Innovation and digitalisation

Innovation in Iren Group is central to the strategic choices and the definition of the products and services offered. The Business Plan to 2030 provides for over 2 billion Euro of investments in new technologies and digitalisation which will be carried out, over the course of the plan, in the development of all sectors of operation, with the aim of making the Group an example of excellence in the multi-utility sector.

Considering the macro-trends on which the Business Plan is based – decarbonization, development of energy production from renewable sources, circular economy, energy efficiency and safeguarding of natural resources – the main innovation activities are aimed at researching and adopting technologies and processes to support the sustainable development of the reference businesses. The main research, development and innovation areas in which Iren Group is investing include:

  • energy efficiency, applied across multiple levels and assets;
  • study of new solutions for the recovery of energy waste and the integration of renewable sources on different assets (e.g. district heating networks);
  • solutions for the production of renewable hydrogen and fuel/chemical/synthetic materials combined with the capture of carbon dioxide;
  • thermal, electric and hybrid storage systems (e.g. Power-to-X);
  • study of business models and analysis of platforms for the implementation of energy communities;
  • processes for maximising energy and material recovery from waste;
  • systems for reducing quantity and the recovery of material and/or energy from wastewater sludge;
  • automation and robotics in waste treatment plants;
  • Internet of Things (IoT), home automation and data intelligence ICT tools;
  • optimised management of the integrated water cycle (districtualisation, pre-localisation, identification and reduction of network leaks) and tools to support field sensors;
  • detection and removal of pathogens present in water samples;
  • innovative solutions related to electric mobility and related charging infrastructures;
  • electric distribution cybersecurity systems that take into account the progressive digitalisation of assets;
  • electric mobility and systems for smart charging and vehicle to grid (V2G);
  • “industry 4.0” solutions supporting the personnel involved in plant operation and maintenance activities, for predictive maintenance and monitoring in the field.

Iren Group manages innovation processes through an open innovation model and, consistently, has launched profitable collaborations with Universities, Research Centres, Innovation Hubs and start-ups. Additionally, it takes an active part in working groups and associations on specific research and development and promotes events such as conferences, workshops and hackathons.

The Business Plan to 2030 provides for more than 2 billion investments in innovative technologies and for digitalisation

The year 2021 was also characterised by the continuation of technical activities related to the Group’s various co-financed projects and by the development, in partnership with innovative companies and start-ups, of internal technological projects on the basis of planning which, starting from an analysis of the long-term scenario, is aimed at giving the Group the tools needed to seize the opportunities and mitigate the risks deriving from the evolution of the markets in which it operates.

The activities of Iren Up, the Corporate Venture Capital programme launched in 2018, also continued, with the aim of supporting high-potential Italian start-ups in the cleantech sector, from green technologies to the circular economy, through the provision of a unique service package that includes trials, technical support, legal consultancy, market tests, commercial and/or business agreements. The programme envisages investments with tickets ranging from 100,000 Euro to 2 million Euro, depending on the start-up’s development phase and requirements.

As in 2020, due to the continuation of the Covid-19 emergency, the usual Iren Startup Award event dedicated to the search for start-ups did not take place, but the scouting activity continued through collaboration with local and international accelerators.

The management of equity investments in start-ups in which the Group has invested saw the conclusion of several supplementary agreements and the disbursement of tranches upon achieving the milestones conceived in these agreements. Among these, an important investment in Enerbrain, a start-up active in the field of energy efficiency: the operation, which involved national and international financial and industrial operators, will allow the start-up to expand its business abroad, consolidating its growth. In addition to this, an initial investment was made in polyurethane recycling start-up Remat.

Among the initiatives in which Iren has participated, bringing its own contribution in terms of process innovation and applied research, there is, in continuity with previous years, the participation to the Competence Centres (promoted by the Ministries of Economic Development and Economy) established in Turin (Competence Industry Manufacturing 4.0 s.c.a.r.l.) and Genoa (“Competence Centre for the Security and Optimisation of Critical Infrastructures” Association – START 4.0).

In light of the results achieved and the significant projects managed, in 2021, Iren received the Smau 2021 Innovation Award as a recognition of Italian excellence for the model of innovation between companies and public bodies.