Crowdsourced Innovation is Supercharging the Energy Industry

Posted by Graham Buchanan on Dec 9, 2016 8:30:00 AM

Following our articles on how the packaging and manufacturing sectors are embracing crowdsourced innovation, we now turn to the energy sector. The energy sector is ideally suited for InnoCentive’s Challenge Driven Innovation methodology for a number of reasons, including:

  • It utilizes multiple platform technologies (i.e. multi-purpose, foundational technologies such as advanced smart materials, synthetic biology or sensors) that are also used in sectors such as chemical, pharma, defence or automotive. This allows for a greater abstraction of the problem and therefore more creative solutions and a wider Solver base to tap. It also means there are lots of opportunities for a diverse range of Challenges, as you’ll see from the examples below.
  • It is a sector with a wide reaching impact, meaning the problems posed in Challenges are often highly relatable and of personal interest to Solvers.

Looking first at one of our most recent examples, the Italian energy conglomerate Enel have been working with InnoCentive for the past year, posting eight Challenges and awarding high quality solutions in seven of them. One of these successful Challenges sought a method to prevent and remove ice build-up on electrical distribution lines. Another wanted a wireless communication system that could be used in tunnels and other confined spaces, while a third was looking for a method to clean photovoltaic panels in the field. These problems give but a taste of the diversity of issues that one organisation has posted. For Ernesto Ciorra, the Head of Innovation and Sustainability at Enel, InnoCentive provided a way to gain “ideas and approaches from an array of diverse external innovators” and provided an “increased ‘richness’ of our technology portfolio, an ability to find competencies on an as-needed basis, and expedited innovation process”.

oil-rig-ice.jpgThe success in the energy sector though is not a new phenomenon. An example from InnoCentive’s more distant past is the Oil Spill Recovery Institute (OSRI) “Breaking Viscous Shear of Crude Oil” Challenge. The Challenge introduced the problem to individuals who may not have even considered working in the oil recovery industry prior, including the provider of the winning solution: an expert in concrete mixing and pouring who noticed that a method could be transferred to help separate oil and water once they had frozen into a viscous mass. Posting the problem as an open innovation Challenge allowed the OSRI to access out-of-the-box ideas and different perspectives that had not been institutionalised to one way of thinking. This broadening of perspectives allowed a decade’s old issue to be solved in a six-month period.

The examples we’ve looked at so far have all been ‘public’ Challenges – the client behind the project has disclosed who they are and are happy for the world to know this is an issue that matters to them. This though does not have to be the case. InnoCentive’s methodology has the ability to not only anonymise the Challenge, but also abstract the problem so that the source industry can be masked and the Challenge is accessible and relatable to the largest possible audience. The Slurry Separation Challenge is one example of this masking: purely stating the technical problem and proposing multiple industries where it occurs. This level of abstraction may reduce the specificity and precision of the problem, but can allow for more unusual and unexpected solutions to come forward as Solvers are not constrained by preconceptions of how an industry would expect solutions to look.

The energy industry has a diverse set of innovation aims that cover nearly every expertise, however this diversity should not be seen as daunting. It’s an opportunity to use crowdsourcing to access external expertise that organisations may not have internally. It’s an opportunity to position problems in a manner that allows new viewpoints to offer solutions. It’s an opportunity to expedite innovation by using the crowd to supplement internal work.

InnoCentive have been at the forefront of the crowdsourcing movement and has a wealth of experience in both the energy sector and wider fields.  Click below if want to find out more or to explore how InnoCentive’s methodology and expertise, global Solver network, and purpose-built platform could help your organisation.

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Topics: Innovation Insights, Challenges

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