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Tina Casey headshot

How Enel Group's Focus On Renewable Energy Leads To Next-Level CSR

By Tina Casey

The multinational energy company Enel Group gets high marks for its aggressive pursuit of renewable energy and for its corporate social responsibility profile, and now it has embarked on a mission that combines those two areas into a single initiative. Earlier this month Enel announced a challenge-based initiative aimed at motivating global innovators to help the company meet its four UN Sustainable Development goals, in the fields of education, energy, economic opportunity and climate action.

With this new initiative, Enel recognizes that renewable energy companies can become powerful forces in social progress, by linking technological improvements to a business model that supports shareholder value as well as social benefits.

Crowd sourcing sustainable development

The platform for the new initiative is a partnership with the crowdsourcing expert InnoCentive, which has developed a methodology it calls Challenge Driven Innovation.

Once the challenges are identified, InnoCentive distributes them to its Solver network of 380,000  professionals in the corporate, research, academic and start-up sectors. For the Enel challenge, participants submit solutions through a portal managed by Enel's Innovability division (the company coined "innovability" to reference the connection between innovation and sustainability).

In addition to cash prizes for challenge winners, Enel anticipates creating new partnerships through the exercise.

Ernesto Ciorra, Enel’s Head of Innovability, explains how innovation and the four Sustainable Development Goals come together:

Through this partnership, we are reaffirming our practice of embracing ‘innovability,’ bringing together innovation and sustainability, to address technological challenges whose solutions are expected to create value for Enel while tackling some of the world’s major issues...This is yet another example of the intrinsic relationship between innovation, sustainability and value creation, for us and our stakeholders.

We cannot create value for ourselves if we do not create sound economic and social conditions for our stakeholders...

Whatever the solutions are, they have to deliver in terms of concrete numbers. Enel's Sustainable Development goals are numerical targets:
Enel has committed to achieve, by 2020, 800,000 beneficiaries under SDG 4; 3 million beneficiaries mainly in Africa, Asia and Latin America, under SDG 7; 3 million beneficiaries under SDG 8 and CO2 emissions lower than 350gCO2/kWheq under SDG 13.

Enel has made significant progress, but it must ramp up its efforts to hit its marks. As of last year the numbers were, respectively: 600,000 beneficiaries, 1.7 million beneficiaries and 1.5 million beneficiaries, and its CO2 emissions rounded out to 400 g/kWheq.

Crowdsourcing for progress on renewable energy

This is not the first time Enel has paired up with InnoCentive to solve technological challenges.

In 2015 a partnership with the company's Enel Green Power subsidiary focused on five areas that apply to renewable energy, including the use of drones and satellites for constructing power plants; automated systems for assembling solar arrays; systems for cleaning solar panels that save water and fuel; technology to combat ice on wind turbines; and more efficient methods for identifying good locations for geothermal wells.

This new round of challenges could take Enel into some interesting new territory that intersects with renewable energy.

For example, Enel has been working on a pilot project with Italy's Consortium for the Development of Geothermal Areas, which involves growing the "superfood" spirulina algae in greenhouses provided with geothermal heat from the company's Chiusdino plant.

The initial aim is to provide a high density, low weight food for astronauts, but if grown at scale spirulina could also fulfill nutritional and medicinal needs on Earth.

Triple Pundit spoke with Enel's Head of Sustainability, Andrea Valcalda, in 2016; then, she provided some insights into how renewable energy innovation can drive sustainable development.

To cite just one example (follow the link for more), Enel is involved in a distributed solar project in Kenya that will provide electricity for 20,00 households totaling about 90,000 people. The project includes an innovative phone app to provide for ease and reliability of payment.

Innovation in financing for renewable energy projects is another element that could come into the latest challenge, along with energy affordability and efficiency. Enel's recently announced energy storage project for rail systems could also indicate an interest in that area.

Crowd sourcing innovation

In addition to the newly announced round of challenges, Enel extends an ongoing invitation to innovators through its Open Innovability platform, which provides a digital archive of pathways for achieving targets for Sustainable Development Goals.

Enel elaborates on the innovation-based strategy:

After decades of stagnation, the energy system is changing at an increasingly rapid pace, thanks to such factors such as technological evolution, a force that can drastically change entire business segments, while opening up great opportunities for development.


...in line with its Open Power strategic positioning, Enel has placed sustainability and innovation at the heart of its business strategy. These two factors are fundamental to help meet some of the most important challenges the world is facing. Which is why we have coined the term Innovability – by combining innovation and sustainability – and created a dedicated function within our organisation.

Circling back to the Sustainable Development Goals, it's no accident that Enel's new challenge focuses on meeting just four of the 17 goals outlined by the United Nations. All four -- education, energy, economic opportunity and climate action -- are necessary elements if the decarbonized economy of the future is to include populations that have been left behind in the age of fossil fuels.

Photo (cropped): via Enel Group.

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey