Renewables: Catania, the capital of innovation
The ribbon-cutting ceremony took place in front of a giant geographic overview of the world, a map covering the entire wall. With the inauguration of the new Innovation Hub&Lab on 13 July, Catania joins Tel Aviv, San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago de Chile, Moscow, Madrid and Pisa on the map of Enel innovation. The avant-garde technological campus in the Passo Martino area, a few kilometres outside the Sicilian city, covers an area of 100,000 square metres. This space includes 1,000 square metres of indoor laboratories and 30,000 square metres of outdoor testing sites, and it aims to become an international point of contact for innovation in technology for renewable sources.
How Catania could become the Energy Valley
“Today the competition in the renewables field is ferocious and it is particularly focused on keeping costs down. However, we want to be competitive by innovating, we need to stay at the forefront of innovation like surfers on the crest of the wave,” explained Enel Green Power CEO Antonio Cammisecra at the inauguration.
“We are world leaders in clean energy, so we can think big,” added Ernesto Ciorra, Enel’s Chief Innovability Officer, who believes that the new centre in Catania will help make the Etna Valley the new Energy Valley.
The key phrase is the same one that inspired the establishment of the other Enel Innovation Hubs around the world: Open Innovation. The Catania hub will be a place that is open to the world. “We have been doing research here for many years, here we invented a new photovoltaic module and here we will encourage the world’s best and brightest to come and work with us: we will help them and they will help us,” said Cammisecra.
“Yes, because technologies are always the children of people,” added Ciorra, who cited the story of Santosh Kumar’s Ultrasolar, a startup which developed technology to increase the power of solar panels, and which has grown through collaboration with Enel and the experimentation made possible in the laboratories in Catania.
The Enel Innovation Hub&Lab, where ideas come to life
For almost 40 years now, Sicily has been a reference point for Enel in terms of green technology in Italy. In 1980 Enel was involved in the establishment of Phoebus, a company which uses the site for research in the solar field, particularly photovoltaic and thermal energy. The research lab at Passo Martino was established in 2007. Close by, the Archimedes thermodynamic solar plant was inaugurated in 2010, while 3SUN, the Enel Green Power factory that produces high-efficiency solar panels, also has its headquarters in Passo Martino. The synergy with 3SUN is the demonstration of how innovation can go into production here and immediately have an industrial application.
Today marks the latest step: the Enel Green Power Lab in Catania has become a Hub, that is a place to host international startups and innovators, synergically integrated into the network of Enel Innovation Hubs which are located in the most innovative places in the world. It’s a space that’s available for the testing of new ideas in the renewables field and the sharing of Enel know-how and expertise from its business lines.
The aim is to do some idea scouting, especially in the fields of solar, storage, micro-grid and wind energy, and to help these ideas develop industrially. At Passo Martino, testing is already on-going of instruments for the self-cleaning of photovoltaic panels, the use of drones to gather data and information about plants, floating photovoltaic systems (PV floating) and new wearables to improve security. Furthermore, there are laboratories dedicated to the quest for disruptive solutions in the energy field with a particular focus on the use of new technologies, such as the IoT (Internet of Things), big data, automation, Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality.
In September 2017 we launched a call to startups and small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) on the Enel crowdsourcing platform, offering them the opportunity to use the acceleration facilities at Passo Martino. Over 200 projects responded, 33 were selected and four of those are already in the experimental phase at the Innovation Hub&Lab.
Catania is already at work: while she looks out at the world, the world of renewables is looking back at her.