Two windy days in late May with cloudy skies and moments of sunshine, displaying the two main sources of clean energy. The relentless gusts of chilly air shook the tensile structures which had been erected in Skolkovo Technology Park on the outskirts of Moscow to host the largest conference on startups ever held in Russia – the Startup Village. Our Group was there in search of people who can invent, or may already have invented, more efficient ways of capturing that sunshine and wind, storing that energy and making the best use of it. Or perhaps they have done something so startlingly innovative we can’t even begin to imagine it yet!
Sustainability and innovation, a never-ending quest
“We are now the world’s largest green energy producer, and we have the biggest renewable source generating plants in North and South America, South Africa and Australia – but all that is still not enough,” said Ernesto Ciorra, Enel’s Chief Innovability Officer, during a panel discussion including Lino Barañao, Argentina’s Minister of Science, Frank Salzgeber, Head of Technology Incubation for the European Space Agency, and Christopher Noble, Director of Corporate Engagement at MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
“We must ceaselessly continue to innovate, because without innovation we cannot hope to survive. But survival is also ensured by sustainability”
It isn’t just a question of responsibility, there is also an element of simple cause and effect. “If your activities damage the environment,” Ciorra went on, “they harm people, too, and those who today are your clients will soon become your enemies, so safeguarding the environment is an imperative, as is innovation, always bearing in mind the people this innovation is intended for so that technology retains a human dimension.”
All this, he explained, can be done better and more rapidly with the help of startups. “For example, we constructed the first combined solar-geothermal plant in the USA with the help of three startups. This was truly revolutionary, and we succeeded after one of the USA’s main centres of technological research had declared it was impossible. That’s why we’re here today, and why just over a year ago we opened one of our Innovation Hubs in Skolkovo, and it’s already starting to produce results. There’s great talent here, great passion, it’s a crucible for brilliant minds.”
“Our Skolkovo Innovation Hub is an ecosystem made up not only of startups, but universities and companies as well. Together they form an enormous reserve of technology and creativity”
From Russia with innovation
As Pasquale Terracciano, Italy’s ambassador in Moscow, reminded us, the technology park on the edge of Moscow is also something special for our company: “There is a natural affinity between our two countries, and we would like to use this as a springboard for launching the Made with Italy concept. It is extremely helpful, as well as a source of pride for Italy, that a company of Enel’s calibre has decided to open its Innovation Hub here in Skolkovo, to attract home-grown Russian talent.”
Ciorra’s words were echoed by Fabio Tentori, Head of Innovation Hubs for our Group: “Our dream is to produce green energy for everyone throughout the world, and we can’t do that on our own. That’s why being here is so important – it gives us the opportunity to communicate our needs in real time to the entire innovation community.”
“Russia is fertile terrain, it has some extraordinarily clever people, especially in mathematics”
And this is the place where we can find startups with the ideas and technology that interest us, the companies we can help to grow until they become our partners.
Technological innovation inspired by collaboration
Speaking of startups, during the two days in Moscow the Enel X stand was the setting for the launch in Russia of the new JuiceBox supercharge e-car battery, which was developed four years ago through a crowdfunding initiative by a US startup that our Group later acquired. As well as providing rapid recharge times (around two hours for a full charge, four times the speed currently available on the market), JuiceBox can be managed via a smartphone using the dedicated App, while connection to the digital network enables dynamic charging during off-peak electricity pricing periods. “I’m sure that we now have the best product on the market,” said Sergey Kiselev. He’s very familiar with the JuiceBox, as until 2016 he was part of the small US startup that designed it. When he speaks nowadays, though, he does so in the name of our Group, because in the meantime he has become CEO of Enel X Russia. If the startup had not encountered our Group, who knows where this example of technological excellence would have ended up? One thing is certain, though – it would not have remained on the shelf for long.
“Competition is a wonderful thing. Nowadays there are startups capable of undermining the big multinationals,” said Frank Salzgeber of the European Space Agency. “We have to make them our allies, or someone else will beat us to it.”