Enel has set up specific cross-functional working groups (Innovation Community) in order to address the significant issues relevant to business and new technologies in an innovative way and to create value. The active communities concern the following issues: Storage, Augmented Reality, Blockchain and Drones. Regarding Blockchain, Enel has sought and promoted collaborations with various parties, since the success of any project in this field depends on the ability of the participants to create a network effect from which all members can benefit. The Enerchain project, which involved about 40 utility companies and traders (the number is constantly growing), was born with the aim of redesigning the channel through which traders make transactions on the market, so they may be independent of third parties. In October 2017, Enel along with E.ON carried out the first transaction in the energy market based on a Blockchain platform, and in February 2018, Enel, through Endesa, exchanged an energy product with Gas Natural Fenosa on the Spanish market, using the Blockchain platform. In the same spirit, a collaboration group with about 20 utility companies in eurelectric was also formed. Enel also actively participates in other working groups.
In recent years, Enel has also intensified the use of drones in the monitoring and maintenance of its assets, inspecting solar fields, wind farms, hydroelectric dams and reservoirs, closed components in traditional plants and distribution lines. The objectives of this use are manifold: increase the efficiency and effectiveness of operation and maintenance processes, and above all reduce exposure to the risk involved in plant interventions. In the last two years several projects have been developed, including the one implemented in 2017 by e-distribuzione (Group company operating in Italy), in collaboration with Enac (national body for technical regulation, certification and supervision in the civil aviation sector) and ENAV (exclusive provider of civil air navigation services in Italy), with the aim of defining the regulatory framework allowing BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line Of Sight) drone flights in Italy. This experiment opens new opportunities to improve electricity service, on the one hand allowing timely interventions in case of breakdowns or climate emergencies, and on the other hand optimizing maintenance activities on the grid. Among the other projects developed in 2017, “Autonomous Drones for Wind” by Enel Green Power provided more accurate data, in less time and with greater safety for the operators in wind farms inspections in North America. Another project developed in the field of renewable energy is the use of drones in the monitoring and control of individual photovoltaic panels that are part of systems, such as in the Chilean La Silla plant.
On the issue of storage, Enel Green Power built and commissioned the first 100% emission-free microgrid: Cerro Pabellón (Chile) is powered by solar energy and is able to operate autonomously 24/7, thanks to the coupled energy storage of hydrogen accumulation and lithium batteries. In Spain, in Almería, the subsidiary Endesa is developing the Litoral project at the Carboneras thermal plant: the storage system, consisting of 24 inverters, 16 containers, 8 of which for batteries and the remaining for the power unit, will be the largest in Spain, with a total capacity of 20 MW for 11.7 MWh and an expected lifespan of 10 years. The storage system will be used to offer secondary reserves, freeing production capacity at the plant.
Regarding augmented reality, Enel has created an Innovation Community dedicated to augmented and virtual reality with the aim of scouting products and platforms in this sector, monitoring their rapid technological evolution and defining use cases for Enel. Some small-scale trials were launched in 2017, which should demonstrate in 2018 their practical feasibility in an industry where technology is rapidly evolving in terms of cost and performance and the sustainability of potential applications aimed at improving workers’ operational efficiency, in particular those on the ground.