By Dallas Soukup
Power utilities are heavily regulated, and sometimes fall behind the curve when it comes to embracing digital technologies. I recently spoke with my friend Luca Seletto, who leads the Boston Innovation Hub for Enel – for those who don’t know, Enel is one of the largest global power companies, with over $80B in annual revenues. A leading digital innovator, Enel has overcome industry roadblocks to create a culture of innovation.
Luca shared some details with me about Enel’s digital strategy, starting with the beginnings of Enel’s digital journey, which in many ways began in 2015 when Enel announced its new strategy, “Open Power”. It started a number of initiatives aimed at increasing digitalization in order to be more efficient and to better serve its customers. A major smart meter roll-out was essential, enabling Enel to provide users with full control of their energy consumption, while also driving faster and more efficient internal operations. Today, Enel has 45 million smart meters installed globally.
We also covered some of the new services that Enel is offering to customers. One example is Demand Response (DR). Demand response allows a utility to interact with hundreds of customers around the world to address energy demand needs in certain geographic markets, making a customer’s energy use more efficient to help balance the grid during peak electricity demand periods. Technology like this is critical to keeping power grids functional during events such as heat waves.
Luca explained that Enel has pivoted to become a platform company, able to quickly react to new opportunities and to build new business models through a “plug-and-play” approach. Enel moved all its systems to the cloud, which has enabled operations and maintenance teams to manage geographically distributed renewable power plants from one central control room. Enel is also adopting autonomous robots and virtual reality tools to make field operations safer and more effective. All these initiatives implemented in the last few years allowed Enel to be more resilient and to be ready to face the challenges caused by the recent pandemic.
Another interesting digitalization project is iGenius, a conversational AI tool that auto-classifies business requests based on underlying information to understand users’ needs. Enel has implemented the tech in its power plants so workers can more easily access information. Enel has also launched an open innovation program, ReShape, to confirm its commitment in innovation and to help the company maintain momentum and engagement during the pandemic.
At this point, about half of the world’s power companies have highlighted starting a digital journey as a goal over the last five years. Their desired outcomes are improving power production and delivery reliability, while growing the business with new revenue streams, per a Deloitte study on the power industry. The main roadblock they run into is that they do small projects without an underlying vision and end goal in mind. Enel did it differently – with a commitment to innovation and technology that aids in digital enablement in multiple areas, it is one of the most successful digital utilities in the world.