Get to know Elena Pravettoni, Head of Analysis at the ETC. Elena joined the team to lead the ETC’s cornerstone report Making Clean Electrification Possible (2021). She was also involved with the ETC’s work on global mitigation ahead of COP26 and COP27, Keeping 1.5°C Alive and Degree of Urgency respectively, which identify the gap in the emissions trajectory for 2030 and key levers for the biggest emissions reductions.

Elena has also largely contributed to the ETC’s ongoing Barriers to Clean Electrification series, including briefings on Planning and Permitting and Supply Chains, looking at how to overcome barriers and accelerate the transition to clean electrification. More recently, she has been leading the next steps of this series across work on power grids and storage.

1. What made you join the ETC? 

I was already working in the energy sector and was keen to join the ETC to swap the frame of thinking from developing scenarios and insights around the evolution of global energy markets – primarily “what could the energy system look like?” to take an active role in shaping and defining the world we need to see to meet our climate objectives – moving to “what does the energy system need to look like?”. I was excited to move to an organisation that was actively working to accelerate the profound shift and bring us closer to the vision of where we need to be.

2. What’s your proudest achievement to date at the ETC? 

I would have to say the Making Clean Electrification Possible report. It was a culmination of around a year of work in the middle of the pandemic (and so testing new ways of working) that took on laying out the roadmap for by far the largest avenue for decarbonisation that we will need to deploy across the global energy system. The fact that a lot of our subsequent work is building on and expanding many of the arguments within Making Clean Electrification Possible is a testament to the breadth that we covered in the report, and the powerful framing around our core message of scaling clean electrification.

3. What does the energy transition mean to you? 

It’s a profound shift of the global economy. What attracted me to work in the energy sector in the first place is the fact that it’s a really multidimensional sector. Energy is closely tied to so many aspects – from global financial and trade flows, to countries’ development pathways and macroeconomic balances, to technical and engineering questions, innovative business models, and as well as political economy considerations and quality of life for people around the world. The energy transition is and will be a transformation of so many aspects of the way the world works, but we shouldn’t forget that people are front and centre of this. The energy transition, as an Industrial Revolution, will mean new opportunities but also dislocation. That’s something that we need to think about carefully as we move down the road.

More personally, I have two little boys and a 2.5 year old who adores anything transport-related. It’s wonderful to point out to him the growing number of EVs charging in the streets around us in London and – in a few years’ time – explaining the way the world around us needs to change for the future.

4. On the pathway to net zero, what do you see as the biggest obstacle? 

What I come back to again and again is that the critical friction, when you consider all the barriers, is political will. And I think what political will translates to is several different things.

Firstly, there is of course the importance of setting high-level targets – including net-zero targets, power decarbonisation targets, internal combustion engine bans, etc.

Secondly, on a level below that, there is a need to reform key regulatory and legislative frameworks to ensure that the system is set up to enable and deliver on those targets. Critical pieces here include approaches to planning and consenting, the way that network companies are financed and regulated, as well as power market design. To take one example, the frameworks under which many transmission operators are regulated is one that has typically sought to minimise costs for consumers. To deliver the energy transition, we need to reform this framework to allow these companies to make anticipatory investment ahead of need, to unlock investments in the very near term to put us on track to deliver the targets we’ve set out.

The third thing – which is really required to make the above successful – is a critical mindset shift, which we need to see across all layers of policymaking. This is essentially changing from a ‘steady state’ approach that has guided much of the thinking for the past decades, to one that switches gear into ‘ramp up’ mode, a bit like what many European countries went through post-WWII. As mentioned, the energy transition is effectively an industrial revolution, and one which has a clear deadline in order to avert a climate crisis. We need to see a shift to taking on more risk. We need to accept that we may have to take some good decisions today rather than perfect decisions in a few years. This may lead to some redundancy in the system – which we should properly calculate and seek to minimise as much as possible. But to meet the targets of where the science tells us we need to be, we need to have the courage to make big decisions. And the world has been prepared to do this before – see the Covid crisis, for example.

5. What are you most excited about that’s coming up at the ETC? 

One aspect which I’m excited about in the ETC’s analytical programme this year is the fact that we are returning to some of the deeper technical questions about the shape of the future system. This doesn’t mean we are losing our focus on the barriers to accelerating the transition – but as part of the Power and Buildings work specifically, having a clear view of the barriers is requiring us to take another deep look at the shape of the future system. On the Power side, a key question we are looking at is, as you grow the share of wind and solar in the system, how are you going to run the rest of your power system? That that is still a question that many are asking in different ways in various countries. So, to reinforce the argument that we can run systems with high shares of wind and solar, we are returning to take a detailed look at the shape of these systems, the challenges, and the technologies we have available.

This is exciting for several reasons – firstly, developing these insights allows us to engage across the Commission and leverage and showcase the deep technical expertise we have as a group. Secondly, bringing the ETC’s clarity of message and strong storyline around these critical – and complicated – messages will, I believe, be extremely impactful. Particularly in a political climate where some momentum has been slowing, returning to some of the arguments around the vision for the transition and feasibility will be critical.

6. What’s the best piece of advice that you received from an ETC colleague?

A great piece of advice that I’ve received from Adair is to take the time to read up on aspects of the energy transition which are outside your immediate focus. It can be easy to get caught up in the immediate issue of focus and drill into that – but ensuring that you are taking the time to read and think about issues beyond ensures that you can challenge yourself on the conclusions you’re arriving at and make critical connections with other areas, which may not be immediately evident but could come back to enrich later thinking.