sees that the tide is "flowing in only one direction for utilities – towards low-carbon energy."
2) He says that his company has built its last coal-fired power plant.
3) He frames the move as being as much about economics as it is environmental responsibility: Renewables and efficiency just make more financial sense than coal, nuclear and—in the not too distant future—gas too.
4) He predicts big surprises in terms of the broader electricity market, saying that "in the next 12 months you will see most of the companies more or less go the same way.”
5) And he says that the company, which also operates in the United States, is committed to embracing, not fighting, limits on carbon pollution.
From Germany's largest utility E.On selling off its coal and gas assets to Australia's biggest carbon polluter moving to zero emissions by 2050, the ball is well and truly rolling in terms of a transition away from fossil fuels.
As I argued when 9 corporate giants committed to 100% renewable electricity, the significance reaches well beyond the immediate carbon savings. As more and more companies, organizations and governments align themselves behind a clean energy transition, the political forces that have maintained the status quo through supporting fossil fuel subsidies and funding climate denial become increasingly marginalized.
It's not so much that Big Energy is beginning to eat itself, but that Big Energy is divorcing itself from Big Fossil Fuels.
That divorce is going to be messy. And it's going to take time. But the writing does appear to be on the wall. And just in case anyone is skeptical of corporate commitments like these (I can't think why!), it's worth noting once again that Greenpeace—which once took Enel to court over its carbon pollution—is loudly and repeatedly praising the company's commitment to change. Here what Giuseppe Onufrio, executive director of Greenpeace Italy, had to say in The Guardian's piece:
“Enel’s shift is a welcome move. They’re reshaping their business model in the right direction. With onshore wind now the cheapest energy source in countries like Germany and the UK, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that flexible and smart clean technologies make both environmental and business sense. By completing a full transition to clean energy Enel could become the first truly green energy giant.”