Research and development

Model of technological leadership

The Enel Group aspires to be a technology leader in the industry by developing innovative projects that generate value and promote the creation of sustainable competitive advantage.

The primary means by which Enel defines strategy and develops the Group’s Innovation Plan is the Technology Map, which has the goal of identifying the key technologies to focus on in the future, thereby anticipating the evolution and other changes in energy policy and energy scenarios. The map also seeks to establish the investment priorities based on these expectations and other market opportunities.

In 2013, the Enel Group invested €76 million in research and innovation across the various areas of business, i.e. traditional power generation, renewable energy, networks, energy storage, and end uses.

Traditional power generation

Efficiency and reducing emissions at coal-fueled plants

In 2013, the efforts of the Enel Group focused on the following issues:

  • developing tools to monitor and control gas and coalfueled thermal plants in order to optimize operations to make them more versatile, while reducing downtime, consumption and emissions;
  • studying processes able to increase plant efficiency by recovering energy from waste heat and optimizing other processes;
  • studying new technologies that can increase plant reliability under more flexible operations.

Environmental research seeks to anticipate scientific developments in order to play a more proactive role in identifying any areas for improvement. The capabilities that Enel has developed in this field do, in fact, enable us to assess environmental impact related to the air, water and soil, thereby moving beyond the simple monitoring required by law.

Being active in the characterization and analysis of air quality, the Enel Group has also carried out an initial campaign to validate the integrated method for establishing the environmental impact caused by operating coalfueled thermal power plants.

More specifically, in 2013:

  • we worked to characterize the emission of macro- and micro-pollutants on high-efficiency exhaust-treatment systems with the goal of assessing the room for improvement and performance over time;
  • we launched a new line of water management activities at the thermal power plants, which focuses on identifying integrated solutions and/or new processes that can reduce the use of water;
  • research continues regarding the development of advanced applications of sensors, diagnostics and automation in order to increase the reliability, safety and efficiency of the Enel Group’s power plants and to reduce accidents during the construction, maintenance and normal operations of such plants.

Smart grids, distributed generation, and demandside management

Smart grids

Enel is a leading player, both within Italy and internationally, in numerous initiatives working towards innovations in energy distribution systems in order to continue increasing grid efficiency.

The most significant project currently under way concerns “smart grids”, which add innovative digital solutions to traditional technologies in order to make power grid management more flexible by increasing the efficacy of how information is shared.

With the goal of developing an action plan for implementing Active Demand in Europe, work continues on project ADVANCED (Active Demand Value ANd Consumer Experience Discovery), in which Enel is the project’s coordinator, and other leading European distribution system operators (DSOs) are also involved. The project uses the results and data of other demonstration projects currently under way, such as Enel Info+ in Isernia, together with other Active Demand projects around Europe.

Enel is also responsible for technical directions for European project Grid4EU, which encompasses six different projects in various nations and has the goal of conducting wide-scale testing under real operating conditions of advanced smart grids aimed at promoting the use and management of distributed power generation, supporting energy efficiency, and enabling and integrating active demand and new uses of electricity.

September 2013 saw the start of the project EvolvDSO, the goal of which is to define, develop and validate tools and methodologies that can allow for DSOs to play new roles. Various smart-grid projects are also under way in Spain and Latin America, including the ICONO project for the development of functions for monitoring distributed power generation, automating the network, and improving operating efficiency, reliability and safety.

Smart cities

The innovative technologies and skills developed by the Enel Group have enabled us to promote the concept of “smart cities” in various parts of the world, uniting environmental protection, energy efficiency and economic sustainability within a single urban model.

In Italy, the first pilot projects are under way in Genoa, Bari, Cosenza and L’Aquila, where Enel is helping the cities to make the move towards becoming smart cities through measures aimed at developing smart grids as an enabling platform for new innovations and services.

Enel is also active in smart-city projects being funded at the European level. We are, for example, partnering with the city of Genoa in the project FP7 TRANSFORM, which features the involvement of other European cities (i.e. Amsterdam, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Grand Lyon, and Vienna) and other high-profile industrial partners.

Also in 2013, work continued on the innovative smart-city projects in Spain (Malaga and Barcelona) and Brazil (Búzios), and another was started in Chile (Santiago). As a part of these projects, new smart-grid technologies and solutions will be implemented in order to manage the cities more efficiently and in a more sustainable manner, while also saving more energy.

Distributed power generation

In 2013, initial testing of the triangle-based omni-purpose building (TOP) was completed. This system is made up of photovoltaic panels and storage systems and is able to provide renewable energy to populations in remote areas that are not connected to the power grid.

In Spain, work is ongoing on project “Novare Energrid”, an open, modular energy management platform based on a distributed infrastructure for managing the flow of energy on the grid. The system makes it possible to manage power generation and consumption by way of a system of nodes (in residential and business areas), thereby creating a decentralized system of dialog between consumers, producers and users.

The Enel Group is also greatly committed to a number of projects in various countries, such as Italy, Spain and Brazil, to create an innovative network of advanced smart infrastructures to recharge electric vehicles, so as to promote the use of these vehicles and favor more sustainable mobility.

Energy efficiency

The Enel Group is developing innovative technologies and new electrical services for our customers in order to optimize and rationalize the consumption of energy.

During the year, particular emphasis was placed on postmetering services, the regulation of consumption, and end-use energy efficiency, while also studying the related technical aspects and defining and developing new business models.

In particular:

  • work continued on the project Enel Info+, which calls for the testing of Enel smart info, a device that provides customers with tracked generation/consumption data, thereby promoting greater awareness of their own energy- use habits and fostering more efficient ones;
  • the project Energy@Home was carried out in collaboration with Electrolux, Indesit Company and Telecom Italia. This project led to the development of a communication platform for smart devices in the home;
  • work continued on the project Come Consumo (How I Consume), a system that enables end users to view their consumption in real time on either a local device or online, while also providing access to historical consumption data.

Enel is also involved in the European project ENCOURAGE, the goal of which is to develop technologies to help optimize the energy efficiency of office buildings by focusing on the optimal control of the subsystems within the buildings, while also providing adequate means for interacting effectively with the outside world (i.e. with other buildings, local power generators, energy retailers and distributors).

In Spain and South America, various energy-efficiency projects are under way, including the European project EnergyTIC, the goal of which is to develop various innovative solutions that will enable customers to save water and energy.

Renewable energy

Renewable energy is one of Enel’s key strategies for reducing CO2 emissions and, at the same time, for making our production portfolio more competitive. There is great growth potential in terms of installed capacity, and intensive efforts are under way to develop increasingly efficient, effective technologies that can be used in a variety of contexts around the world. For this reason, Enel is active in all of the leading renewable generation technologies, and we are identifying technologies that can help to take advantage of resources that are currently not being used, such as the energy of the sea.

In 2013, the following activities were undertaken.

Concentrated Solar Power (CSP, or thermodynamic solar)

Construction and start-up have been completed at the 5 MWe “Archimede” concentrated solar power (CSP) plant, and the procedures of plant management and steam generation have been defined, as have the main guidelines of operation and maintenance. Studies are also being conducted concerning a new fluid mix with a lower melting point and the use of innovative plant components that will help to increase performance.

Photovoltaics

Efforts continue to find innovative technologies and plant components with a view towards their commercial and pre-commercial development, and we have assessed the possibility of integrating semi-transparent photovoltaic modules into architecture.

Wind

Efforts continue to refine the short- and medium-term (up to 72 hours) output forecasting models of wind farms.

Geothermal power

In Stillwater, Nevada (USA), work has been completed on the detailed plans for the first CSP thermal solar plant to be integrated with a binary geothermal plant, which will provide additional thermal power of 17 MW.

Biomass

Enel has focused on characterizing small-scale (100 kWe to 1 MWe) technologies able to provide high levels of efficiency and flexibility.

Hydroelectric

Solutions have been developed that could optimize the power generation of hydroelectric plants by using the water released to meet minimum environmental flow obligations.

Marine energy

The R115 marine system has begun operating. This system was developed in collaboration with 40South Energy and is able to generate 100 kWe. Commercial agreements have been signed with the partner firm for the provision of additional systems.

Energy storage

The ability to store the energy generated from renewable sources is proving to be one of the most interesting, significant challenges in the management of renewable energy, as well as in the evolution of smart grids and in the manner in which energy is managed at both the residential and industrial level. As storage systems become more efficient, it will be possible to store the electricity generated when costs are lower and there is an abundance of renewable energy and then use that energy at a later time when it is needed.

In Italy and Spain, numerous pilot projects are under way in which various storage technologies installed at various points of the grid are being tested and compared.

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)

The increasing focus on innovative digital technologies can be seen, in part, in the 2013 creation of a unit dedicated to the guidance, coordination, creation and promotion of innovative solutions based on such technologies. By way of a network with the world’s most prominent ICT firms, research labs, and a number of universities, we have been able to identify several innovative solutions for predictive maintenance applied to wind turbines and for detecting energy fraud (i.e. non-technical losses). In terms of customer relations, we have been testing new technologies of sentiment analysis using the social networks and for the advanced analysis of the efficacy of the various online tools.