From a research and development laboratory to an innovation Hub: a genuine accelerator for cutting edge solutions in renewable energy.
This is the story of the Enel Innovation Hub in Catania: previously an Enel R&D laboratory which focused on the study of conversion technologies for solar energy, both photovoltaic and thermodynamic, the structure has now become a fully fledged Enel Hub alongside the others in Tel Aviv in Israel and Berkeley in Silicon Valley.
On 27 September, in fact, we launched the international call to start-ups and SMEs, which have until 15 November to participate in the selection and propose their own innovative solutions.
The contest aims to identify innovative startups and companies, Italian and foreign, that possess a technological project that is scientifically sound and that has been successfully tested in an operational environment. The proposed solutions will be evaluated on a technical level, in terms of commercial potential and also the quality of their development team. The rights to the patent or intellectual property of the projects and the existence of an initial potential client base will be viewed as an important aspects of added value.
The scouting aims in particular to identify innovations relating to technological solutions for the creation of new types of modules for the generation of solar energy and for the design of floating photovoltaic plants to develop off-shore, the development of components and devices to boost the performance of renewable plants; algorithms for artificial intelligence and automation to utilize during the construction and maintenance phase and systems for hybrid generation from green sources. There will be further focus on the implementation of tools for augmented reality for security and the optimization of maintenance operations, digital applications for renewable energy and electric networks (IoT, Big Data Analytics, and tools for predictive maintenance) and systems for the aggregation of distributed resources (Cloud, Edge Computing, Machine Learning).
The startups that are selected will have the opportunity not only to access the acceleration programme, involving management training activities and networking opportunities with potential investors, but also the chance to utilize the ten hectares of the experimental campus of the Enel Lab in Catania, a space situated in Passo Martino that includes 25 thousand cubic metres of laboratories, in which it is possible also to reproduce solar radiation in the laboratory and monitor the yield of various systems under diverse conditions of use, thanks to a dynamic solar simulator. The Hub benefits from being located in one of the areas with the highest levels of irradiation in Europe.
The Innovation Hub in Catania is part of a wider programme of over 100 million euros investment. Enel played host to the Italian government in March to present the Sicilian technology hub. The initiative included, on one hand an investment of 80 million euros for the photovoltaic factory 3Sun, where thin film photovoltaic modules are produced to be used in our innovative plants in Chile and South Africa. Another 20 million was destined for the Lab in Passo Martino. The resources will serve to support the development of the technological campus and its transformation into an accelerator for young entrepreneurs and startups, to stimulate innovation in greentech.
The laboratory in Catania will offer contacts with the international network of Enel Innovation Hubs (Tel Aviv and San Francisco) around the world, becoming a centre and meeting point for innovative technological solutions. The startups selected at the end of the contest, which will conclude on 15 November, will also have the possibility to see first hand the activities of the laboratory that, on our campus at Passo Martino, is developing a new double-sided heterojunction module, which will be produced by 3Sun, fruit of the partnership between Enel and CNR (the National Research Council).
In addition to the project with the CNR, the Sicilian Lab is already working with some startups, including Elemize, a young Italian company specialized in the optimization of storage and distribution systems for self-produced energy, in particular for solar plants, which in January 2017 was successful in the “Call for disruption in Energy.” While in June our campus played host to the seventh edition of the International Spectroradiometer and Broadband Inter-comparison, promoted by the Joint Research Centre in Ispra, the European Commission’s Research Centre for Solar Energy, which had already asked to be hosted at the Innovation Hub in Catania in 2012
Thanks to our Lab, the future of renewable technologies will be able to lay down roots in Sicily, a land that since the time of Archimedes has been the cradle of innovation and cross-contaminations between arts, culture, food and technology.