10 years of experience in RGI: The dignity of compromise can bring a great opportunity for smart sector integration

By ANTONELLA BATTAGLINI, CEO of the Renewables Grid Initiative

We live in a world which is increasingly fragmented, polarised and divided. The European project is struggling to find vital new strength and determination or it risks succumbing to criticism and discontent of citizens whose daily life is too far-removed from Brussels to see what it is in it for them. However, one task which can, and indeed must unite all Europeans is the fight against irreversible climate change and for a liveable, sustainable and equitable future. Here,

the transition to a fully decarbonised economy in Europe and the world is an essential step.

Already, impacts are being felt in every sector and corner of the world, often bringing huge economic damage with them. Despite that, measures to reduce emissions and protect the environment are described as costs. Under this paradigm, we, society and industry alike, ask ourselves if we can afford these costs.

I would like to argue that we need a radical change in our mindsets. We should start framing political decisions and actions to reach climate neutrality not as costs but as investments to foster and deliver prosperity at local level, to increase resilience to local and global crises and to enable the creation of sound opportunities for the future.

The Renewables Grid Initiative (RGI) was set up 10 years ago and it brought together, as I often say, former “enemies”: transmission system operators (TSOs) and NGOs from across Europe. These two important stakeholder groups of the energy transition have learned to respect each other and appreciate the value of challenging each other’s beliefs and positions.

Over the years, they have worked together more closely on the ground, with the objective of finding solutions to common problems. This may not seem ground-breaking at first sight, however, there is no other organisation in the energy sector, that I am aware of, that has achieved such a level of trust and regular engagement, while dealing with a such broad range of topics and diverse group of Members. RGI’s work is highlighting the “dignity of compromise”  something we urgently need nowadays.

The paths to climate neutrality are diverse. There is no one way that brings about change.

It is often a trial and error process, but we cannot make too many mistakes. Therefore, we need to pool knowledge, perspectives and aspirations to enable a path which is less vulnerable and more suited to enabling a future desirable for broad society. RGI Members, with all their diversities, have learned that we cannot, and need not agree on everything.

But RGI Members also know that we have many things in common, among them the commitment to a sustainable future and to relevant action that prevents irreversible climate change. When you focus on what you have in common, rather than what divides you, you can find solutions based on the possible and not the past . Currently, the most used approach is to think back and extrapolate a path for the future.

This is considered, by many, the only way to overcome the uncertainty posed by the future. However, even though the future is indeed informed by the past and present, it is also the result of daily choices and aspirations. This, after all, is the fundamental principle behind innovation.

The ongoing discussion on sector integration can form the base for innovative solutions and new collaborative approaches, and deliver opportunities for local communities as well as Europe as a whole.

Indeed, sector integration is one of the most critical current issues in energy and one of the biggest opportunities ahead for all of us. It opens the way to fundamentally changing our way of thinking and to moving beyond the established sectors or ‘silos’ of society, economy and environment in a collaborative way.

When Commissioner Simson took office, she spoke about Smart Sector Integration. At the time I asked myself what does “smart” mean, is it a marketing label or something more? Over time, I have concluded that indeed the “smart” part is a fundamental element of sector integration.

Sector integration is nothing new, especially in the field of electricity and gas. But what we are aiming for now is much bigger and more challenging: we need and want to integrate sectors in a way that delivers benefits to citizens, the economy, the optimisation of resources and the decarbonisation of the entire system.

Sector integration can only be smart if it addresses a variety of policy objectives in parallel. This also makes it a massive opportunity for optimisation.

Currently we are facing multiple challenges: the looming economic crises due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate and biodiversity emergency, the societal disparity that currently finds one vocal outlet in the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

The opportunity we have is to listen to the voices of those directly affected by these crises and create fairer policy responses for all of them. When thinking about sector integration, we should not limit ourselves to the energy system, but rather use the transformation of the energy system as an engine for a more profound overall transformation.

Smart sector integration therefore requires collaborative integrated planning across the different dimensions and a very strong attention to the creation of tangible local value. The trustful relationship we have built in RGI can serve as inspiration on how to overcome narrow individual perspectives for a stronger and long- lasting common good.