Creating sustainable solutions through open innovation
The only way to build a sustainable and inclusive energy future is through open innovation. At Enel, that means leading the energy transition through open collaboration with startups, subject matter experts, academics, internal and external experts, and investors. We crowdsource the best ideas, talent and technologies for combatting climate change and scale them up into disruptive business models. And we partner with local innovation ecosystems to provide access to our global network and resources.
Enel North America recently ranked in the top 25 Fast Company Best Workplaces for Innovators for our commitment to open innovation. But what does that philosophy of seeking solutions look like in practice?
Hear from three leaders at the company who are collaborating on world-changing ideas through open innovation.
Encouraging Innovation Within
Sometimes the best ideas come from the people right next to you. Adam Bundy, Site Manager at our Osage wind farm, leads the internal PowerG program, which solicits employee proposals for new ideas that can be implemented across the company.
"Innovation is critical for internal growth,” Adam said, “because innovation leads to evolution.” And through our PowerG program, we encourage Enel employees across varying departments to pitch innovative ideas.
Several solutions have been born out of this program, and some helped inspire solutions for other work sites. One upcoming project from the PowerG program includes turning our on-site recycling at renewable energy plants — materials like carbon brushes, batteries, cardboard, scrap metal, circuit boards and sensors — into community outreach projects. "If we can transform our trash into something useful, why not?" explained Adam. "Many of the Enel facilities in rural communities are in need of such programs.”
The projects stemming from our PowerG program are influencing the way we operate in the communities we are working in. From recycling programs to ensuring clean, drinkable water, the ideas from PowerG are helping lay the foundation for future Enel projects. As Adam pointed out, "Some of the projects we are working on today can be used as models for the future.”
Pursuing Innovation with Partners
The clean energy space is large and continually growing — no single organization can transform the industry on its own. We look beyond our walls to work with others on the same mission as we are at Enel. Peter Perrault, our Director and Head of Circular Economy in North America, helps us find these organizations to partner with, which come from a variety of sources. "Partners may come from communities where we operate, our customers, startups or academia,” Peter said.
There are several factors Peter considers when looking for a suitable partnership. “The key is to find the common ground between partners’ challenges and goals. There’s no basic formula. We’re always testing new ideas and ways to establish meaningful partnerships.”
To see this philosophy in action, look no further than Enel's work with the Re-Wind Network, an academic consortium of about six universities worldwide, researching the best ways to handle wind blade materials when they have reached the end of their operational life.
“We recently collaborated with the Re-Wind team to test the possibility of using blades as transmission and distribution poles. This analysis will be used for future evaluations,” Peter explained. “This project is very much aligned with circular economy principles by potentially providing the material a long lasting, new life cycle through structural repurposing Together, we’re creating sustainable solutions.”
Finding Innovability® Around the World
Enel’s Open Innovability® strategy came from the idea that sustainability and innovation are symbiotic. We can't achieve sustainability without innovation, and innovations need to be sustainable. Through the Open Innovability® approach, we want to lead the energy transition through open collaboration with startups, SMEs, large companies, academics, internal and external experts, and investors. This method of collaboration transforms proposals into concrete projects capable of solving challenges inspired by specific business needs.
Within our Open Innovability® platform, we have Innovation Hubs. The Hubs are "the ‘antennas’ in the most innovative ecosystem of the world that give us the possibility to connect our business lines to startups and new technologies,” Luca Seletto, Director of Innovation for our renewable energy division in North America, explained. Through the Hubs, we can identify startups and SMEs to develop technological solutions and conduct pilot projects together with our experts,” said Luca.
We have had unique projects stem from the Innovation Hubs, including partnerships with startups like Perceptual Robotics and Aerones. With both startups we improved safety for workers at wind turbines by using drones. For Perceptual Robotics, the drones were used to provide health checks of the blades, and for Aerones, we had the drones perform maintenance activities. There are other projects in the works that also aim to make construction safer and more accessible for workers.