Open Innovation: a development model for greener energy

Published on Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Innovation and access to renewable energy technologies are key to decarbonising the energy industry, reducing greenhouse gases and fighting climate change.

In order to promote clean technologies, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has launched Mission Innovation, which gathers 20 national governments and the European Union, which all together account for 80% of global public investment in energy research, amounting to nearly $15 billion per year. 

The initiative, launched at the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December of last year, aims to speed up research and development in green technologies, promoting public-private partnerships and doubling investments by 2020. It’s not by chance that Mission Innovation operates in parallel with the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a network of 28 high-tech companies, led by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, established to foster change in the energy industry through research in the field of clean-tech. This is an issue on which IEA recently promoted a webinar to present tools and methods for relations with the private sector in green technology development.

Fostering synergies and an open debate with the involved parties, from institutional bodies to innovative startups, is the strategy adopted by Enel to promote innovation in the field of clean-tech and make it more accessible to a wide audience of users in all the countries in which we operate. This will increase the sustainability of renewable technologies, regarding both the environment and our business, allowing a balanced growth our company and the communities in which we are present. 

In order to seize, develop and enhance the best ideas, over the last two years Enel has been working on the definition of an Open Innovation model, in the awareness that to improve value and market competitiveness an integrated and inclusive system must be implemented, involving internal resources and capable of opening up to the outside world (companies, startups, universities). 

This approach combines innovation and sustainability as key elements of our corporate strategy and culture, resulting in the term Innovability, a portmanteau of the words Innovation e Sustainability. This instrument has mobilised us in the application of cutting-edge practices, methods and technologies aimed at offering high-quality services to our customers and improving access to energy, while respecting the environment and the communities in which we operate. 

Our Open Innovation ecosystem is open to anyone who wishes to contribute to sustainable development. In 2015 we invested €76 million in research and innovation through more than 250 projects in every energy field (traditional and renewable generation, smart grids, energy efficiency, electric mobility, energy storage). We signed more than 100 agreements with leading companies in various industries, launched 13 partnerships with startups, after having assessed over 1,200 of them, and promoted networks with venture capital firms to promote the development of ideas and innovative businesses in the field of clean-tech. This is the context for the launching of the Enel Innovation Hub, based in Tel Aviv, in Israel. Alongside SOSA & The Junction, one of the most successful innovation communities in Israel, we have set up a one-stop shop procedure designed to offer Israeli startups a development driver for cutting-edge products in the energy sector. 

Also in 2015, Enel Foundation formed strategic partnerships with universities and research centres, selecting global centres of academic excellence, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley), the Sant’Anna School of Superior Studies, the Polytechnic Universities of Milan and Turin, and Bocconi University. 

Innovability is also the approach used to revolutionise our internal research and development model.  We encourage the participation of employees in every level of the innovation process, and to this end we have created the Enel Idea Factory within the Innovation department.  The aim is to turn workplaces into laboratories for the creation of ideas, promoting integration between different corporate departments and openness to the outside world.

Enel’s Open Innovation is an open and sustainable system, in line with the topics defined by the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, the ninth of which is devoted to the promotion of an inclusive and sustainable industrialisation through innovation.