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    Italy's Enel Renewable Energy Giant Believes in Russia's Innovation Potential

    © Sputnik / Taras Litvinenko
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    BONN (Sputnik), Anastasia Levchenko - While the world is well on its way toward a low-carbon or even fossil-fuel-free reality, many people are still scared of introducing changes to their everyday lives and believe that green technologies, electric vehicles, and rooftop solar panels are from a futuristic movie or a very advanced city.

    However, this future is already happening today.

    Ernesto Ciorra, chief innovation officer of Enel Group, the global leader in energy production from renewable sources recognized as "the company changing the world" by the Fortune Magazine in August, shared his views on Russia's renewables potential, sea energy, electric cars and latest tendencies in innovations in an interview with Sputnik.

    Russia's Potential

    The renewable energy sector remains under-developed in Russia despite the rich intellectual resources. However, Ciorra believes that Russia can produce this technology.

    "Technologies can come from Russia. For example, we partner with a very interesting Russian technology company, of photovoltaic (PV) panels, its name is Hevel Solar. We are working with them. This is a very good company, they develop excellent technologies on PV panels, and we also have a plan to install PV panels in the southern part of Italy, in Sicily, and we asked them to build an alliance with us and work together, and they agreed. We were very close to start our activities, but then sanctions came. Now, however, we have started up again to make this innovation journey together," the chief innovation officer said.

    READ MORE: China's Energy Imports From US Could Be Substituted by Supplies From Russia

    Enel is already producing renewable energy in Russia, Ciorra stressed.

    "We have different thermal plants, and we have a couple of wind plants. One is still under construction, the other one — we won the tender some weeks ago," the top manager said.

    The company is about to embark upon a new joint project with Rosseti, a leading energy company in Russia.

    "We want to work with them in Kaliningrad in a small area to create the grid of the future — it will be the most innovative grid. They asked us to collaborate because 'we invented the smart meter in 2000, and we have updated that smart meter with a new version, which is considered now the most advanced in the world. We are installing this smart meter in Italy now — we have already installed four meters [about 13 feet] of it. And we are providing a smart meter and our knowledge with the support of the government," Ciorra said.

    Enel is, therefore, firmly embedded in the "Russian ecosystem."

    "Do you know that we established an innovation hub in Moscow? We have only 10 innovation hubs around the world, and one of them is in Skolkovo. We love that ecosystem in Skolkovo because you can feel a very strong support from the government. There are a lot of Russian people who are very smart, there are very good universities — the Skoltech university and the Skolkovo university. We met several times with Prime Minister [Dmitry] Medvedev, and we were really enthusiastic seeing such support that the Russian government is giving to innovations. We are even envious because in Italy we do not have such a state support," Ciorra said.

    The human capital raises Russia's chances to transition from fossil fuels to renewables, however, rich gas resources complicate the matter, according to Ciorra.

    "The potential to make this transition is great, but the willingness to do it depends on the fact that the country has a lot of gas. So I understand that could be a suicide for powerful gas companies. But when there is a transition, you can manage it with selling gas and trying to better understand how to balance the usage of gas with the usage of renewables. It's true that gas is useful, and you can sell it, but today a cost per megawatt [MW] of a wind plant is cheaper than the cost for an MW of a gas plant. Wind is cheaper than gas, and gas needs to be extracted. With wind, you just need to wait for it," Ciorra said.

    He cited the example of Spain where prices for electricity grew recently because of the absence of wind, which led to more use of gas and coal.

    "Five years ago it was impossible to think that renewable sources of energy could be cheaper than gas or coal. Today it's normal," Ciorra said.

    New Renewables' Ideas

    Yet more untapped sources of energy could be found in nature, the power of sea being one example.

    "On our planet, there is more sea than earth. We can get a lot of energy from the sea — its movement, waves, currents. Think about the sea, look at it. It's beautiful, and there is a lot of energy in it! Exploiting this could be a breakthrough. If we manage to exploit one-thousandth of the energy that the sea has, we can power the world for 1000 years. Sea is an incredible source of energy," Ciorra said.

    READ MORE: Denmark Aiming at Wind Energy 'Silicon Valley' in North Sea

    He added that the decreasing cost of batteries was yet another innovation trend.

    "Now it's 70 percent less than the most optimistic forecast five years ago. The cost has reduced, and the capacity of a battery is increasing," Ciorra said.

    Hydrogen energy is yet another green technology trend to watch.

    "Just imagine: now you have a car, you go to a gas station and you refill it. But if you are able to produce hydrogen at the gas station, you can use the same tank, and you put hydrogen in it instead of putting fuel. In one minute you could refill a car with an autonomy of 1000 km if you have a hydrogen pump. It's less time than you need to refill with fuel, and it's the same autonomy as of the thermal car, and you have no problems with security and safety of the car. Because if there is an explosion in a car with fuel, the whole car would explode and everybody would die. But if a car with hydrogen explodes, no one will be injured, because hydrogen makes a really small explosion," Ciorra said.

    The only problem with hydrogen is that it is at the moment impossible to produce it in the same place where it is sold. The production costs are higher than the transport costs, Enel top manager explained.

    Electric Cars

    For now, electric cars remain in trend for those who care about environment and innovation.

    "I have an electric car, I drive only electric cars, and I charge my car at the office and at home. It has a great autonomy of 450 km, so I charge it more or less two times per week. But I do it while I am staying in the office, it's very comfortable, I do not care if it takes 3 or 4 hours. And this is not a very fast charger, it can be faster. I have two personal chargers, one at home and one in the office, it's just a very small white box, it can stay anywhere," Ciorra said.

    Enel won an EU tender to install chargers from Italy and Germany in other parts of Europe.

    "We have invested 350 million euro only to provide electric chargers in Italy, and we are going to invest another 250 in Spain. The reality is that actually there are a lot of chargers for electric vehicles everywhere, but people think that there are not. This is a problem. Look, there is a smartphone application that shows you all the chargers around the world. It's a usual app, not sponsored by Enel or anyone. When you zoom the map, they pop up everywhere. If you go to Africa even, not Italy, it's full of chargers even there. And in Italy, Spain, Europe there are really many," Ciorra said.

    Many people are scared to buy an electric car, Enel's chief innovator said.

    "Today these cars are not expensive. If you compare the total cost of ownership and maintenance, they are not expensive at all. People are just always scared by something new, girls are even scared to change the color of their hair. It's normal to be scared by a change. Electric mobility does not produce any pollution, it costs much less in refueling and maintenance, and with an electric car, you can even go to the city center without paying. There are so many advantages," Ciorra said.

    Public transport is switching to electricity as well.

    READ MORE: Russian Scientists Suggest Making Electronic Devices From ‘Carbon Peas'

    "It is already electric in many cities. In London, they bought a lot of electric buses. But have a look also at a less advanced country. There is an example of Chile, Santiago. They have 100 buses already, but this was just the first purchase, they want to go till 3000 because they realized that the total cost of ownership is much lower," Ciorra said.

    Russia is likely to follow the same path, according to Enel's innovation chief.

    "Now people understand that this is the future. People in Russia probably understood it from China. At first, they [the Chinese] didn't even want to come to the COP conferences. Now they are the most important producers of electric cars and buses. They understood that the world is going there, and they want to be the first ones," Ciorra said.

    Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Ernesto Ciorra and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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