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.

Since 1 October 2019, the subsidiary Wertstatt 8 GmbH (Wertstatt 8) has been developing innovative solutions as an independent innovation company with the goal of exploring the potential of different subject areas for future business models. A dedicated innovation lab geared to the specific needs of innovation work was opened in 2021. 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 energy. The open innovation approach is used to develop sustainable service proposals together with customers and external partners (e.g. Industry meets Makers (IMM), bizup, the Energy Institute at Johannes Kepler University (JKU) of Linz, or industry partners from the network of Wertstatt 8 GmbH).

Energie AG implements new technologies to make internal processes more efficient and offer customers innovative solutions. Work to develop strategies designed to meet the challenges of the future while exploiting opportunities in new business units is continually progressing. Energie AG carries out its own research, development and innovation activities and regularly supports promising research projects. In the 2022/2023 fiscal year, projects focused on the areas of decarbonisation, grid infrastructure, heating systems, digitalisation, IT security and the systematic analysis of the future energy system.

Customer needs in the area of sustainability, against the backdrop of an ageing society, were the focus of two innovation projects approved for implementation by the Management Board in the 2022/2023 fiscal year. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will also play a part in meeting customer needs. In the years ahead, the focus will be on specific product development and validation for the market, working closely with cooperation partners.

To enable customers to participate actively in the energy transition, Wertstatt 8 is undertaking intensive innovation in the PV area. One of the ideas being developed aims to help customers obtain PV systems faster and more economically, despite the shortages, see Social affairs, Customer orientation and satisfaction.

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 groups of other customers (without a PV system) at an individually set price. The price is set in the app by the group administrator. By joining the group, the individual decides whether or not they accept the set conditions. To simplify billing (among other things), the app was fully overhauled in the past fiscal year. New customers have been able to access the app since August 2023; by the end of the 2022/2023 fiscal year, 950 active metering points (previous year: 793) were already in use.

As part of the strategy project “LOOP”, a status survey on Energie AG’s innovation management was carried out in a separate “Innovation” module. Clear directions for conceptional development and improving innovative capacity were defined in the process. In addition to seven strategic principles to guide innovation work, the following innovation focus topics were devised, with customers at the heart of all activities: continually adapting full circularity (thinking and acting in cycles, accelerating decarbonisation, acting sustainably, readiness for climate change) to climate change and its effects, harnessing opportunities presented by decentralisation, energy efficiency and the minimal use of resources and tech tools.

To guarantee Group-wide innovation management in future, a new “Corporate innovation” holding unit will be responsible for the theme while a central innovation team will be established in the 2023/2024 fiscal year. The main task of Wertstatt 8 – developing innovative business models in defined fields of innovation – remains unchanged. Various innovation vehicles, such as Energie AG’s planned inaugural “International Startup Innovation Challenge”, will be implemented to support the future development of the Group.

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 development and optimisation of operational processes by sharing their ideas and expertise.

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In the 2022/2023 fiscal year, this translated to 223 suggested improvements submitted by employees from all units within Energie AG Group in the form of “Loominati” ideas (previous year: 130). The significant increase is due to the focus campaigns established in the last fiscal year as well as increased communications on ideas management.

For the second time, an internal hackathon was organised: employees were asked to program their own digital solutions to a problem of their choice using the Microsoft Power Platform. Expert IT coaches supported the participating teams with advance training sessions, and during the actual development of new apps, workflows and dashboards designed to make everyday working routines easier in future. As part of a supporting programme, a kick-off event was organised for staff. The focus was on artificial intelligence (AI), with reputable experts from the fields of business and science making AI clear and comprehensible. Staff were also able to learn more about the new technologies in short, 45-minute webinars held on various days. The “Power Platform” skills developed at the occasion of the hackathon represent solid knowledge that is added to the overall organisation and used sustainably for the development of other digital solutions. At the same time, the “Neuland” format was used to enhance the corporate culture in the specific areas of personal initiative, entrepreneurial thinking and receptiveness to new technologies.

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