Free Electrons: From 15 to 28 pilots in four days

It's well known that accelerator programs can have a transformational effect on start-ups, helping them to develop and scale their business. What may be more surprising is that accelerators can have a similar effect on long-established companies. Major global corporates are now combining efforts, sharing insights, running joint pilot programs and developing the future of energy on an open innovation platform. Welcome to Free Electrons, a world-leading innovation platform for energy related start-ups. Now in its second year, Free Electrons has become known as the world's most revolutionary program for promising energy start-ups.

After a kick-off “Bootcamp” in Lisbon earlier this year and a first successful module in Sydney/Melbourne, last week module #2 rocked the Silicon Valley, with 15 start-ups and 10 utilities taking part. The focus was on learning from the initial pilots in order to develop new ones. The week ended highly successfully, providing ground for 13 new pilots, increasing the total number of pilots from 15 to 28 in only 4 days.

Maximizing performance: Start-ups test their business cases on a global scale

The first two days of the Silicon Valley module were fully dedicated to learning and sharing about the first 15 pilots that are already underway. This enabled the utilities to better assess the potential for new pilots and how the utilities and start-ups could work together more effectively. The third day gave the Free Electrons start-ups an opportunity to pitch to members of the Silicon Valley ecosystem, including external investors, corporate executives and local start-ups from the Bay area. The day ended on another high note: the first of the Free Electrons start-ups announced its acquisition and the program saw its first exit after only two years. We are immensely proud to see our start-ups scale and succeed!

One reason for this quick success is that the start-ups are experiencing a much steeper learning curve thanks to their joined-up hosts, allowing them to scale much faster. Before Free Electrons, start-ups were mostly forced to run one pilot at a time as corporates didn’t openly share the results of their engagement. Free Electrons has revolutionized the concept of a corporate acceleration program, with open innovation providing an opportunity to work ‘open book’ with several utilities at the same time.

For example, ESB from Ireland and the French start-up Sterblue successfully completed their pilot on wind generation assets, while innogy started an engagement with them on low-voltage distribution grids. Open books have helped Sterblue move ahead with ESB on a grid pilot and innogy has learned much from ESB's wind farm experience.

We wanted a safe, fast and accurate solution to inspect our wind turbines in order to minimize maintenance costs & generator downtime. Sterblue were super-accommodating of all our requirements.



John McKiernan, Head of External Collaboration at ESB

ESB's excellent work with Sterblue allowed us to get a head start on our own assets and our respective business units are very impressed by the results. We are glad to share experiences and results from our grid pilot and hope they will help ESB or any other utility in the program in the same productive manner.



Stefan Padberg, Managing Director, innogy New Ventures LLC, Palo Alto

John concluded correctly that Free Electrons is a tremendous catalyst for accelerating change for ESB and beyond. Consequently the module closed with the announcement of the 13 new pilots and an overview of the roadmap towards the final Module in Berlin in October 2018.

Naming this program Free Electrons says a lot about the utilities' shared perspective and view regarding the evolution of power and energy industry and markets around the world. Electricity as a commodity will tend to lose value over time, so we need to develop new business models and new services to add value to our shareholders, and they will certainly revolve around digital, data and data management.


Luís Manuel, Executive Board Member at EDP Innovation

Next stop: Berlin

Free Electrons will now move on to the third and final module in Berlin, to be hosted by innogy in the first week of October. After the Silicon Valley focus of growing the pilot base and fostering cooperation, the Berlin module will allow program members to focus on connecting innovation to the core business units - a key challenge for all innovation programs. The 15 start-ups will spend a full week in Berlin with their 10 utility partners. Highlights of the program will include working sessions in a true co-living environment – authentic Berlin style – and of course the announcement of the Free Electrons 2018 “Best Energy Start-up” award, worth 200.000 USD. The members expect more than 300 participants and the grand prize to be awarded by a senior representative of the German government. Stay tuned for more information soon.

The Free Electrons Program is the first global energy start-up accelerator program to connect the world's most promising energy start-up businesses with leading utility companies and thus, provides an excellent opportunity for start-ups in the energy space to grow and develop their ideas.

During three intense modules held in different locations around the globe, participants work closely with local players, utilities, mentors and other resources to accelerate their company's growth.

The utilities backing Free Electrons are leading innovators in the energy sector. This project is a testimony of their commitment to working with start-ups in building the future of the sector with clean, smart and widely-accessible energy.

The Free Electrons members are American Electric Power (USA), AusNet Services (Australia), CLP (Hong Kong), DEWA (Dubai), EDP (Portugal), ESB (Ireland), innogy (Germany), Origin Energy (Australia), SP Group (Singapore) and Tokyo Electric Power Company (Japan).

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