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Electrification: definition and meaning

To slow the pace of global warming, governments and companies around the world have made a commitment to cutting emissions of the harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, in order to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Reaching these goals involves making an energy transition away from fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, towards renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal. But the energy transition alone will not be enough to reduce carbon emissions below the danger point. Cutting greenhouse gas emissions must also involve shifting the  machines, transportation, and industrial processes currently powered by fossil fuels to be powered by electricity. The process is called electrification, or using electricity as a source to provide a service previously met by other energy sources. Only when electrification is achieved with power generated from 100% renewable sources will it become an essential tool to bring about the energy transition, enable the decarbonization of final consumption, and contribute to the goal of sustainable development.

What does electrification of uses mean?

Electrification

Electrification

The process driving the energy transition for a sustainable world

Climate change is forcing us to rethink the way we refuel our cars, heat our homes, charge our appliances, and power our industries. By electrification of uses, we mean using electricity to provide services for mobility, residential, public and industrial activities that  were previously met by  fossil fuels, which produce the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Technological progress makes electricity more cost-effective, in many cases, than the direct use of fossil fuels. At the same time, the reduction in waste associated with increased efficiency results in lower energy consumption for the same performance. The electrification of final energy consumption is the optimal solution to decarbonize the economy, make transport more efficient, guarantee cleaner air quality and digitalize our homes and cities. 
It should therefore be understood as an essential tool to bring about the energy transition and give form to a model of sustainable development.

Understanding the benefits of electrification

The benefits of electrification start with sustainability and greenhouse gas reduction. Replacing electricity generated by fossil fuels with power generated by renewable sources, coupled with the electrification of final uses, reduces pollution. The European Union has increased its climate ambition by 2030, pushing to at least a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to 1990, in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. In this scenario, in the EU27 the penetration of electricity in final energy use is predicted to grow from 23% to 30-31% by 2030 and between 47% to 60% by 2050, according to EU figures. The benefits of electrification, however, go beyond climate change and healthier air. Electrification creates an interlinked series of benefits that form a virtuous circle. There are five main and interlocking benefits from electrification:
  • Decarbonization: shifting from fossil fuels to carbon-free electricity reduces carbon emissions in the energy end-uses for sectors like transport and industry that are the main cause of global greenhouse gas emissions
  • Innovation: developing innovative technologies to support the spread of electrification such as Enel X Sun Plug&Play, a solar panel small enough to fit on a balcony that makes the use of energy more accessible and widespread, or advanced battery storage. These technologies can also spill over into other sectors.
  • Digitalization: coupled with the electrictrification, digitalization of services like smart thermostats in homes or remotely controlled lighting in cities provides the flexibility necessary for consumers to optimize their energy use and reduce waste
  • Efficiency: electrification can generate substantial energy savings thanks to higher efficiency compared to other forms of energy at home, in transport, building sector, and industry
  • Air quality: poor air quality is the number one environmental health risk in Europe, according to the European Environment Agency.

Home electrification: solutions and benefits

Home electrification makes your residence energy efficient, resulting in lower electricity bills. For example, home electrification solutions such as:
  • A heat pump that is up to three times more efficient than a boiler and saves an average of 45% on heating bills
  • A photovoltaic system for solar energy that can perch on a balcony or window to self-produce energy and reduce energy consumption on the bill by up to 25% forever
  • Induction cooktops that achieve up to twice the yield of traditional gas stoves, as well as providing more even cooking, more precise temperature control and greater safety

 

Smart Home Solutions

e-Home Solutions

Enabling smarter, better living through cutting-edge technology

Moreover, electrification can lead to the centralized control of integrated appliances, smart thermostats, and LED bulbs that make homes more efficient, safe, and comfortable, turning them into smart homes. In a smart home, a centralized system manages energy consumption optimally, for example, by operating the washing machine when the cost of electricity is lower or autonomously adjusting lighting or room temperature based on consumption habits.

Industrial electrification: solutions and benefits

Industry used to be synonymous with its dirty smokestacks, but no longer. Nearly half of the fossil energy used in manufacturing (e.g. for heat treatments, drying, distillations, compressions, cooking) can be replaced with electricity using technologies already available.

 

There are several benefits of electrification for factories and industry:

Flexibility Solutions

Flexibility Solutions and Demand Respons

Transforming energy from a cost into an opportunity

  • First of all, since electricity is more precise, controllable and flexible than combustion, it is easier to control and can result in better product quality
  • Cost reduction through greater energy efficiency and less required maintenance is another key benefit
  • Electrification contributes to achieving sustainability targets because of zero direct emissions of pollution on site
  • Lastly, innovation: electrification involves adopting cutting-edge technologies, the digitization of services, and integration with advanced systems.

Many solutions for electrification in industry and related services are already in use and are becoming increasingly common. Here is a look at a few:

  • Low- and medium-temperature heat pumps offer a wide variety of solutions for electrification for both facilities and manufacturing operations which can be combined with energy management software to optimize consumption and program demand.
  • Electrification allows companies to take part in Demand Response programs, unlocking the potential to generate a new revenue stream, as well as lower energy costs
  • Photovoltaic systems on warehouse roofs to generate solar energy for the facility are increasingly common in industrial use. When solar panels are combined with Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS), they become even more efficient since this renewable energy can be stored and used when it is needed.  
  • The installation of cogeneration or trigeneration plants recover the waste heat produced by electricity generation to use for heating and cooling
  • Mobility solutions for the electrification of corporate fleets and their management is an increasingly common tool to cut emissions

City electrification: solutions and benefits

By 2050, over 70% of the world’s population will live in cities, so urban energy infrastructure must adapt to keep up with the pace of change. Cities currently account for nearly three quarters of annual carbon emissions and two thirds of global energy consumption. The electrification of cities creates benefits such as making the cities of today and tomorrow more livable, healthy and sustainable.

 

Fortunately, cities have many electrification solutions at their disposal.

  • Municipal administrations can use solar panels to provide clean energy to meet the heating, cooling and electricity needs of of electrified offices, schools and hospitals
  • Electrification also makes it easier to use energy management programs that allow building managers to achieve savings on lighting and heating in public buildings
  • The electrification of public transport improves air quality, reduces emissions and noise pollution, cuts costs, and provides the public with a more comfortable and more extensive service. Converting public vehicle fleets to eBuses is just the beginning. E-powered public transportation solutions include upgrading bus stops and shelters, which will become smart and multifunctional. The goal is a sustainable and integrated mobility system, monitored in real time and managed in an intelligent and flexible way, which will be the backbone of future electrified, circular and interconnected smart cities.
Electric public transportation

Electric Public Transportation

Zero-emissions mobility for sustainable cities

  • Electrification of cities must include a new approach to public lighting. Public administrations, with Enel X’s support, can make their smart cities more functional, efficient and sustainable by replacing obsolete public lighting infrastructure with innovative LED solutions, and with cutting-edge technologies that improve lighting service through greater security and system reliability. Adaptive lighting, i.e. the possibility of adjusting street lighting based on real traffic, weather, and brightness conditions, can optimize street lighting and lead to energy savings of 20-35% compared to LED lights. Moreover, with the same technology, innovative services can be added, like public video surveillance and traffic monitoring.

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