The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated change in the energy industry, according to the CEO of Italian energy company Enel, but a number of issues need to be addressed in order to ensure moderate change.
In a detailed interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Tuesday, Francesco Starace was asked about the “energy transition” and how the pandemic had changed the landscape.
“For example, the EU has decided to find the way out of the crisis in order to accelerate these renewable energies and this energy transition,” he said.
“I would say it’s more of a transition than a transformation,” he added. “It’s a big change that affects not just the energy industry, but … the industry as a whole. So I can say, yes, the pandemic has greatly accelerated this trend. “
Change appears to be on the horizon, and in many cases it is closely related to attempts by major economies to recover from the effects of the pandemic.
The European Commission, for example, has described the European Green Deal – a plan for climate neutrality for the EU by 2050 – as “our lifeline from the COVID-19 pandemic”.
The Green Deal is supported by initiatives such as the Just Transition Mechanism. This should mobilize billions of euros between 2021 and 2027 and focus on “regions that are the most carbon-intensive or most people work with fossil fuels”.
As governments around the world are signaling their intention to move away from fossil fuels and pursue net-zero goals, making any meaningful change is a daunting task.
For example, energy companies are still discovering new oil fields, while fossil fuels continue to play an important role in electricity production in countries like the USA.
For his part, Starace was keen to make it clear that every shift would not be without its challenges.
“The transformation is inevitable, it will happen anyway,” he said. “The risk is whether it happens in a disorderly manner or … in an orderly manner.”
“I think the risk is that we don’t really consider all of the consequences for all of the industry and for all of the world’s economy,” he added.
“That means that we try to push it forward in such a way that it causes problems for people or … [u]n fair, in some parts of the world piling up inequality instead of being more just. “
Retraining of the workforce
As governments around the world signal their intention to expand renewable energy capacity in the coming years, the need for jobs in this sector is expected to increase.
According to the Global Wind Energy Council, the expansion of the wind energy industry could create 3.3 million jobs in the next five years.
In the US, the Solar Energy Industries Association says the solar sector will need over 900,000 workers if the country is to meet its goal of “100% clean electricity” by 2035.
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America’s solar industry employed more than 231,000 workers last year, down 6.7% year-over-year, according to a recent report by SEIA, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, The Solar Foundation and BW Research.
In his interview with CNBC, Enel’s Starace stated that skilled people were “becoming a scarce … commodity” in the energy industry. Among other things, he emphasized the importance of training people in large numbers.
Clean air, less noise
In recent years, governments around the world have signaled their intention to increase the number of electric vehicles on their roads. This move away from the internal combustion engine is already underway.
At the end of April, the International Energy Agency announced that around 3 million new electric cars were registered last year, a record high and an increase of 41% compared to 2019.
According to the Paris-based organization, that leap has brought the total number of electric cars on the streets to over 10 million, a number that is supplemented by roughly 1 million electric buses, vans and heavy trucks.
One of the potential benefits of electrifying transport is improved air quality, as Starace noted. “When we electrify – that means pushing[ing] fossil fuels out of the picture – the fine dust particles, the pollutants that are part of our daily life will disappear … and the quality of life in cities will definitely improve. “