Quick Take: Italian energy giant Enel has long been a trail blazer in the utility space. For example, it was years ahead in deploying smart meters. For instance, earlier this year it launched an innovative renewable energy storage system.

So what’s next for the pioneering utility? Scroll down to learn about three more intriguing initiatives Enel is currently pursuing. – By Jesse Berst

Getting skilled workers by starting them young 

Many utilities are faced with a double jeopardy. Many of their skilled workers are retiring. At the same time, technology is changing rapidly, so even the workers that remain need retraining.

Along with the Italian Ministries of Education and of Employment, regional authorities and trade unions, Enel is piloting a training concept. Young people from seven Italian technical high schools will be alternating their school studies with periods of practical and theoretical workplace training at Enel. According to Enel, the program will enable 145 students to enter the workplace earlier and with an education that has theoretical content more in tune with the needs of industry, combined with practical work designed to provide all-round individual training.

“This is one of the first advanced training apprentice schemes born of the synergy between education and training institutions and the corporate world. Aimed at students at technical high schools, it represents a major investment in human resources in Italy,” stated Francesco Starace, CEO of the Enel Group. “We are convinced that we have selected a group of enthusiastic students keen to have this new experience that will open the way to an extremely satisfying career path. These apprentices will come into immediate contact with latest generation equipment and technology and receive specific prior training on matters of workplace safety, an issue that our company considers of primary importance.”

Crowdsourcing hydroelectric plant efficiencies

Endesa employees who work at Enel’s hydropower facilities in Spain have generated 268 ideas about ways to improve procedures, installations, systems and safety at the plants. The employee crowdsourcing initiative is part of Enel’s open innovation model that focuses on best practices and in-house expertise.

And it seems to be working. Of the 268 ideas generated over the last three years, Enel says 166 have already produced tangible improvements within the plants, while 93 more are currently being implemented.

Enel points to a number of benefits from the employee contributions, including:

  • Cost cuts and €6 million in extra revenue
  • Safety improvements of both workers and infrastructure
  • Individual and overall process improvements
  • Implementing environmental measures

A new approach to distributed generation

In the city of Isernia in Italy’s Molise region, Enel is field testing an innovative model for the protection, automation and management of power generation in the distribution network based on smart grid principles. Enel says the project offers a new approach to distributed generation management which monitors the active involvement of both energy distributors and customers.

And now through the Isernia project, Enel Distribuzione is taking part in the EU-funded iGREENGrid project which is focused on increasing the hosting capacity for distributed renewable energy sources in power distribution grids. As Enel notes in a press release on the initiative, “Electricity generated by small renewable plants, even in homes, is an industry that is set to become increasingly important. It is therefore necessary to start integrating energy produced this way into distribution networks in the most efficient and competitive way possible.”

As its piece of iGREENGrid, the Isernia project will study multifunctional storage, the use of customer information devices and new telecommunications technology as well as testing smart grid technology.

Jesse Berst is the founder and Chief Analyst of SGN and Chairman of the Smart Cities Council, an industry coalition.