Starace says storage advances will make gas power ‘bridging’ role brief

The chief executive of Italian utility Enel, Francesco Starace, says he believes the accelerated development of storage technology will hasten a renewables-dominated energy future, while lessening the requirement for gas power as a bridging technology.

Mr Starace, newly-elected as president of Eurelectric, the representative group for the European power industry, told the Financial Times that renewable power is becoming the “cheapest and most convenient way of producing electricity” and battery technology will gradually reduce the importance of natural gas to energy security.
Fransceso Starace of ENEL
Starace said it was “obvious” that renewables were winning the battle for competitiveness against fossil fuels and nuclear power. “It is a matter of fact. There is no discussion any more.”

Renewables currently account for just 4 per cent of the global power mix compared with about 85 per cent for oil, gas and coal combined. However, renewables were responsible for a third of global growth in primary energy consumption in 2016, according to data published by BP last week.

Starace believes that renewable share is going to grow faster than expected as battery storage technology is making strides facilitating more and more green energy.

“In the next two to three years battery storage prices will go down and battery performance will go up so these will come more and more into the picture,” he said. “We will see batteries much more frequently than people think today.”

“Gas will become less important than it is today but it will take time. It will evolve over 10 years but it is definitely going to happen.”

The transitionary role of gas, which has seen much investment by Shell and BP, could be shorter than originally thought, if the Enel chief’s vision proves true.

He also added the proviso that, despite subsidies being reduced or dispensed with for renewables, long term pricing signals needed to be implemented, as the current volatile wholesale electricity market was causing negative power prices , with generators then paying to offload electricity on the transmission system.

à‚ “Long-term pricing signals are needed in Europe that will take the anxiety out of negative pricing,” said Mr Starace. “[That] can only happen with long-term [supply] contracts.”

Starace says the traditional utility will still have a part to play in a newly transformed system, which has a more prosumer-oriented focus.

“Consumers, large, medium and small, are going to be the major players in transforming the value chain of our industry,” he said. “It is extremely important that we get close to them and do not fear them. They have big power but they need us to allow them to express that power.”

Gas and the energy transition

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