Over the last decade, the solar energy market has grown steadily in Europe and around the world. A recent report by the United Nations (UN) showed that, of all the energy-producing sectors, solar energy had the most growth. 2017 alone saw an additional 98 gigawatts (GW) generated, while the solar sector received 18% more investment than in the previous year - a higher increase than any other energy-producing sector.
According to Antonino Biondi, manager of the Enel Innovation Hub&Lab Catania, solar energy’s recent growth is to be attributed to two major changes in the utility landscape: "On the one hand, a strong development of advanced technologies in photovoltaic modules with higher energy yields, and, on the other, the digitalisation of construction and maintenance processes.” For Biondi, the latter implies incorporating algorithms that automate operations with robots, drones and autonomous vehicles. He notes that “robot support in particular has been very useful in the construction, maintenance, inspection and cleaning of renewable power plants in order to reduce time and operative costs.
As the global energy landscape continues to evolve rapidly, companies must look towards the future for new ideas and technologies that continue to promote renewable energy. This is one of the Enel Group’s primary business lines and the company is naturally aware of its immense potentia.
10 minutes to shine
In its latest effort to promote solar and renewable energy, the Enel Group partnered with the Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME) to host a Pitch Day Event at the Enel Innovation Hub&Lab Catania on June 25 & 26. During the two-day event, 18 startups specialising in renewable energy pitched their solutions in order to have the chance to collaborate with Enel.
The event started with a tour of the Hub and its laboratories on Monday, followed by Pitch Day on Tuesday. Each of the pre-selected startups had 10 minutes to give a short pitch about their company and proposal, followed by a brief question and answer session.
To select the startups for this event, Enel received a list of 90 small companies that receive funding through the Horizon 2020 - SME Instrument. This is a tool that was developed by the European Commission to support innovation created by small and medium-sized businesses that show significant growth potential. Biondi explains that, “Each SME applicant goes through a rigorous review and selection process: from the over 50,000 that applied, less than 6% pre-qualified.”
From the batch of 90 companies that applied to the Pitch Day event, Enel selected 18 small companies.
The startups chosen specialise in solutions relating to renewable energy (solar, marine, wind and storage) and/or energy distribution. The proposals represent a wide rage of solutions from personal to industrial use. Here are a few examples:
● innovative proposals ranging from a connected home solution aimed at reducing energy costs without sacrificing comfort
● an innovative engine with the ability to convert heat directly into mechanical power in vehicles
● An indoor natural air purifier
A strategic ecosystem
At the Enel Innovation Hub&Lab in Catania, SMEs and startups found an ideal support system to develop and grow their ideas. While they were there, Biondi explained that startups could expect “support from highly specialised technicians and access to laboratories specially designed to test innovative technologies in the renewable generation field such as solar, thermal and photovoltaic systems, microgrids, storage and wind power, with indoor and outdoor testing equipment.” Furthermore, the Catania Hub&Lab offered access to Enel's global network of hubs and partners as a way to "identify strategic partnerships in order to further develop their businesses,” Biondi explained.
This event set a precedent for the activity of the Enel Innovation Hubs, and will be expanded to other Hubs in their global network. From this event, Enel Group hopes to establish collaborative agreements with startups to develop new innovative solutions. The future of renewable energy is on the table.