On this edition of Columbia Energy Exchange, host Jason Bordoff is joined by Francesco Starace, Chief Executive Officer and General Manager of Enel. Enel is a multinational manufacturer and distributor of electricity and gas, and one of Europe’s leading energy companies, serving more than 73 million end users in 35 countries across 5 continents.
 
Broadcasting from the 9th Annual International Renewable Energy Agency Assembly in Abu Dhabi, Jason and Francesco discussed Enel’s focus on innovation in renewable energy. Enel has made significant investments in technology and digitalization to respond to a rapidly changing energy market, creating the foundation for intelligent grids, smart cities, and electric transportation.
 
Jason and Francesco discussed the role of natural gas in the energy mix, and changes brought by the global clean energy transition - from the impact of electrification on energy demand and carbon emissions to workforce and labor impacts. Francesco also shared his thoughts on the outlook for renewables, innovation in the energy sector and the future of nuclear.

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[00:00:03]

Jason Bordoff: Hello and welcome to Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. I’m Jason Bordoff. Last week, I was in Abu Dhabi where I had a chance to moderate a session at the 9th annual IRENA of the International Renewable Energy Agency Assembly. And I had the chance to sit down there with Francesco Starace, who is the CEO of Enel. Enel is a multinational energy company, one of Europe’s leading energy companies, serving more than 73 million end-users in five continents. In recent years, under Starace’s leadership, the company is focused on innovation and renewable energy. They’ve made significant investments in technology and digitalization in response to what is a rapidly changing energy market helping to create the foundation for intelligent grids and smart cities and electric transportation. I really enjoyed this conversation. I learnt a lot. I hope you will as well. And it’s fitting for a gathering like IRENA to have conversations like that. IRENA brings together policy makers, business and civil society leaders, representing more than a 160 countries aimed at accelerating the renewable energy deployment to achieve our global climate objectives. I’ll also note that this was the last meeting with my friend Adnan Amin at the helm of IRENA. And I want to congratulate him on a successful tenure as its director general and I wish him much success in his future endeavors. Now, here is my conversation with Francesco Starace. I hope, you enjoy it. Francesco Starace, thanks for joining us on Columbia Energy Exchange.

 

[00:01:35]

Francesco Starace: Thank you for having me.

 

[00:01:37]

Jason Bordoff: Enel is one of the world’s largest companies by its customer base but it’s not always very well known especially to U.S. audience. So tell our audience first just to start a little bit about the company, its activities around the world and also in the U.S.

 

[00:01:51]

Francesco Starace: I think, Enel is a senior to many other B2B. This is a large utility. It’s an integrated utility. So we cover generation, distribution and retail and the value chain. The whole spectrum. We have been _____ [00:02:10] following the European regulatory framework. So we don’t have a transmission operator that is a totally different company. We are present in more than 30 countries around the world. We are the number one utility in Europe in terms of market cap. By far in terms of customer number and we are one of the largest operators in terms of renewable energy. Today, we have roughly half of our capacity in renewable energy. And we increasingly grow that part of the generation portfolio. Today we add around 3,000-3,500 megawatts a year of renewable energy in terms of projects that are being built and put in line. In big efforts are in this say, three years period in front of us in two directions. One, the growths in renewable energy in the Americas. North, Central and Latin America are the part where we see our renewable energy growth concentrated in the next three years. And second, the big effort in digitizing distribution networks. Where we have a unique experience this the world. Italy has been the first country to fully digitize its distribution network. And we are today ending the digital transformation of our Spanish network. And we are about to start the digital transformation of all the networks, we own in Latin America. So, it’s a big effort in digitizing all distribution networks, we have around the world.

 

[00:03:51]

Jason Bordoff: So, I want to ask you about each of those pieces but first just start at the higher level. You talked about how the largest segment of growth is in renewable energy. But when we look around the world, emissions are going up, coal use went up last year. So, where do you think, we are in the clean energy transition?

 

[00:04:09]

Francesco Starace: I think, we are in a moment of abrupt change in direction. You know, there are know linear phenomenon in the energy world. It’s always coming into bursts and then concentrated waiting times. For this way. I think, we are at this very moment in a situation which in particularly in Europe but I think that’s something, you can see in most of the OACD countries. The coupling between energy demand and GDP growth. This happened across the last economic crisis. Before then…

 

[00:04:52]

Jason Bordoff: In the U.S. last year, we saw emissions go up and strong GDP growth was important, right.

 

[00:04:56]

Francesco Starace: Emissions went up but not electricity demand. It’s a different story.

 

[00:05:03]

Jason Bordoff: Industrial use and transportation.

 

[00:05:05]

Francesco Starace: Right, right. So when electricity demand and GDP were tightly linked, you could even look at electricity demand and have a proxy of how your GDP was going. This is no more the case. In all the OACD areas, including Japan, I would say that evidence, this happens, this linking happens as soon as a country crosses the $10,000 per capita GDP threshold. And it’s a fantastic phenomenon. So, what we see is, there is an increased efficiency in the used of electricity and in the meantime, there is a progressive decarbonization of the electricity generation mix. That leads to a consideration which we observe in all these area that as you progress to decarbonize and electricity mix of a certain area, two things happen. The price of energy goes down, at wholesale level and it stabilizes because it becomes less sensible to the variation of commodity prices. And as that happens, so prices go down and they stabilize. You start to consider electricity for users that were not originally conceived before. So, you start to say, I can electrify transportation. I can…

 

[00:06:27]

Jason Bordoff: Passenger vehicles. Do you think, we can also electrify the rest of transportation?

 

[00:06:29]

Francesco Starace: Transportation, passenger vehicles, heavy-duty trucks in the next future yes. But for sure, today all buses, yes. So, it’s through that from one end, the economy is using less in a more wise way electricity but the base of where electricity can be used, it gets growing. So, we see, a future of cheaper and more diversified use of electricity.

 

[00:06:56]

Jason Bordoff: And we are seeing energy intensity improve for energy per unit of GDP. But also the carbon intensity improve even more because we are not only using less energy per unit of GDP but the mix is changing more towards _____ [00:07:07] carbon energy.

 

[00:07:07]

Francesco Starace: And by using electricity, they use progressively decarbonize in other part of the industry and social life, decarbonize those parts too. So, we are in a moment of inversion of trend. That said, of course, there are parts of the world where India, China, where this is still underway. So it will take a while. It will take maybe more than a few years but it is no doubt that this electrical revolution will come fruition.

 

[00:07:37]

Jason Bordoff: As we see the shift toward lower carbon intensity and scaling up of low carbon forms of energy, do you see limits to that as we talk about, a lot of people talk about a 100% renewable. So, as you manage variable loads in your system with higher and higher fractions of renewables, at what point do you see operational risk and how can technology help to address that?

 

[00:07:56]

Francesco Starace: I think we will forget this discussion in a few years. I remember about 12 years ago the _____ [00:08:05] that was one of the operators of transmission lines in Germany published a report. This report became kind of a historical report. It said that report that as the penetration of renewables in the German territory will reach 5%, there will be such an network that it would be difficult to manage. And yes, so that 50 hertz of this one of the three operators of transmission, manages 55% of renewable loads in the net with an incredible quality of supply. So, technicality, technically there are no limits to this and it’s a question of how do you want to and manage the network, what do you have to do to it and what kind of con transaction, you have to put in the network to manage this? It’s possible.

 

[00:08:59]

Jason Bordoff: It’s possible up to, I mean, you think a 100% renewable energy.

 

[00:09:03]

Francesco Starace: A 100% and the issue is, that you want to have a 100% and when is that going to happen. It’s theoretically possible. And it’s something that like I said, once you add up 90%, you probably just, the issue will go away.

 

[00:09:03]

Jason Bordoff: Well, the issue is gonna be, you know, what are the lowest cost ways to continue to drive more decarbonization and at what point do other things in addition to renewables. I want to ask you about some of those.

 

[00:09:32]

Francesco Starace: I think, you will have parts of the world with a 100%, parts of the world with 90, parts of the world with 85 but economically, most parts of the world will be above 60%, 70% easily.

 

[00:09:47]

Jason Bordoff: And how do you think about, I mean, Europe have some pretty sophisticated advanced renewable energy control centers and how do you think about centralized renewables versus distributed in what the future is gonna look like?

 

[00:09:58]

Francesco Starace: I think the future would be much more distributed than we think today. And that is only if the distribution networks will be fully digitized. Without the fully digitized distribution network, a distributed generation at very low voltage level will be extremely difficult to manage and to store at the second point. That is the reason why, we are digitizing our networks. Because we are preparing them for a very distributed generation on a renew basis going forward.

 

[00:10:31]

Jason Bordoff: So we’re here at the IRENA general assembly. I moderated the session yesterday on the socioeconomic implications of a clean energy transition. And so we were talking about the shift toward renewables that has many benefits. There are also losers in that transition. A lot of people who work in the coal sector, threat parts of Europe, among other countries.

 

[00:10:51]

Francesco Starace: Yes

 

[00:10:52]

Jason Bordoff: What do you think needs to be done to address that, to build public support?

 

[00:10:56]

Francesco Starace: I think this is a key point. I think that’s, if I asked, I think this is the major obstacle to the energy transformation that I see. Technically there are no limitation from an economic standpoint. The battle is won already. The issue is there are whether they are right or wrong, people that think they will be on the losing side, no matter if it’s true or not, they think, they have this perception. We have to address that. And I think there are many things that come with that. Starting from telling the truth. People are not stupid. And we have the evidence of that. You know, imagine that, in Italy in 2014, we decided to shut down not multiple shut down, tear down and clean the site, 23 power plants for a total of 13,000 megawatt which is the installed capacity of Greece, 1.5 times. So, we told the people working in this power plants guys, it’s over. These plants will not work anymore. There is evidence of that. It’s been already pretty long time since they started up last time, right. So, you should not worry because you will have job. So you will only change your job.

 

[00:12:14]

Jason Bordoff: But that’s hard for people to hear too. I mean, we don’t often.

 

[00:12:17]

Francesco Starace: Yeah. But change is, no, but you have to understand that this is, there is no way forward like that. Please understand that we will find you a different job which we did. They all have a job within our organization in a complete different pattern of the value chain. Somebody went to distribution, some others went to sales, somebody went to renewable. But they all have a great job. They were ready for it before we start. I mean, they said, you know, it took a while for you guys to understand but you know here in the power plant, we knew this was coming. It was clear. So people, lots more smart and they understand things. But they should not be told lies. And of course, the company has to understand that they need, you need to provide people alternatives. We don’t do that, then it will push back. Obviously. So, it’s and what we have done on these sites is that we have said, okay, they can be 23 funerals, you know, closing down a plant is not nice. But why can’t we have 23 rebirths. So we said, dear mayor of the city, dear governor of the province, dear president of the region, dear institutions, dear entrepreneurs, dear architects, let’s have a project contest. What do we want to do with this site? Aside from generating power plant, something else. What we will do is we will clean up the site, do the necessary dismantling, you decide, it’s yours, provided you have an idea and an investment that generates value in the site. And we had an incredible response. But we had to start from telling the truth.

 

[00:14:10]

Jason Bordoff: Now, I agree with that. I’ve written and said often and I thought, the worst thing we could be doing in the U.S. now is promising bring coal jobs back when we know that that’s not gonna happen. Rather than…

 

[00:14:19]

Francesco Starace: It’s a lie. You should tell the truth.

 

[00:14:21]

Jason Bordoff: Telling hard truths which is they’re probably not coming back and then dealing with the hard issues of figuring out how to help people transition and adjust. When you saw the yellow vest protest in France, that was sort of played up as this was about fuel prices. It was about a lot of things not just fuel prices. But do you think, that, that was part of what’s happening here?

 

[00:14:40]

Francesco Starace: Yes. I think, it’s absolutely part of what’s happening here. The lack of communication on facts. And at that point, and phantoms, monsters, irrationality comes into the picture. And so, you need to tell the truth with facts and don’t let people alone. Don’t leave them alone. So, I think it’s part of the government’s story or task to do that but also companies like us and others, we have an obligation to say what’s going on. We cannot hide it. We cannot say, everything is gonna be right, don’t worry. This is not the way people are need to be treated. It’s not the way we should do this. It’s our responsibility, we have to carry.

 

[00:15:29]

Jason Bordoff: We’ve seen lots of revolutions in renewable energy. We’re also seeing the global natural gas market undergo pretty historic transformation toward a more competitive integrated market. Gas moving from pipelines to the water. Enel has energy contracts with U.S. exports. Talk a little bit about what you see as the role for natural gas in low carbon transition?

 

[00:15:50]

Francesco Starace: I think natural gas has an incredible opportunity. Provided, we always say that sometimes and divided for what I’m saying but provided it does not try to emulate what oil has done.

 

[00:16:11]

Jason Bordoff: What do you mean by that?

 

[00:16:12]

Francesco Starace: I mean that oil has been a volatile traded and sometimes speculative treated commodity for a long time.

 

[00:16:23]

Jason Bordoff: Very speculative.

 

[00:16:23]

Francesco Starace: Yes. And I think gas to ensure itself a longer time span in terms of what market can do with gas should not follow the example of the big brother oil. So not be as crazy and volatile and unpredictable as it always has been. It started the wrong way because prices of gas in the 20 years have passed linked to oil prices. So, we’ve seen gas fall at DDT as far as the oil prices went up and down. There is no reason that this should be the case again. In fact, would be and finally understood by the big oil and gas companies.

 

[00:17:12]

Jason Bordoff: Now do you say there is no reason that should be the case. I mean, one could argue there could be more reason for volatility there because the markets are not as integrated and developed so that when you see Fukushima happen and there is a spike in natural gas demand. Japan prices go through the roof to pull those supplies in. The same last year or the year before when China moves off of coal fire boilers, high prices are needed to pull those supplies in.

 

[00:17:34]

Francesco Starace: Okay, let me answer to you with this. Coal is the same. Coal has a supply and demand tension. And that’s okay. But oil has had spikes supply demand, forget about it. I mean, this speculative dimension of the traded volumes of oil versus the physical traded volumes of oil is 210 and that’s what I think. That’s what I’m talking about. I’m not saying that prices of gas will be insensible between supply and demand tension. But let’s face it. There is no reason why it should be more volatile than coal for example. And second, if you want to have a quick transition from coal to gas for example, the real cure is not to try and demonstrate that coal is dirty and gas is clean because also gas is dirty. I mean, gas has polluting impacts. I’m saying, just price gas at discount to coal no matter what. Which by the way would, should gas can happen. It has happened so far in the U.S. One of the reasons why coal plants have shut down.

 

[00:18:46]

 Jason Bordoff: Coal is pretty cheap.

 

[00:18:49]

Francesco Starace: Yeah, but you know one of the reasons why coal plants have been shut down in the U.S. is because Shale gas is cheaper. There is nothing fancy about it. It’s just as simple as that. But elsewhere in the world, it’s not like that. But Europe has been for many, many years, coal cheap and gas expensive place. Why that? There is no reason why it should be. So, I’m saying, gas could play a big role provided it does not dream of becoming the oil of the future because it’s not another oil of the future.

 

[00:19:21]

Jason Bordoff: Well, it sounds like you need policy to help support that because if you go to emerging parts of southeast Asia, India, coal is a pretty cheaper way to produce electricity if you don’t account for climate change and local pollution.

 

[00:19:31]

Francesco Starace: Yeah. I think, it’s a policy thing or a gas producing decision standpoint and I’m saying, you know when a company is called an oil and gas company and not a gas and oil company or a gas company, that’s a big, you know, semantics matter. If you say, I’m an oil and gas company, obviously oil comes first and everything reflects what oil does.

 

[00:19:57]

Jason Bordoff: How do you view the, I mean in Europe there is a question about natural gas, is it clean and green enough. Also questions about the security of gas supply plus controversial pipelines to Russia for example and Italy, it gets a lot of natural gas from Russia. How do you view this debate about, is it a problem for Europe to depend on Russian gas?

 

[00:20:15]

Francesco Starace: Let’s see where Europe gets gas from. It gets gas from Libya, from Algeria, and from Russia and we have some gas before which we almost finished, you know.

 

[00:20:32]

Jason Bordoff: And Norway.

 

[00:20:30]

Francesco Starace: Like I said, we have some from Norway but it’s going to end soon. So, you know, these three countries repeat, Libya, Algeria, and Russia are fantastic countries. Great potential for gas producing facilities but you know, maybe we should choose another place. So, I think LNG should be more present, should be more frequent to use and of course it gives you a lot of flexibility in the negotiation table with these countries. You can have an LNG alternative, okay. So, I believe that we should have in Europe more LNG regasification terminals than we have today in order to have a credible negotiating stance when it comes to this kind of renewable contents.

 

[00:21:24]

Jason Bordoff: Well, I’m sure…

 

[00:21:26]

Francesco Starace: But there would be always gas coming from Russia, from Libya and from Algeria. So, question is just on what terms and the optionality is always important.

 

[00:21:33]

Jason Bordoff: You talked about your investments in not just North America but South America, can you say a little bit more about what you see happening in Chile and Brazil and also Mexico. What impact will this new government have? There is a lot of questions about whether we’re gonna see a lot of the energy reforms roll back.

 

[00:21:49]

Francesco Starace: I think Chile in a way Brazil but Chile in particular is a very interesting place because this one of the part of the world where the cost of generating electricity with renewable energy sources come from new plants that need to repay their capital. And not fully amortized. They start amortizing beats the marginal cost of generating from thermal generating power plants. So, when that happens, the technology gets the other because of economics and that’s going on right now. And we have evidence of that. We are doing it ourselves. We have power plants and generating on gas and then you solar or wind farm beats the marginal cost of generating. So we’re saying, why not are we doing, are we doing it or somebody else is gonna do it to us? So we do it. And that’s, that’s going on and it’s a country that will shift to renewables very quickly. It’s going this very moment. Brazil is a fully, almost fully renewable country already. You know, it’s big hydro place with some thermal generation. But we are growing renewables only.

 

[00:23:08]

Jason Bordoff: A lot of challenges with the variability on hydro when they face droughts.

 

[00:23:10]

Francesco Starace: Let’s say, it’s a more to hear variability. So, they have, it’s a big country. It’s a fully dispatched area. So they are not segmented parts of the country. So it’s pretty well balanced across the years. And they have a multi-year balancing system. So it’s very, very large, you can imagine Brazil as a huge dam with a lot of water in it going up and down. Basically, it’s very simple explanation of that. But there is such a big solar and wind potential that today we are adding solar and wind which mitigate a little bit of this uncertainty in hydro conditions. Mexico, I think has had a fantastic growth in renewables, mostly wind and solar. Actually, the largest solar plant in America today is in Mexico. So 750 megawatts, huge.

 

[00:24:04]

Jason Bordoff: You think the new government will affect the investment climate?

 

[00:24:06]

Francesco Starace: No, I think the new government focuses more on oil, in the oil segment, _____ [00:24:13] and the problems facing there. So, I don’t think they don’t have any _____ [00:24:16] there. This is a great job creation potential and it’s working very well for the economy there. The growths of renewable in Mexico is only driven by economic benefits. So is it cheaper? Yes. So do it. If it’s not cheaper, don’t do it. And it’s very competitive.

 

[00:24:36]

Jason Bordoff: So, speaking of how changes in government can affect policy and investment climates. Coming back to the United States, you have more than a 10 billion Euro, I think Capex plan and much of that will find its way into renewable investments in the United States. That’s the plan. Does the shift in government and the fact that we have an administration that is not supportive to put it mildly about policies to promote a transition. Does that affect the investment climate?

 

[00:25:06]

Francesco Starace: Let me tell you this. I know, it seems a little bit off. We have been working in the U.S., this is the third administration. Push by Obama and then President Trump. So, they had completely different views about the climate, about renewables in general about the energy policy. We have found out that what really matters in the U.S. is basically the energy points of the states of the union. So the what states decide and the regulators of the state decide is much more important and then the second even probably more important is, is the energy produced competitive, yes or no? Because if it is, it will find a way to the market. The beauty about the U.S. is it’s very efficient economic system where if you have a compelling, competitive proposal, you will find a customer somewhere.

 

[00:26:07]

Jason Bordoff: But do you need policy to be competitive? Do you need the production, tax credit for wind after it expires in the future?

 

[00:26:12]

Francesco Starace: No. You know, PDC with three or four years horizon have been there since the ages, I mean PDC is an embedded part of the industrial history of the U.S. They have been used for everything. Building highways, nuclear plants, renewables. It’s part of the, they will end. It’s just whether they will end this time or the next time. There is no stop at this point because of competitiveness of renewables. So, we are totally relaxed about it. In fact, I would add that it’s such an efficient system that today the most competitive and efficient way of building a wind farm or solar farm is the U.S. Professionally, from a logistic standpoint, from the safety and environment in which you can do your job. It’s a great place to invest. On top of which it’s liquid. If you want to sell your plant, you find a buyer. You don’t have to ask permission to anybody. Just sell it. So, it’s very efficient system in which to invest. Of course, it’s bad for the world climate that some other regulatory frameworks are changed. _____ [00:27:28] for example, the emission trading standard, the emission standard for fuel. I think that’s damaging for the automotive industry because it relaxes it. They are pushed to efficiency. But we are not in that business. So, when it comes to generating energy and electricity, we are completely convinced it will continue to be a renewable curve. Yes, there will be gas, of course, it would be for maybe another 10, 20 years. But it is going to be an evolving curve in the U.S. The issue is that there will be a need to digitize the networks where the U.S. is behind. And that’s a little bit. It’s not today but tomorrow, there will be a need to digitize the networks.

 

[00:28:11]

Jason Bordoff: So, say a little bit more about what you’re doing. You mentioned and that was one of the priorities, I know, was working on digitizing the distribution network. What does that look like? What needs to happen?

 

[00:28:20]

Francesco Starace: When you know, what we do is first of all digital meters to the end of the line. Digital meters and then we put computer in the nodes of the network. So, the network senses where demand is, where production is and moves energy across the net, not just from high voltage down but across. You have a solar panel in your home. I don’t, you’re not home, I’m in my house. I switch on my TV, your energy goes to me. Of course, I pay. But the system doesn’t require another power plant to startup. It is just moving energy from one place to the other across the net. On top of that the net sense where there is a fault and automatically isolate it. So it reduces the impact that small failures of the network can have on the overall system. It reduces frauds, even it enables a lot of efficiency on the side of the customers because it’s meters today then second generation meter that’s what we are putting down can provide the information to smart devices and so far prices of energy are going to be the next 12 hours. So, how they want to decide to do your job in your factory, in your office or even at your home. So it’s unique transformation that the network has with big benefits.

 

[00:29:40]

Jason Bordoff: Enel was one of the earliest adopters of smart meters and had significant early penetration across the system. So what have you learned from this deployment? How is the experience affected how you think about the equation of new business units across North America behind the meters solutions?

 

[00:29:57]

Francesco Starace: I think that, we found out that on the side of the distribution, this is an investment that pays back in three years. So, just on the cost savings side, okay. So, it’s a no-brainer, just on that basis. Then we are finding out that there are a lot of behind the meter applications that become obvious and become really applicable and just theoretically after you have installed a digital meter in the home. And the digital meter enables all these things because it is able to discriminate, if you produce or consume and it’s able to discriminate hour by hour, minute by minute what is the right price for your device. And I think that’s really the big change. It also makes it possible for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of small producers or batteries to work in the network without the need for somebody to dispatch them in and out. Because it’s automatically sensing and regulating the _____ [00:31:02] of energy. The flows of energy. So, that’s what really is big change. And if you want to, you know, it’s not the comparison with internet is wrong. It’s working in a different way. But in a way, it’s something similar to that.

 

[00:31:21]

Jason Bordoff: When we talk about a shift to a low carbon future, deep decarbonization, what’s the future of nuclear power? Is it too expensive? Does nuclear advanced nuclear technology have a role to play?

 

[00:31:30]

Francesco Starace: The present technology is at a dead end. To build a new nuclear power plant is an incredible economic endeavor and extremely expensive part of the value chain. So, there is no reason why this present technology will continue to operate on economic terms. Then you will see maybe in the world a state or two deciding to pull their nuclear power plant that is for strategic reasons, not for economic reasons. That said, I think, there could be a future for nuclear energy in the next 20, 30, 40 years, provided this is a different technology. Not using uranium, completely different part of the story. But it’s still a long way because most of the R&D and a lot of efforts went into the uranium value chain. I think, that’s a little bit out self-engineered itself out of the market, if you want. Yeah. This is just too expensive.

 

[00:32:30]

Jason Bordoff: So we only have a minute left but just to conclude with a little bit more of an open-ended question because you’ve worked in so many countries around the world, so many energy companies in a career that spans decades, just reflect a little bit on what the most surprising consequential shifts have been over the last few decades from your standpoint or the lessons from history that maybe aren’t being appreciated enough today to tell us where we might be going in the future?

 

[00:32:56]

Francesco Starace: I think it’s funny because if you look at the life of one of us like, I’ve spent my life in this business. I sent as a nuclear engineer, in fact I am a nuclear engineer. And I saw the nuclear industry went to a boom, you know, everybody was building a power plant. Stalling and then started to go down. And at the same time, I saw thermal generation being completely transformed by gas turbine combined cycle technology which came into the picture to the beginning of the 80s and at that time nobody believed this was going to be a technology. And I’ve been working in gas turbine technology evolution for about 20 years. Then I saw this technology also starting to stall when renewables came in. So, technology is continuously changing the energy systems. And technology has its own timing and its own dynamics. It’s an organic development largely without control, I should add. If those that think they can control what the direction the technology evolves are fools. It’s something that has its own dynamics but its own patterns. And you can predict where the technology is gonna be successful or not very easily at the very beginning. If you insist three, four years down the road, let’s say, forget this technology, it doesn’t work. It just does not. So, today, we have another evidence in front of us, yes the renewables are going to take over. There will be no more distinction. We will forget the word renewables. It will be generation. And that’s it. As today, we have thermal generation is largely gas turbine combined cycles. Coal is clearly on the way out. There is nothing wrong about it. It’s just, the only change is that this is happening faster and faster and faster. So it took twenty years. Now it takes five. The next time, it will take three. Everything is a shorter time. And I think it’s for the better because it gives you a lot of time to react to changes. And this is part of the success of this technology evolution. It is adapting to the world. And the world requires faster responses. So, I think what you can say is that everything that takes more than three years in this business today is useless. Before the cycle was 10 to 15 years. So, it’s a shorter, shorter, shorter time cycle and technology enables this today. You would always think about these things. When you look at cars, what happens on the automotive industry, you see the same thing happening there. The same denials that we had in the segment happening in that segment too. The same visions, the same technologies, disruptive dynamics and you see a convergence between segments of an industry that was not there before. You know, the power industry was a power industry segment. Now, we have power industry contamination through semiconductors industry, through chemicals, batteries. So, automotive, there is a clear link between the industries and this interplay between segments becomes bigger in terms of importance. It was not there before. Which makes the place even more interesting.

 

[00:36:38]

Jason Bordoff: All those shorter time cycles  mean, we have to have you on as a guest more frequently in the future to explain how things are changing. But Francesco Starace, fascinating to spend time with you here in Abu Dhabi at the IRENA Assembly. Thanks for your time.

 

[00:36:52]

Francesco Starace: Thank you very much.

 

[00:36:53]

 

Jason Bordoff: For us and hopefully, we can have you visit in person at Columbia University.

 

[00:36:56]

Francesco Starace: I look forward to that for sure.

 

[00:36:57]

Jason Bordoff: To continue the conversation. Francesco, thanks for joining us today on Columbia Energy Exchange and thanks to all of you for listening. For more information about the Center on Global Energy Policy, follow us online at Energypolicy.columbia.edu and on social media at Columbiauenergy. Thanks for listening. I’m Jason Bordoff. We’ll see you next week.