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Renewable Energy & Cleantech

Sustainability in Action: Enel's Responsible Renewables Initiatives

This blog is part of our series spotlighting leaders in the pursuit and development of Responsible Renewables projects. This series is being hosted in collaboration by Schneider Electric and Korn Ferry. For a background on responsible renewables, we encourage you to start with the introductory blog which explores the issues and opportunities.

Enel North America, part of the Enel Group, is a pillar of the responsible renewables community because of their mission to empower sustainable progress for all by moving rapidly toward a decarbonized and electrified future. As a global renewable energy leader, their focus on sustainability, social equity, and inclusive practices creates economic, social, and environmental value for their stakeholders in North America and around the world. They have a vision to create a new energy era in which the world can become more sustainable by simply working together. They prioritize the importance of customer-driven demand, market trends, and considering factors beyond producing renewable energy. Part of their success and unique approach involves diverse collaboration – their partners range from industry bodies, to NGOs, and community-based partners – and embedding sustainability into every part of their business.

Our team caught up with a pivotal member of the Enel team, Marcus Krembs, Head of Sustainability in the USA and Canada. In his time at Enel, Krembs established and led sustainability departments throughout the organization, integrating the company's Creating Shared Value (CSV) sustainability performance model and community relations teams across North American operations. He has worked across the energy value chain and sustainability for more than 20 years, and we are eager to share some insights about his journey in advancing responsible renewables. Read on to discover how Enel has transformed their approach, who they've worked with, and their plans for future collaborations.

What drove Enel to start focusing on more sustainable, inclusive, and socially equitable practices in renewable energy projects?

This focus is not new for us; our global commitment to Creating Shared Value (CSV) began in 2014, enabling our business priorities to combine competitiveness in the market and the needs of the communities where we operate. CSV ensures that both the company and our stakeholders benefit from our renewable energy projects. The goal is to build stronger, more resilient communities. We realized that simply adding clean energy capacity to the grid was not enough. We listened early on to intensifying investor, employee, and community stakeholder expectations, and understood the importance of ensuring our projects contribute positively to the communities where they are built. This shift in focus has led us to prioritize social and community engagement aspects, as well as environmental commitments, which in turn enhances our competitiveness and business value. As a result, since 2015, we have prioritized community investments towards CSV initiatives at all of our projects. For example, in 2022 alone, Enel invested $2.3 million to support around 300 CSV projects across the US and Canada.

Who have you worked with to develop and implement these responsible renewable strategies?

We've collaborated with various stakeholders and follow the needs and opportunities of our host communities – and customers.  For example, we partner with industry associations, NGOs, and community-based partners. Educational organizations like KidWind Project, National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and association-led groups like the ACORE Accelerate Program and Sand County Foundation Land Ethic Mentorship program. In addition, dozens of local schools and other non-profit partners serve as the backbone of our collective impact in local communities.  

We have been fortunate to work with a number of corporate customers – and industry organizations like the Clean Energy Buyers Institute’s “Beyond the Megawatt” initiative that share a common view in the co-benefits associated with responsible renewables. A growing number of our customers are choosing to partner with us because of the additional non-energy attributes and value the projects will bring, which aligns to their internal sustainability goals.

What is your most important responsible renewables focus?

Looking at it from the Enel Group level and our global presence, in countries where basic needs are a high priority, we provide enhanced infrastructure, access to health care and job training opportunities. In North America, we often invest in STEM education by supporting local schools and educators through curriculum programs focused on robotics and coding, which emphasize hands-on experiential educational opportunities like drone camps or KidWind challenges to engage elementary, middle, and high school students in innovative technologies. Enel’s “classroom to careers” approach to clean energy education and re-skilling not only benefits the communities most impacted by the energy transition – in states like Oklahoma, Texas, and North Dakota – but also serves as a driver of innovation and growth for the clean energy sector.

Caption: Student competitors at an Enel-sponsored KidWind event
Source: Enel North America 

In addition to STEM education, we focus on re-skilling the oil and gas workforce and expanding our talent pool for future hiring by investing in tech skills training programs. To help us with that effort, we have established a top-of-the line wind tech training center in Oklahoma. We also value equity, so to ensure that communities where the company operates benefit widely from a just energy transition, Enel supports indigenous populations, women, and people with disabilities (e.g., Girls in STEM and a solar tech training program at White Earth Nation Tribal College in Minnesota, etc.).

Caption: Wind technicians at one of Enel’s wind energy projects in Oklahoma
Source: Enel North America
 

How has Enel's approach to responsible renewables evolved over time?

Our approach has evolved from simply considering a few community-related aspects during operations to extending our view across the full value chain, including siting where we’ve doubled the number of social parameters and cost drivers that factor into our project siting decisions – not solely for Inflation Reduction Act bonus credit considerations. We now focus on a wide range of issues, including energy equity, environmental sustainability, health, and more. Furthermore, we've introduced a program with customers we call the "Shared Value Collaborative” (globally referred to as the “Premium Offer”), which fosters enhanced partnerships with our customers, providing them with insights and knowledge tools, such as a project-specific Materiality Assessment, to achieve their sustainability goals.

Another area we are very excited about and hope to see more advancement in the future with our major suppliers and partners is an emphasis on circular economy principles, specifically new lifecycles. Proper end-of-life management of decommissioned wind turbine blades is critical to our business sustainability objectives, in particular the Zero Emissions Ambition report. For example, Enel-operated decommissioned blades have been used in structural reuse demonstrations, donated to universities for training programs and research projects, as well as gone through mechanical grinding processes, cement kiln co-processing, and pyrolysis-based recycling – many of these representing industry ‘firsts’ with our service companies.

Back in 2014, we adopted a circular economy approach to all aspects of our business. Most recently in 2023, Enel became the world’s first company to launch a circularity index to double it by 2030. To help facilitate market and service provider maturity and scalability, we have invested in extensive research, launched innovation challenges, and tested a variety of different solutions.

Enel’s current fleet in North America does not have any re-power or decommissioning plans slated in the near term, but we are actively collaborating with an ecosystem of partners from the private sector, OEMs, universities, and start-ups to address future challenges head-on, from which the entire sector can benefit.

Where do you see Enel's responsible renewable strategies going in the future, and how do you plan to involve more collaborators?

Wherever Enel operates, we work to gain a better understanding of the needs in the local community, identify partners, and drive sustainable initiatives forward that benefit both our company and the larger community for the long-term.

We believe the future of responsible renewables lies in breaking open conversations with commercial and industrial (C&I) customers to cultivate opportunities beyond cost and risk. By focusing on co-benefits and shared value, we aim to move from back-office settlements to more impact-focused relationships. We also plan to use platforms like the American Clean Power Association's "Energy Transition for All" framework and CEBI’s “Beyond the Megawatt” initiative to bring together more market actors and hold them accountable for advancing responsible renewable projects.

Caption: Enel collaborates with R4Kids to provide recycling services on project sites, earning the title of "best place to work for disability inclusion" in the Disability Equality Index due to their dedication to the Value4Disability program.
Source: Enel North America 

Caption: Enel North America’s Aurora solar plant supports local businesses, pollinators, wildlife, and water-quality improvements.
Source: Enel North America 

Enel's journey demonstrates how a leading energy company can transform its approach to renewable energy projects by embracing sustainability, inclusivity, and social equity. By fostering partnerships, engaging with various stakeholders, and continuously evolving their strategies, Enel is actively driving the responsible renewables movement forward. As more companies follow suit, the renewable energy industry will continue to become increasingly responsible and beneficial to all stakeholders.

Subscribe to our mailing list to join us as we expand on the topic of responsible renewables in a blog series that will feature conversations shaping the future of responsible renewables. Each month, we will publish a new blog spotlighting another important voice working to address responsible renewables, including developers, corporate buyers, community members, and NGOs.