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Enel sets up energy innovation hub in the Silicon Valley

by Laura Serafini

Italian utility Enel has set up an “innovation hub” at the University of California in Berkeley, aiming to support start-ups in the electric mobility, energy efficiency and digital technology sectors.

About 15 start-ups have already been selected to take part in the program, which the Italian company and the US university have been working on since 2014.

“Our objective is to support start-ups in the development of projects, but also to bring together people who create and innovate in the various parts of the world in which we are present,” said Ernesto Ciorra, head of innovation and sustainability at Enel.

“We do not finance or acquire these companies, except in a few cases. We help them instead to develop the technology that can interest our group, to access the market and to share their innovation with other companies.”

The new hub was inaugurated yesterday in partnership with the University of California Center for Information and Technology Research in the Interest of Society (Citris) and with the Banatao Institute. The center is based at the Citris Foundry Accelerator in the University of California, Berkeley.

Enel has previously also launched innovation hubs in South America (Brazil and Chile) and in Israel, while an agreement for startups has been signed in recent days by Enel Green Power in Hawaii. The next initiatives are set to be launched in Singapore and Australia, where Enel is looking into the possibilities for development in the wind energy sector.

The firm is aiming to involve other big Italian companies in the projects it has launched in Tel Aviv and San Francisco, such as Poste Italiane, Fiat, Trenitalia, and A2A, with which it is signing ad hoc agreements. “With A2A we have already organized an initiative in Tel Aviv on cyber security,” said Ciorra.

The presentation of the initiative in California was also a chance to widen and strengthen partnerships that the group has launched with venture capital funds, which represent an important pillar of Enel's innovation strategy. The new funds involved in this phase include True North, Red Point and Andreessen Horowitzkk, all with headquarters in Silicon Valley, and Next World Capital from San Francisco.

The US initiative will cost Enel $200,000-300,000 per year. Enel’s hub will identify the start-ups which will collaborate with the group for the development of commercial projects in the US and at the international level. This is an area in which Enel Green Power is particularly active, and has taken control of the startup Demand Energy, which has developed sophisticated software for the management of the interaction between networks, storage systems and end clients.