Jean-Louis Blanc interview for Le Figaro (extracts)

 

Jean-Louis Blanc, Executive Committee member and Innovation and New Business DirectorWhy has ENGIE launched such an enormous program of investment in innovation and digital technologies?

The world of energy has no alternative but to change its economic model, and do so at a faster rate. In the world’s developed countries, consumption of electricity is falling and energy efficiency is improving very quickly. Combating climate change demands lower carbon forms of energy. Lastly, the world of energy generation is changing dramatically as it makes the transition from a centralized model to decentralized operation and generation on a tiny scale.  It’s vital that we invent a new model based on carbon reduction, decentralization and digitalization.


 But how do you release creative energy in a large corporate group?

(…) We’ve decided to pursue two priorities: the creation of in-house services and acquisitions. That’s why we have put in place a new innovation-focused structure. We have a clear commitment to release the creativity of our people, and we do that by asking them to think about the new services our customers need and organize their ideas in a formal way. Once we’ve identified these ideas, we take the teams responsible for them out of their day-to-day roles and put them into external incubation facilities in Paris (Paris&Co or Le Village) or Belgium. So far, we’ve identified 200 innovative ideas and put around 10 of them into the incubation phase. (…)

 

What types of startup do you want to finance from your fund?

The employees whose projects are transferred to an incubation facility can choose to run those projects as employees of the Group, or to set up their own company in which ENGIE will take an equity holding. Internally, we select projects involving decentralized energy generation, decentralised storage, digital energy management, all aspects of connected objects in the home, all aspects of the digital city and services for business users.

(…) Externally, we leverage innovation in a number of different ways. The first is issuing calls for projects from external startups. The second is our creation of the ENGIE New Venture fund, which has €100 million to invest in startups that meet our target criteria. We invest in the development phases. For example, we were involved in raising funds for Sigfox, which has created a connected object network, for Powerdale, which manufactures smart vehicle charging points, and for Tendril, an American utilities consulting company. We’ve also invested in Redbird, which uses drones to survey infrastructures and interprets the resulting images.