What does it mean when we talk about energy innovation today?

In recent years, discussions around the topic of energy innovation have focused on technology concepts such as effective management of renewable energy sources, increasing the capacity of batteries, DC (direct current) technologies and suchlike. These are all relevant and important innovations that enable companies like E.ON work towards a better energy future for our company, our communities and our planet. 

My aim is to foster innovation for E.ON and its business customers in a broader, cross-industry context. I believe that we need to look beyond the new energy technologies and its specific systems of scientific research and service provision. Energy innovation today is limited by a strong energy orientation, it focuses on solving sector related problems and challenges. In short, energy experts need to look beyond their sector and understand innovation in a larger context to build new products and solutions for the customers of an energy company. 

So, why is it relevant to break out of this closed shop? What can we do to make energy innovation discussion more open, more progressive and finally more impactful? How can we enhance the interactions with our customers, our partners and other sectors to create added value in the industrial energy sector and beyond? 

The energy industry is changing, but we are not alone facing the challenges

Now, as we look to the future of industrial energy solutions, we can see that the boundaries between industries are blurring. A number of factors and trends are coming to the fore. They are relevant not only for future energy systems – they show a massive impact on various industries and economies. Emerging cross-industrial trends require the energy industry to collaborate and innovate more with other branches: Out of self-interest, but even more to create value beyond the classical energy scope.

These cross-industry trends include:

  1. Sustainability – tightened sustainability requirements not just pose a technological, but also a key financial challenge.
  2. Electrification – the availability of abundant renewable electricity economically displaces fossil-thermal energy sources and applications and thus changes entire value chains.
  3. Internet of Things (IoT) – handling the complexity of progressing IoT technology penetration decides on future success in digitalization.
  4. Data – managing data-based interconnectedness is key for the exploitation of new business models as well as for process optimization.
  5. Cyber Security – tackling amplifying cyber threats becomes a vital core competence.

And what’s the one thing all these trends have in common? That energy and digitalisation are THE key enablers.

As we are driven to cope with these trends, E.ON can learn and adapt solutions from other industries as well as expand our know-how and solutions to support other sectors in the context of these trends.

Naturally, there is a number of challenges associated with developing cross-industry products and solutions. Making sure that each party’s goals are considered and achieved; incorporating all the different requirements and demands of each group of customers and effectively future-proofing projects, to name just a few. By working together and looking beyond traditional boundaries we can create solutions that add meaning and value to all parties – and ultimately improve the experience for our customers and the customers of our partners.   

Long story short: The key to advance technology and innovation in the energy sector is called “cross-industry innovation”. This means developing solutions that can be adapted, expanded and repurposed across industries and sectors.

E.ON’s contribution to innovation in a cross-industry context

E.ON has already begun to explore and capitalize on these trends by offering decarbonized, green and electrified energy solutions. We are building a comprehensive and digitalised interconnected energy system for our B2B and B2C customers. By leveraging new technologies (most of them in the digital space), knowledge and value propositions beyond the energy business we aim to continue to add value for our customers and build new business opportunities for E.ON and our partners.

So, what is key for an energy company to drive innovation in a cross-industry context? Here are three main areas that build on each other and set the frame for our activities and projects:

  1. Helping businesses and customers connect
    Central to our innovation activities in the energy space is developing and enhancing business solutions for digital connectivity and data-based interactions with B2B customers and their assets. The impact of COVID-19 has shown very clearly that customer communication that focus on face-to-face interactions can easily be disrupted. Customers need to be able to make contact in the channels that suit them best. They need to be able to easily identify and access the products and services that solve their problems. This is not an easy or ‘quick fix’ task. It needs to be built around multiple new digital tools and services. It needs to be built on innovation.

    E.ON has already developed a raft of business solutions to solve these challenges. This includes projects in UX/UI (User Experience/User Interface), data interfaces and data protocols e.g. via a web-based energy consulting tool that help B2B customers to understand the value of switching to renewable energy solutions based on their specific consumption scheme.

  2. Learning alongside our partners and customers
    By working alongside our partners and customers we are constantly learning how we can create value and capitalise opportunities presented by advancements in digital interconnectedness. It’s about understanding our customer needs and challenges beyond provision of energy and applying new technologies to automate and optimise energy consumption.

    By using energy data combined with production data we gain a deeper understanding of the needs of our customers. In a specific case, by harnessing big data analytics for glass furnace optimisation we supported customers in increasing production quality. This helped them become more sustainable by reducing energy consumption and optimising the production process.

  3. Harnessing insights from innovation
    Alongside working towards early adoption of new technologies with our customers, we need to incorporate external ideation and sourcing of technologies and business ideas from the world’s leading innovation ecosystems. A good example are our activities in Israel. Here we involve partners across international teams to provide inspiration and insights as well as facilitate connections with startups, business partners, institutions and industry experts. As a result, we enable access to innovative products, services and technologies that have already gained maturity in other sectors but can be adapted for energy use cases.

When it comes to innovation, our team at E.ON does not stand still. By combining energy and digital base learnings as well as our know-how, we are leading a variety of projects that build on the adaptation of new digital technologies such as AI (Artificial Intelligence), advanced UX/UI and latest technologies like blockchain. We gain insights and talk to various industries: digital, mobile, logistics, chemical industry. These build the basis for cross-industrial innovation and enables us to extend E.ON´s value proposition with solutions and business models which benefit our customers.

We hope you’ll join us in this exciting journey. Together we can drive the changes needed to meet cross-industry challenges and create a more connected and sustainable future for us all.

About Christof Korz
About Christof Kortz
Christof Kortz is an experienced energy pro, new tech advocate, innovation enthusiast and strategist. Being active over 25 years in the energy industry, he held senior positions in various technology, sales, strategy and innovation roles in a number of energy companies. In E.ON Innovation, Christof is leading the innovation team in the “Industry Automation & Electrification” domain for the E.ON Group. Christof writes about implementation-orientated innovation, cross-industry opportunities and the role of change leadership in transformational times.
The contributions reflect the opinions of the authors and not necessarily those of E.ON. E.ON cannot be held liable for the use of the information contained in the contributions. In particular, E.ON accepts no responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of the information supplied. Further, E.ON accepts no responsibility that contributions are up-to-date.

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