by Francesco Starace, CEO Enel
Recent years have seen unprecedented changes across the political, economic and social landscape. Yet while navigating these “uncharted waters”, Italian firms have been able to hold a straight course, showing both outstanding resilience and an ability to adapt.
The future for Italian businesses will continue to be dynamic, as technological progress and increased awareness of sustainability issues redefine our relationship with the economy, society and the environment. To thrive in such a changing and fragmented context, firms will have to innovate relentlessly, embracing new technologies and devising innovative strategies which can integrate sustainability with inclusive, long-term growth.
Innovation has always been part of the Italian mindset, helping our firms to get by, or even lead the way, in times of uncertainty. Indeed, thanks to an open approach towards challenges, knowledge and best practice sharing, many Italian firms have become innovation champions, giving them an important edge in the market.
This “Open innovation” model lies at the core of Enel’s Open Power strategy, which sets out to open electricity access to more people, and the energy world as a whole to new technologies and uses. Such an approach allows us to carry out innovation in an ecosystem perspective, exploiting the know-how of different outside bodies, from startups to universities, NGOs to research centers, and establishes new collaborations with non-energy industries.
The numbers are already impressive, and we now have a portfolio of 103 innovation partnerships with major global companies such as General Electric, BYD, Nissan and LG. We have also set up a crowdsourcing platform (www.openinnovability.com) where we share our business challenges – directly linked to Sustainable Development Goals – with a gifted ecosystem of “solvers,” who number 400,000 people in nearly 80 countries. Moreover, we can rely on a global network of Innovation Hubs too, such as the one in Berkeley, through which we can catch innovation where it happens. This helps us to constantly adapt our modus operandi as energy’s transition continues.
For us, innovation is entwined with sustainability; it is the engine of our innovation model. By relying on the most innovative and sustainable electric technologies, we are able to tackle today’s big societal challenges in a proactive, measurable and business-sound way, ultimately creating long-term shared value. That is what we call “Open Innovability”, a concept that directly supports our low carbon business model. For example, in California eMotorWerks (an Enel’s subsidiary) is able to offer smart charging programs to electric vehicle (EV) owners thanks to JuiceNet, an IoT platform for the smart management of EV charging. The same technology allows eMotorWerks to aggregate and mobilizes connected chargers to participate with “batteries on wheels”, as electric vehicles have been called, in energy markets, ultimately adding significant clean demand response capacity to the system.
Such a low carbon business model has competitive renewables at its core, as they enable electricity to emerge as a transformative force for a more sustainable and versatile energy system. To support this, we are investing €10.6 billion on renewable energy systems (RES) over the next three years, with more than a third (37%) to develop new wind and solar assets in North and Central America. This shift in investment reflects the fact that clean RES is the most competitive and reliable alternative to thermal generation, not only in emerging markets but in mature ones, too.
Through Enel Green Power North America, we already operate in 24 US states, supplying renewable energy to a range of well-established corporate customers, helping them achieve their own sustainability goals and business objectives. For instance, at the end of last year, our HillTopper wind farm went operational, becoming the first wind facility in the state of Illinois, supported by long-term power purchase agreements with Bloomberg LP and General Motors. On top of this, the US offers a vivid example of how renewables meet “innovability”, such as our award-winning Stillwater facility in Nevada. This is the world’s first power plant to combine geothermal energy with solar thermal and photovoltaic technologies, an innovative approach that has reduced intermittency, while also providing a blueprint for other hybrid plants around the world.
It is exactly this kind of innovative thinking, which we believe is the best way to address the challenges of our future. This means not just developing our business, but also cooperating and opening doors around the world for many other Italian companies, and demonstrating that Italy is very much open for business.