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Digitalization is more about mindset than technology

Enel is one of the world’s leading integrated electricity and gas operators, operating in 29 countries across four continents. The company generates around 83 GW of energy and distributes electricity and gas to about 64 million end users around the world.

 

IC

ABB In Control (IC): Enel has a strong belief in innovation and technology adoption. Please tell us about your Innovation Hub concept. 

EV

Enrico Viale (EV): Enel focuses on innovating the energy sector and the way to do so is with the best partners who can help us internationally. That is why we are setting up Innovation Hubs in those areas of the world with the highest concentration of innovation. This will enable us to keep track of technical trends and create business partnerships with the best start-ups and companies. The goal of the hubs is to create a genuine network of expertise, ideas and business opportunities.

We are already setting up hubs in Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Tel Aviv, Silicon Valley, Italy and Spain among others. This network will allow us to be part of the most innovative ecosystems in the world and give us the chance to work with the best and most creative minds. We have already screened and evaluated more than 1,600 start-ups.

IC

Describe Enel’s journey in digital technology and the lessons you have learned from the process.

EV

We started our journey in digitalization two years ago at two pilot plants: Torrevaldaliga Nord in Italy, a 1,980 MW coal-fired plant; and Besòs in Spain, a 1,270 MW combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plant. Our goal was to test the most promising digital services in seven areas - safety, the environment, operations and maintenance (O&M), cyber security, logistics, efficiency and e–mobility - and then quickly adopt those we selected in other parts of the fleet.

"Digitalization will play a key role in increasing the profitability of our fleet."

Although we have only recently started on the path to digitalization, it is already clear that digitalization is more a matter of people and mindset than technology. Communication, change management and training are more important than technology. Moreover, digital transformation requires a strong multifunctional approach: all our business families were involved in the project team.

IC

What types of digital technology are you testing or adopting, and what impact are they having on your operations?

EV

We are testing many digital technologies, some of which are on the market, others of which aren’t. They include new types of sensor, analytics for predictive maintenance, model-based process control, virtual and augmented reality for workforce management, drones and robots, advanced tracking systems for trucks and materials, people localization and tracking devices, and monitoring tools to manage critical activities, reduce risk and detect accidents.

The objective of these pilot installations is to quickly test relevant technologies and services that can be integrated on a common infrastructure of high-performance and reliable communication systems (LTE, WiFi, LBE, UWB, LoRa), edge or fog computing, the cloud and data lake in a real operating environment.

We have already received positive results from some of the technologies and services we’ve tested and will deploy them in relevant parts of our generation fleet. For instance, an ABB advanced process control solution for combustion and gas treatment systems has increased the efficiency and flexibility of our coal and gas assets. 

IC

In what ways is digitalization improving your response to market dynamics and regulatory controls?

EV

Digitalization allows us to respond efficiently to market dynamics - such as operating with greater flexibility at lower cost - and comply with regulatory demands for lower environmental impact and safety. It will, therefore, play a key role in increasing the profitability of our fleet by improving availability and flexibility. We expect its impact to be mainly in remote diagnostics and predictive maintenance and, secondly, in heat rate and asset performance management tools. The first will improve plant availability and change the way we plan and execute maintenance; the second will optimize combustion parameters and have a positive impact on flexibility.

IC

There is a lot of discussion in digital about the divide between information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). How is Enel aligning IT and OT? 

EV

One of the strongest messages of digitalization is that it shows there is a clear need to remove the borders between IT and OT. We are confident that within the near future there will be a full convergence between IT and OT. Working from that premise, we encouraged, some time ago, our IT and OT teams to share information, goals and ways of working. Our OT and IT people now work in close cooperation with each other. Collaboration is not always easy, but this convergence is one of the pillars of digital.

"Digitalization shows there is a clear need to remove the borders between IT and OT."

IC

Does digitalization require your workforce to develop new skills? Are you hiring professionals with different profiles compared to the past?

EV

There is no doubt that with digitalization new skills will emerge or need to be developed. Enel is currently finalizing a change management and training program to establish a digital mindset in our staff, leverage new skills and develop new capabilities. 

IC

Which technologies and expertise do you seek in your digital partners? 

EV

Flexibility, openness to new technologies, and with a strong knowledge of our processes and business. We need to digitalize our fleet and retrofit digital technologies in our power plants. Retrofitting is a brownfield environment, so choosing the right technologies and implementation strategy is the key to achieving the desired results - without risk to reliability and security.

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