Business models fit for the future – innovation

Research and development within Energie AG focuses on projects that cater to the strongly growing demand for digital services as well as the increased use of renewable energy sources. Energie AG warrants the practicability and demand-orientation of pioneering business models by involving the stakeholders as early as possible in the development process.

Wertstatt 8 GmbH (Wertstatt 8) has been developing innovative solutions for the energy transition as an independent innovation company since 1 October 2019 with the goal of exploring the potential of different subject areas for future business models and placing an even stronger focus on the advancement of innovation-related activities. Wertstatt 8 is continuously developing new solutions that cater to individual customer requirements. Rapid learning and experimentation is used to work on innovative concepts in areas such as sustainability, the circular economy or customer impact. The open innovation approach is used to develop sustainable service proposals together with customers and external partners (e.g. IMM – Industry meets Makers, bizup, Energy Institute at Johannes Kepler University of Linz, or industry partners from the network of Wertstatt 8 GmbH).

A good example is the Online heating consultant “HEINZI”, which supports consumers in renovating their heating systems. Customers are provided with heating recommendations tailored to their individual property and requirements. HEINZI also provides information about the heating systems' CO2 and fine dust emissions and supplies users with information about financial support for heating system replacements from the federal or state governments. Customers receive non-binding cost estimates and may request to be connected with specialist companies in the region who can support them in the practical implementation.

Customers who are interested in installing privately-owned PV plants are supported by Energie AG's “PV calculator”, which allows them to calculate the potential capacity and cost efficiency of their own PV plant. Energie AG thereby enables its customers to gain a quick overview of available options and receive suitable offers.

In combination with a special new tariff model, the “E-Fairteiler” app developed by Wertstatt 8 and launched in July 2021 enables groups of private electricity producers and consumers to distribute their internally generated PV electricity (peer-to-peer trading) within the group. The only prerequisite is a smart meter. Surplus electricity can be sold to one or several defined groups of other customers (without a PV system) at an individually set price. The specific price is set in the app by the group administrator. By joining the group, the customer decides whether or not they accept the set conditions. More features for the “E-Fairteiler” app are planned.

Suggestions for improvement are solicited from all Energie AG’s employees on the “Loominati” platform – from small ideas about how to make savings to all-new business models. The most important asset for this to succeed is an innovative and highly motivated workforce, with staff able to play their part in the optimisation of operational processes and the ongoing development of the Group by sharing their ideas and expertise.

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In the 2020/2021 fiscal year, this translated to 101 suggestions for improvement submitted by employees from all units within the Energie AG Group (previous year: 121). The decline is attributable to the COVID-19 restrictions. The regularly conducted digitalisation initiative “Neuland” is one of the measures taken to implement Energie AG's digital strategy. Many pioneering ideas were once again submitted by employees in the 2020/2021 fiscal year. These ideas were advanced in a – owing to the pandemic predominantly virtual – selection process with the help of internal experts. The implemented projects range from automated process optimisations in the area of customer data and tools for app-building and digital applications to innovative digital support for price calculation in the waste management sector. A virtual framework programme with targeted collaboration and professional development opportunities for the employees allowed them to increase their digital know-how and improve their identification with the digitalisation objectives. The programme was well received and led to the establishment of a permanent continued professional training offer for the employees.

New technologies

Energie AG harnesses new technologies for increasing the efficiency of internal processes and developing new products and services for its customers. These include, inter alia, algorithms for an intelligent peak management and omni-channel solutions for customer service, the automation and expedited performance of routine activities by robotic process automation, and an Internet-of-Things (IoT) solution for monitoring water consumption. Data analytics and data science methods are used to enable data-based decision-making. Low-code/no-code software can be used to efficiently digitalise internal processes and automate workflows via apps. Matching algorithms support customers in making decisions and in questions concerning the intelligent use of renewable energies.

Energie AG is already collaborating in pioneering research projects that predominantly serve the goal of sector coupling and seasonal storage in the area of hydrogen production. The Underground Sun Storage 2030 (USS 2030) project, which seeks to find solutions for the problem of seasonal fluctuations of renewable energy, has already entered the implementation phase. An electrolyser with an output of 2 MW will be installed in the municipality of Gampern, Upper Austria. During the summer months it will generate hydrogen for temporary storage in a disused underground natural gas reservoir. The seasonal storage of energy is achieved by releasing the hydrogen into the natural gas grid of Netz OÖ GmbH during winter. The electrolysis system is scheduled for commissioning in fiscal year 2021/2022.

Another project that has also been granted public funding is dedicated to demonstrating the carbon cycle economy, meaning the implementation of a sustainable circular economy for CO2. This involves investigating a number of different options for a further use of carbon dioxide taken from the atmosphere or factoring processes for energy purposes with the help of hydrogen.

Green hydrogen will be an important building block for the unfolding energy transition. It is suitable to replace fossil fuels. Energie AG is taking a pro-active role at the dawn of this interesting time of technological change.

For more information, see the Group Management Report, Research, development and innovation.

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