The advent of a world of energy in “full 3D”
It’s impossible to launch projects promoting decarbonization, decentralization and digitalization without relying heavily on Research & Technology. In an interview for La Tribune, Thierry Lepercq, Executive Vice President in charge of Innovation at ENGIE, explains the many advantages of hydrogen as an alternative to oil and talks about the “ENGIE Innovation” process of Open Innovation.
Elon Musk wants to go to Mars before taking on oil. It’s the very opposite for Thierry Lepercq, Executive Vice President in charge of innovation, research and technology at ENGIE, for whom hydrogen-based technologies have a long-term possibility of replacing fossil fuels. […]
The historic responsibility of the major energy providers
According to Lepercq, the world of energy today is bei3ng turned upside down by a range of tsunamis triggered by the newly found competitiveness of renewable energies, the progress achieved by storage technologies where interest is now is the tradeoff between cost and volume, the development of electric and digital mobility, the emergence of the Internet of Things and big data, and new technologies such as hydrogen. All these factors are creating a “full 3D” world – 3D being decarbonized, decentralized and digitalized. Hydrogen is no longer considered as a niche reserved for subsidized pilot projects; it is now time to move forward to an industrial vision. […] But the time hasn’t quite come yet to see hydrogen, the missing link in land-based energy systems, as a universal vector capable of fully replacing oil, particularly in mobility. Although “the technology isn’t in the ‘J curve’ of the takeoff phase yet, […] the time has come to think very big.” According to Lepercq, this is “the historic responsibility of leading energy providers,” especially “France, which has proved itself to be a pioneer in other times.”
The “energy revolution” means more energy, cheaper and for more uses
At ENGIE, it should be said, they no longer talk of a transition, but a revolution. New technology adoption cycles are not linear, and a new architecture of energy is the currently emerging. “A revolution is more radical than a transition, and places greater demands on the companies that have to adapt,” Lepercq acknowledges. But in this case, it also means “much more energy, much cheaper, and for many more uses.” […] Far from the “20-year strategy” generally adopted by companies trying to turn the corner, it is here and now that ENGIE’s director of innovation wants the Group to become involved in the high-potential technologies of tomorrow, with an eye on world leadership every time. At the head of ENGIE Innovation, the Group’s Open Innovation platform soon to take its place alongside ENGIE Digital in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, Thierry Lepercq supervises the Research & Technology department and its two laboratories in St Denis (near Paris) and Brussels, as well as ENGIE New Ventures, a venture capital fund dedicated to investment in innovation. The fund, which is worth €150 million, has already invested in around fifteen startup projects, including Sigfox’s IoT-dedicated network, photovoltaic film developed by the Germany company Heliatek, and Symbio FCell’s hydrogen fuel cell-based systems. “We are seeking to focus on strategic investments in entities that can help us become world leaders,” explains Lepercq.
Developing tomorrow’s economic models with ENGIE Innovation
The mindset at ENGIE Innovation is primarily entrepreneurial, but it also sees itself as a “unicorn factory,” thanks to a standardized process based on an open innovation method which will make it possible to formulate tomorrow’s business models, in close collaboration with the company’s businesses. As an example, the mobility task force has identified work streams covering electric vehicle charging stations, managing fleets of hydrogen-powered vehicles and autonomous taxi services – cars being only one element in the system. With regard to hydrogen, a topic that is less far advanced, ENGIE Innovation is working simultaneously on production, storage and uses for land-based uses. With the world of energy in such a state of upheaval, the Group’s strategy is based on three pillars: simplifying its portfolio by exiting carbon energies, reinvigorating its current businesses through digital technologies and launching small-scale new businesses, particularly through acquisitions. And this is precisely the task before Thierry Lepercq and his teams.