Innovation in the energy sector isn’t only about Corporate success and efficiency. It might just help save our planet.
At the Italian multinational energy company Enel, Fabio Tentori stands as Head of Innovation Hubs, Startups and Business Incubation, as well as CEO of Enel Innovation Hubs.
His days are filled by managing collaborations with startups and SMEs on a global basis through interconnected innovation hubs, building Enel’s presence in the innovation ecosystem, and managing business incubation. That means liaising with Enel’s innovation teams across the world in the US, Israel, Spain, Italy, Russia, Brazil and Chile. Tentori is a very busy man and with good reason.
Tentori and his innovation colleagues work with the business lines of the Group, and their efforts, of course, serve the present and future of Enel. But innovation in the energy sector necessarily serves a higher purpose; caretaking the future of the planet and its people. Innovations around technologies such as renewable energy, smart grid, digitalization and electrification are key weapons in the fight to stave off environmental decline, at a time when global warming is an international concern.
It’s a fascinating opportunity for innovation to have a powerfully meaningful impact and states the case that the effort to forward a Corporation’s success can be about a great deal more than marketing exercises, or even the bottom line.
As such, Whitespace caught up with Tentori to talk about innovating from the front lines of a better future.
Whitespace: Enel appears to innovate at a considerable scale, across the globe with numerous hubs and projects. Is there a singular goal or approach that guides that effort, and keeps it unified?
Tentori: Well, there are two approaches really. We have two very important goals, but they are extremely broad. The first one is to bring efficiency and flexibility to the traditional businesses that we already have, which means all of the things that we do around technologies like renewable energy, thermal generation and the grid, or even the way that we manage HR, finance, and other staff functions. That effort is about anything that has to do with something that we are already doing. We innovate the way that we do what we are already doing to make Enel more efficient and to make it more flexible. That makes up about 70% of the innovation work that we do. It is important because it brings cost efficiencies and better ways of doing things. These are the things that let our company grow and be better.
But the other very important activity that we do is that we try to find things which offer business models, solutions, technologies or anything that would increase our net worth revenues and make our company grow. You could say those are innovations around things that Enel is not yet doing, or is only starting to explore.
Whitespace: Could you give any examples of innovation that serves Enel’s existing work, and innovations that exist in new spaces for Enel?
Tentori: With renewable energy, we are looking at many different things, but here are some precise examples.
Of course, we run a lot of solar power plants. So we are looking to develop technologies that allow us to run our power plants better and to make them more efficient. We’re currently using drones and artificial intelligence to spot where there is a problem so we can intervene in a much faster way. That means the power plant can produce more electricity and so can bring more revenues. So that’s a case of being more efficient in the activities that we already do.
At the same time, we are looking at new technologies like perovskite or other new materials that could make solar panels more efficient. Elsewhere we are looking at new marine technologies. Those are technologies we are not yet something we are doing in our main business because they are not quite there as working technologies yet; they are in the prototyping phase. But we keep looking into those kinds of areas, and we keep running projects around those kinds of spaces because it could be a big revenue generator for the future.
We dedicate effort to making Enel more efficient in what we already do because we focus on innovation in the business line. But we dedicate at least 30% of our activity to look for new opportunities, new revenues, new business models, new ways of doing things; those things we don’t already do or we already do but want to grow bigger, such as in electric mobility, smart cities, and even fintech…
Whitespace: To some observers, corporate innovation broadly can appear a little academic, or slightly disconnected from day-to-day reality. When you talk about renewable energy, marine technology and so on, it is a reminder that innovation in the energy sector could have a profound practical impact on every human on Earth. With environmental concerns and challenges growing considerably, your innovation work could be seen as critically important. Do you feel that importance in your work?
Tentori: Very much. The goal that Enel has as a company is to give access to clean energy to everybody everywhere in the world. This is part of our mission. So sustainability is super important because it creates value for us and for everybody around us. But a more sustainable world can be reached only and solely if we continue to innovate technologies and business models.
We want to give clean energy to everybody to bring more power to more people. That can give them the opportunity to grow, it can help economies to get out of poverty. That is very important work. But we want to not just deliver energy, but deliver clean energy. Why? Because clean energy is the only way to guarantee that the future of our planet is sustainable. So, yes, our innovation goals feel very important.
We realise that in order to reach those goals we need to keep innovating because while a lot of the technology in this space is ready, there’s still something missing in terms of business models and new technologies that can come in, that would help us to guarantee that we reach our sustainable goal.
Whitespace: That seems to state the case – particularly in the energy sector – that innovation should exist as a business discipline rather than a discretionary activity.
Tentori: It is just impossible to make this planet sustainable and to bring electricity to everybody in the world if you do not innovate. There’s no other way you can do it. That is how important innovation can be to the future of everybody on Earth.
You still have to innovate to be more flexible, to be more efficient, to have more money, to invest in new business models, too. Because if you don’t do that, you will never be able to succeed in the bigger sustainability goal. They support each other. And so this is why we pursue innovation across all the businesses of Enel Group, and why we embrace innovation in our daily life in the company. I think it’s something that every company should do. In fact, every company should do more of it, because otherwise, you will never be able to thrive in the long term; whether you are doing it for a greater good, or purely to succeed in business.
To learn more about Enel’s innovation effort, and its work partnering with startups, visit startup.enel.com