For Enel, innovation and digitalization are key pillars of its strategy to grow in a rapidly changing context while ensuring high safety standards, business continuity and operational efficiency, and thus enabling new uses of energy and new ways of managing it, making it accessible to an ever larger number of people.
In particular, data management plays a fundamental role in supporting the decision-making process with the development and application of advanced analytics and in creating new synergies. Enel’s digital transformation is based on pillars (assets, customers, people), enablers (platforms, cloud, cyber security) and approaches to connect pillars and enablers (agile, data-driven). Robotics, artificial intelligence, cyber security, big data and the cloud are some of the main areas in which Enel is investing, thus confirming digitalization as one of the key dimensions of the 2021-2023 Strategic Plan to support business development. The digital strategy is moving towards maximizing margins and reducing operating costs, to facilitate the energy transition.
Enel also operates through an Open Innovability® model, a consensus-based ecosystem that makes it possible to connect all areas of the Company with startups, industrial partners, small and medium-sized enterprises, research centers and universities through a variety of system, such as crowdsourcing platforms and the Innovation Hub network. The Company has numerous innovation partnership agreements that, in addition to Enel’s traditional lines of business in the renewables and conventional generation sectors, have promoted the development of new solutions for e-mobility, microgrids, energy efficiency and the industrial Internet of Things (IoT).
Enel’s innovation strategy leverages the online crowdsourcing platform (openinnovability.com) and a global network of 10 Innovation Hubs (of which 3 are also Labs) and 22 Labs (of which 3 are dedicated to startups), which consolidates the new model of collaboration with startups and SMEs. The latter offer innovative solutions and new business models, and Enel makes its skills, testing facilities and a global network of partners available to support their development and possible scale-up. The Hubs are located in the most important innovation ecosystems for the Group (Catania, Pisa, Milan, Silicon Valley, Boston, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, Moscow, Santiago de Chile and Tel Aviv), they manage relationships with all the players involved in innovation activities and are the main source of scouting for innovative startups and SMEs. The Labs (among which those in Milan, Pisa, Catania, São Paulo, Haifa and Be’er Sheva are the most representative) allow startups to develop and test their solutions together with the Business Lines.
During 2020, thanks to the Group’s positioning in innovative ecosystems and the consolidation of the Hub and Lab network, more than 40 bootcamps were organized in different technological areas and startup scouting activities expanded to two new areas (Canada and Australia). A new FinSec Lab was opened in Be’er Sheva (Israel), thanks to Enel X and Mastercard, and is aimed at the development of early stage startups in the FinTech and cyber security fields. All this has enabled Enel to meet more than 2,600 startups and to launch more than 70 new collaborative relationships despite the pandemic.
Every increasing importance is begin taken on by activities to promote and develop the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship within the Company, working through the Innovation Academies and the Innovation Ambassadors project.
Furthermore, in 2020 the activities of the innovation communities continued, involving different areas and skills within the Company. Energy storage, blockchain, drones, augmented and virtual reality, additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence, wearables, robotics and green hydrogen are the areas and technologies addressed within these communities. In one example, in recent years Enel has intensified the use of drones in the monitoring and maintenance of its assets, inspecting solar fields, wind farms, dams and hydroelectric reservoirs, closed components in traditional plants and distribution lines with the aim of increasing the efficiency of operational and maintenance processes and above all reduce workers’ exposure to risks. Furthermore, storage systems, in addition to guaranteeing ongoing support for current business activities, pave the way to new frontiers of sustainable business.
As of 2020, €111 million (including personnel expenses) have been invested in innovation (R&D spending).
In 2020, Enel renewed and strengthened its commitment to the enhancement and development of its intellectual assets as a source of competitive advantage for the Group.
The value for the Group is not only expressed through the growing investment in innovation activities but also in the inestimable wealth of knowledge and skills that its people acquire as a result of the opportunity to be able to work daily in a cutting-edge digital working environment.
This drive creates a clear cross-fertilization effect among the Group’s personnel, which translates into an ability to generate ideas within a model of diffuse innovation, open and attentive to sustainability, and which can be summed up in the formula of Open Innovability®.
The models developed internally for strategic activities, such as those relating to trading in energy commodities and weather variables, or of a technical nature, such as predictive maintenance at generation plants or customer-care platforms, are an expression of this impulse towards innovation.
It is precisely in this perspective that Enel’s intellectual property is directed at the service of the Group’s leadership in achieving the strategic objectives of decarbonization, electrification and the creation of platforms.
This innovative impulse is also reflected in the Group’s investment in intangible assets, which show a significant increase, in line with the strategic direction delineated above.
In this regard, the increase in investment in intangible assets is particularly evident, with special regard to IT and digital applications, whether legally protected or not. The investments focused on all the Group’s Global Business Lines and mainly concerned internally developed software (i.e. internal customization of software purchased externally). Among these, we highlight:
- the technological infrastructure of Paytipper, consisting of an application bus into which peripheral interfaces developed to meet different operational needs are integrated, with the goal of handling millions of financial transactions per day. Other monitoring and control modules enable users to carry out supervisory, audit and performance analysis activities;
- investments in networks for the management of smart meters, remote grid control and communication software;
- investments at Enel X in demand response systems;
- investments in power generation for predictive maintenance systems;
- additional customizations of Group ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning).
The patent activity of the Group is also proving to be prolific, involving as many as 837 applications for patents in 137 technological families. Of these, 692 have been granted and 145 are pending.
The increase in the size of the entire portfolio of intellectual property rights held by the Enel Group corresponds to growing internal efforts to strengthen the information infrastructure necessary for the immediate identification of the innovation generated, its evaluation and protection, as well as the ongoing monitoring of the portfolio’s evolution, with a view to ensuring continuous and close alignment between technological and commercial trajectories and corresponding forms of safeguarding the competitive advantage provided by intellectual property rights.
The Group also intends to continue to support and encourage the development of its innovation model through specific projects for internal dissemination by the Intellectual Property unit and through the creation of specific tools to identify, ascertain, protect and preserve on an iterative basis all information of value generated in Enel in accordance with the Open Innovability® model.