Europe’s transition to a climate-neutral future is driven by three Ds: digitization, decentralisation, and decarbonisation. Flore de Durfort, Head of Data Incubation and Monetisation at E.ON Digital Technology in Munich, explains why their common denominator is data.
Incubation, as the name suggests, is about providing the right conditions for something – in our case, new technologies and new data-driven business models – to develop and, eventually, hatch. I’m responsible for identifying the ones that are most promising, prioritising them according to their potential, and giving them the space and resources to mature. The aim is to transform a great idea into a scalable, high-impact product. Monetisation, on the other hand, is about ensuring that E.ON systematically maximises the value from its data. Our Global Advanced Analytics and AI team works to ensure that E.ON isn’t only a company that has lots of data and an AI department. But that we’re also a company that has data in its DNA: our business decisions are data-driven, and we use data to generate business growth – inside E.ON and elsewhere. This approach leads to a lot of product ideas, many of which promote sustainability.
E.ON Rooftop combines and manipulates data to automatically quantify the rooftop solar potential of any building anywhere in Europe. It therefore answers a question that millions of customers ask themselves: does installing solar panels on my roof make practical, financial, and environmental sense? We’re making it available as an application programming interface and believe it will enable a large number of use cases across all E.ON markets and business units. E.ON Rooftop is trained to segment satellite imagery, to estimate a building’s usable roof area, its orientation, and the solar irradiance at its location, and to calculate the building’s annual potential solar output, the optimal solar array for this particular rooftop as well as the financial attractiveness of the investment. And E.ON Rooftop can do this for the roof of any structure – a home, an apartment building, a hospital, a factory, even an entire municipality – anywhere in Europe. It’s therefore an important way in which E.ON is enabling Europe to become climate-neutral. By bundling and manipulating data in a unique way, we’ve created a tool that empowers customers to make meaningful decisions about being more sustainable and more energy-autonomous. And prevented E.ON from having to rely on third parties for this strategic capability. The first use cases are scheduled for launch in the first quarter of 2021, and the team is very excited about it.
Having the right ideas often begins by asking the right people the right questions. This means talking to colleagues, industry peers, the research community, and especially customers. A lot of what we do is user research. A user’s problem is much more powerful than an idea. Take E-Mobility. Electric cars are available in all vehicles classes: subcompacts, saloons, SUVs, even sportscars. All of these models are cleaner, quieter, and often cheaper to operate than their combustion-engine counterparts. The question, therefore, is why in the world are more people not embracing E-Mobility? In such cases, we conduct user research to find out what’s preventing them from switching and use the findings to develop a value proposition and, eventually, a product. The result in this case was the E.ON E-Mobility Coach, a web app that enables customers to understand what switching to E-Mobility would feel like. What E.ON Rooftop does for buildings, the E-Mobility Coach does for transport: it enables potentially millions of customers to make an important facet of their lives climate-friendlier. Both products are great examples of how data analytics, AI, and a user-centric perspective are responsible for the most impactful things taking place in the energy sector.
Our pipeline has a lot of exciting projects. My two favourites are the Sustainability Mirror and Grid Carbon Intensity. The idea behind the Sustainability Mirror is to empower people to find out how sustainable their neighbourhood is, why, and, most importantly, what they can do to make positive difference. It’s a web application based on an open-source, data-driven sustainability index that we codeveloped with one of our research partners, the LMU Munich. Its purpose is to help position E.ON as an enabler for citizens to find out what they can do to live more sustainably. The aim of Grid Carbon Intensity is to develop a model able to estimate, in real time, how green the power is that’s flowing through our distribution grids. Good data-based solutions often increase transparency and thus raise customers’ awareness. In this case, making clear to our customers the hours of the day when their electricity is greenest will empower them to shift energy-hungry tasks – like running dishwashers, washers, and driers and charging their e-cars – to these hours.
Shaping a better tomorrow! Our Global Advanced Analytics and AI team brings together more than 60 data specialists with highly sought-after skills. They all could find a new job in a second. When I ask them why they joined and remain at E.ON, the most frequent response is that they care about the energy transition. They want to work for an industry that can make a meaningful difference in the future of their community and, indeed, the entire planet. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of this motivation. I believe people give their best when they see a clear connection between their work’s macroeconomic impact and their values. I feel I have a personal responsibility to ensure that the members of my team see the big picture and are aware of the positive impact their work is having on the energy world.
I try to be a responsible consumer. For example, I challenged myself to buy almost everything I need for my one-year-old son second-hand: clothes, furniture, and toys. I also don’t own a car and in-stead use public transport or my bike, which is how I take my son to day care. But sustainability isn’t just about the planet. It’s also about people. That’s why I ensure that I find the time to be there for my son and watch him grow. I’m a woman and mother with a professional career. So diversity and gender equality are important issues for me, particularly as a manager: I have several women in my team, and I try to make sure they feel empowered. I also make it a priority to develop female talent at E.ON.
Flore de Durfort was born in Brest, France, in 1992. After earning a graduate degree in International Energy Markets & Policy at Sciences Po and Political Philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, she joined E.ON in 2015 through its Graduate Programme (EGP). After completing the 18-month programme, which included rotations in Düsseldorf and Chicago, she became part of E.ON Climate & Renewables’ strategy team in Essen. In 2017 she moved to E.ON Digital as a venture manager and 24 months later was promoted to her current role at E.ON Digital Technology. Flore and her family live in Munich. In her free time she enjoys playing cello and hiking.