The Innovation Hub&Lab in Catania, a renewable future
“Give me a place to stand and I’ll move the world.” The celebrated phrase is attributed to Archimedes of Syracuse, the mathematician, physicist and inventor who in the second century BC from of his homeland in Sicily conversed with the scientists of Alexandria in Egypt. Indeed the Mediterranean Sea was the Silicon Valley of that era: a crossroads of cultures and innovation.
And it is here in Sicily that on 13 July our Group inaugurated the new Enel Innovation Hub&Lab. This space at Passo Martino, just a few kilometres from Catania, is dedicated to the development of green tech, technologies linked to renewable energies.
In Sicily since the 1980s
The centre in Catania is the second Innovation Hub&Lab to open in Italy after the site in Pisa, which was inaugurated in May and specialises in thermoelectric technologies. The new centre aims to become an international hub for the testing and development of industrial innovation concerning the production of energy from renewable sources, with the help of startups, innovators and small enterprises from all over the world.
“Research and innovation are at the heart of our industrial development model based on sustainability and they represent the fundamental ingredients to reinforce our global leadership in the sector of renewables,” says Antonio Cammisecra, CEO of Enel Green Power (EGP), Enel’s Global Renewable Energies Division.
“The laboratories in Catania will be a reference point for the experimentation of innovative technological solutions that we will be able to export all over the world while contributing at the same time to training, employment and the local economy”
– Antonio Cammisecra, CEO of Enel Green Power
For almost 40 years Sicily has been a reference point for our Group in terms of green technology in Italy. Since the 1980s we have been developing our expertise in wind and solar power in the area at the foot of Mount Etna, and in 2007 we created the research laboratory in Passo Martino.
Just a short distance away, in Priolo Gargallo, in the province of Syracuse, the pink flamingos have begun nesting again thanks to an Enel environmental project. And it was here in 2010 that we built the first solar installation in the world to use molten salts as a thermovector fluid and to integrate the combined gas cycle into a thermodynamic solar plant for the production of electric energy.
Following an intense phase of restructuring and modernisation, the Passo Martino research and development laboratory has been transformed into an Innovation Hub&Lab. This dual role will enable us to provide space for testing technological solutions in the field of renewables and to share the know-how and expertise of our business lines.
“The centre in Passo Martino, intended as a combination of laboratories in which to test and develop new technologies in the field of solar energy and storage, has been operative for many years,” explains Antonio Biondi, Manager of the Enel Innovation Hub&Lab in Catania. “In 2017 we decided to extend the scope of its activities by launching the creation of the Innovation Hub&Lab. The aim is to scout for ideas at the cutting edge of Enel’s business and, in particular, in the field of renewables. Today the structure has two main roles: the Hub for research and innovation, which can benefit from the network of seven other Hubs around the world, and the Lab dedicated to the field implementation and the testing of selected solutions.”
The main areas of interest are linked to solutions in the field of solar, storage, micro-grids and wind power. The startups and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) with which we will work will support us in the development of automation processes for the construction and maintenance of renewable plants through the analysis and implementation of new technologies. These include trials of systems for automatic cleaning of photovoltaic panels and the use of drones for collecting data and information about the plats that enable the adoption of specific predictive maintenance activities.
The green thread connecting the local area, industry and global innovation
“The Catania centre,” adds Fabrizio Bizzarri, Head of Solar Innovation at Enel Green Power, “currently hosts five research doctorates as part of a collaboration with the university and various small and medium-sized enterprises in the area, while also working in synergy with 3SUN, the Enel Green Power factory that produces innovative high-efficiency solar panels. The synergy with 3SUN demonstrates perfectly the potential for the industrial application of innovation: the proximity of the company to our Lab has enabled – and will enable – us to take full advantage of the technologies developed in our laboratories directly in the factory.”
The common thread of Open Innovation that drives our Group’s approach thus becomes a green thread at the Innovation Hub&Lab in Catania, where university researchers and fledgling hi-tech businesses can benefit from the support of our engineers in order to transform ideas into industrial development. Our campus, which extends over more than 10 hectares, is home to 25,000 cubic metres of laboratory space that we have made available for testing innovative equipment and systems for power generation from renewables and instruments for the digitalisation of the energy sector, from the Internet of Things (IoT) to predictive diagnosis, from Operations and Maintenance (O&M) to advanced automation, such as robots and Artificial Intelligence. “These activities are transformed into projects and trials through the development in our laboratories of proof of concept tests (technical and operative demonstrations of the solutions) that, once validated, are trialled in our installations,” says Bizzarri.
The evergreen tree of renewables
With the aim of attracting innovative solutions to improve the development of renewables in September of last year Enel Green Power set up a contest for startups and small and medium-sized enterprises. This was through our crowdsourcing portal www.openinnovability.enel.com. The prize on offer was the possibility to use the acceleration pathways at the centre in Catania. The contest received 220 project applications of which 33 were selected. The quest will continue through the launch of new calls, which will be announced on the openinnovability® platform, and direct scouting through the network of contacts that we have developed both in Italy and abroad.
“The contamination with the external ecosystem and the continuous research for new stimuli and skills enriches us and represents valuable support for the development of the industrial supply chain for the sector,” says Ernesto Ciorra, Head of Innovability® at Enel.
“We are proud to have created a centre of excellence in Italy, especially in the South. Here startups, small and medium-sized enterprises and researchers from all over the world can innovate with us and with each other to make energy less expensive and more sustainable for us and our children”
– Ernesto Ciorra, Head of Innovability® at Enel
In addition to the contest that concluded in December 2017, in June the Innovation Hub&Lab in Catania hosted 18 European SMEs selected through a collaboration between Enel and the Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME): the initiative was a fitting example of Open Innovation, the guiding principle adopted by our Group that combines innovation, research and development.
At Passo Martino we are not only working with new technologies, we are also safeguarding the environment. At the site we have been taking care of a giant centuries-old magnolia tree. It is a symbol of strength and energy, with roots deep in the ground and a green future ahead of it.