The energy sector is both contributing to climate change and it is also a sector that is highly affected by climate change. More and more agile companies and new technologies are disrupting the big corporates and operators. If they embrace the change and spearhead it, huge opportunities open up.
Globally the energy demand is increasing. Not a day goes by without harrowing stories in the news of the climate going crazy, of world leaders crying for change but flying into top meetings in private jets. Stories of fear and challenges.
“We cannot use the burning platform as motivation. We have to turn to the positive. The bottom line is that we have to play a societal role to speed up positive change. We have the power to put the consumer in the center. We can take the lead. We can be a catalyst,” says Menno Janssens, Head of Innovation at Elia Group and a partner of Accelerace.
Together with Accelerace, the energy giant is launching the annual Elia Group Open Innovation Challenge. With subsidiaries in Belgium (Elia) and north-west Germany (50Hertz), Elia Group operates ca. 19,000 km of high-voltage connections. As such, the Group is one of Europe’s top 5.
The paradoxical energy sector
Disruption is not easy in a market as regulated as the energy sector. One of the interesting things is, that the energy sector is both contributing to climate change and is also being disrupted by climate change. Because the landscape is changing – both literally and figuratively – they need to innovate. We need to teach elephants to dance. And that is exactly what Menno Janssens does at Elia group.
“Elephants are big and not very flexible. The innovation and strategy departments are there to make them dance. It is a tough task. But they still need to become more innovative to prepare for our shared future,” he says.
TSO, Transmission System Operators, usually work as regulated monopolies since building the regional and national transmission infrastructure is costly and subjected to regulations. All countries have at least one and they all have a wonderful opportunity.
“It is clear to me that because of their status of regulated monopolies they can be a catalyst for change. They can play a huge societal role in some of the world’s biggest problems,” says Menno Janssens:
“What we see, too, is that when we show them what is changing around us and they get to understand it and take an active part in it, the stakeholders buy into it. In the near future, we will go from a handful of power plants to hundred thousands of prosumers. There is no way we can manage that without AI, Blockchain and IoT. We can take the lead on the change.”
As a herd of elephants, we need to work together
Elia, together with the Belgian distribution system operators, has, therefore, recently launched a campaign that puts the consumer in the middle. An energy platform called the IO.Energy, where companies and startups can come up with ideas and build the new ecosystem together. Elia Group also just launched the third Open Innovation Challenge. Together with its Germany sister company 50Hertz and the Danish startup accelerator and consultancy company Accelerace, Elia wants to find the perfect startups for corporate partnerships.
“The energy sector is getting increasingly complex. With the overall digitization in all sectors and the prices for solar power and technology plummeting, it has become affordable and accessible for the masses to choose. In Denmark we see wind turbines all over, you can buy home solar panels in IKEA, and we see electrical cars in bigger volumes. It all adds to the complexity of the energy grid,” says Jes Nordentoft, Business Accelerator and Investment Manager in Accelerace.
To this Menno Janssens adds:
“In our company, we stopped telling others what is the right way, and allow them to reflect on and change our ideas. We want to develop with people and not impose on them what we think is the best solution because you can only grow and change things in 2019 if you make use of the ecosystem around you,” says Menno Janssens.
Put the consumers front and center
That belief goes well with the wave of decentralization that Blockchain spurred and that spread from finance to almost all sectors over the last 10 years. We believe that decentralization is a need to be able to go to the carbon-neutral society. And the only way to speed up the elephants is to engage with the consumers. Put them in the center.
“It is a paradigm shift. Today, the production of electricity follows consumption. We cannot really store it. In the future, this will shift. Consumption will follow production. We will have to change the way we do dispatching, grid planning, how we think borders and market. This shift needs new technologies to be managed, and the market helps incentivize it,” says Menno Janssens.
Therefore, it is key to get top management onboard with both new ideas of how to work and how to use new technologies. Startups are perfect for that.
“They say, that data is the new oil. But I’d say that data is more like the new crude oil. We have to do smart things with it or it stays useless,” says Menno Janssens.
He urges all startups with relevant solutions to apply for the new Open Innovation Challenge.
Be the change!
Do you want to apply for the Open Innovation Challenge or know a startup that should? Go to https://innovationchallenge.eliagroup.eu/ to apply