We talked to Luca Seletto of Enel on how its innovation hubs are reshaping innovability to build the future.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Luca Seletto: While the pandemic has impacted everyone in one way or another, we are thankful to be happy and healthy at this time.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Enel.
Luca Seletto: I’ve been part of Enel’s innovation team for several years, holding different positions in our HQ before moving to the US last year. My current role is head of our Innovation Hub in Boston, Massachusetts, and I’m in charge of tech scouting and of overseeing our innovation partnerships in the cleantech space here in North America. I work closely with our different partners, including Greentown Labs, the largest cleantech incubator in North America, to identify startups able to provide solutions that we can implement globally to solve some of our toughest business challenges.
How does Enel innovate?
Luca Seletto: Innovation is a cornerstone of Enel’s global strategy.
We believe that open innovation is a key factor in solving global problems, but in order to be innovative, a company also has to be sustainable. A key of this concept, which Enel calls Open Innovability, is the evaluation of the impact, in terms of sustainability, of any of our innovation projects: we really want to contribute to a brighter future.
As a core pillar of Enel’s strategy, startups are important partners for Enel, with more than 300 collaborations implemented over the last three years and more than 60 solutions from startups scaled up at a global level. Here in the United States, Enel has two Innovation Hubs, one located in Boston and a second in San Francisco. We have collaborated with more than 50 North American startups, both with global divisions and to support operations across our two businesses in the region, including the renewables arm Enel Green Power and advanced energy services business line Enel X.
Specifically, in North America, Enel has worked with startups to develop and test cutting-edge utility-scale solar asset management drone and software technologies to optimize field operations and maintenance of solar assets and create a model able to show how behind the meter storage impacts and improves transformers’ analysis and grid’s resilience.
We most recently announced our increased commitment to the startup space through the partnership with MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, Canada. Beside of collaborating in the identification of interesting startups and in increasing Enel’s presence in the Canadian ecosystem, through this partnership, we are promoting the ReShape Challenge, which aims to bring together solvers, startups, and SMEs to identify solutions to some of the main challenges that Enel has and to confirm the commitment of the Group in supporting solvers even in this hard times. The specific challenges include identifying solutions for supporting economic recovery in rural communities, address digital connectivity needs to reduce the risk of breaches, improve the safety and quality of work of our colleagues, and other services.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Luca Seletto: The pandemic has affected businesses across industries, but Enel’s production of renewable assets, battery storage installations, and other solutions for resiliency have not slow despite COVID-19. And with almost 80% of Enel employees currently working from home, our entire workforce is adjusting to a new work style powered by Enel’s digitalization strategy.
Enel’s ability to quickly pivot to prevent any serious impact on its business has led to the announcement of a 50 MW expansion to the High Lonesome wind farm in Texas, increasing the project’s total capacity to 500 MW; the start of operations of the 105 MW Riverview and 29.4 MW Castle Rock Ridge II wind farms in Alberta, Canada; it’s first utility-scale solar+storage in North America at the Lily project in Texas; the 245 MW second phase of the Roadrunner solar plant with a total capacity of 497 MW; and the expansion of the Cimarron Bend wind farm in Kansas, increasing the project’s capacity from 400 MW to 599 MW.
Under the Enel X business line, we have provided resiliency solutions such as demand response and other distributed energy resources during an unprecedented season of consumer energy usage – with many Americans still working from home, historic heatwaves across the country, and the tragic wildfires on the West Coast, we have been a reliable energy partner to help utilities and businesses keep their operations running and the lights on.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Luca Seletto: Throughout the pandemic, Enel North America has been in a unique position. It’s had the opportunity to guide many of its business decisions based on what worked and what didn’t work for our parent company in Italy. While remote working is nothing new to Enel, as we introduced remote work in 2015, we were able to mobilize the newly remote workforce safely and efficiently to ensure business continuity.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Enel in the future?
Luca Seletto: Knowing our business remains strong has allowed my team to stay focused on the end goal, continuing to stay close to our partners, including the startup companies I work closely with at our Innovation Hub in Boston. Enel has no plans to slow down. We are excited to continue to partner with startups, companies like MaRS Discovery District, Greentown Labs, and other innovators to ensure our business remains at the forefront in some of the largest innovation ecosystems in the world.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Luca Seletto: As the clean energy transition brings new opportunities, it has also brought new challenges and competitors. Beyond traditional competitors in the renewables development and energy services spaces, we must stay competitive with the new players changing the conventional energy landscape. We know that we can’t do this by ourselves, and that’s why we embraced open innovation. Our work with startups allows us to maintain an entrepreneurial spirit while scaling solutions at a global level, staying ahead of and not following trends. We’re demonstrating this through the ReShape Challenge, calling specifically for solutions around efficient and safe automation and construction of renewable plants, as well as scaling remote solutions for customers, providing support, assistance and remote site visits to keep serving them more efficiently and safely.
Enel takes a collaborative approach through our Open Innovation strategy, with the belief that the most innovative solutions are the result of productive collaboration between private and public stakeholders – including industrial partners, universities, research centers, startups, and clients. Collaboration allows us to solve some of the most complex issues facing our society today, like climate change and access to reliable electricity, across the globe.
Your final thoughts?
Luca Seletto: Even as we grapple with global uncertainty, we must remember the threats of climate change have not disappeared. In fact, the pandemic provides a preview of the challenges we will face if temperatures continue to rise. Enel is the world leader of the Energy Transition and drives, through innovation andsustainability, the shift to a zero-carbon future. This transition requires renewable acceleration and smart electrification. It requires the transition of the global energy sector from fossil-fuel based to carbon neutral. It requires a fair and inclusive approach to providing affordable, clean energy to people. And it all leads to measurable economic benefits for businesses, communities, utilities, and consumers.