Enel plans new life for old, unused power plants

Fri, 2015-09-25 06:00 -- Doug Peeples


The growth of renewable energy and distributed generation, the drop in demand for electricity in Europe, enhanced energy efficiency and other factors have left Italian utility Enel, a Council Lead Partner, with a large number of power plants that are no longer competitive to operate.

Rather than demolish the old plants or let them sit abandoned indefinitely, Enel is pushing a collaborative effort that includes citizens of the communities where the plants are located, businesses, associations and governments to find practical new uses for those facilities -- uses that will benefit the communities and ensure continued employment for the utility's employees affected by the closures, as well as provide new employment opportunities for local residents.

Enel's Future-E project
That collaborative effort, referred to as the Future-E project, was formed to find new roles for 23 of the utility's thermal power plants that are no longer or are soon to be out of service.

As Enrico Viale, head of global generation for Enel, told The Guardian, "In less than five years, renewables have begun to account for 40% of the Italian demand for energy. Most of our oil or gas fired power plants are now shut down for large parts of the year." The plants he referred to have been used only for reserve power or their permits have or will soon expire, while others have reached the end of their life cycle.

The Future-E project is intended to determine if the plants can be converted into power plants compatible with the new energy landscape or if they can house other industrial or commercial businesses -- or be repurposed for public use in the form of malls, museums or other similar facilities.

Explaining Enel's strategy, Viale said, "We are looking to find solutions that can give new life to these sites, perhaps as museums, shopping malls or logistic hubs. We want to seek those ideas with the full cooperation of the local communities and mainly let somebody else develop this new opportunity -- creating shared value has always been an important part of the way in which Enel operates." He said the utility has received numerous letters of interest from companies interested in such a partnership.

The utility also is sponsoring an International Contest of Ideas to encourage architects, NGOs and others to provide designs for other old power plant sites.

The first site included in the contest is the company's gas-powered plant at Alessandria in northern Italy which was decommissioned two years ago. Enel and Alessandria officials hope the contest will bring new life to the communities involved as well as new jobs.

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Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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