SOURCE: CLP Group
Pioneering entrepreneurs from leading global innovation hubs are using their digital savvy expertise to accelerate the transformation of the power industry. After disrupting sectors such as retail, marketing, and transport, start-up companies are now working increasingly closely with electricity utility companies including CLP to change the world of energy.
Since we began our innovation journey a few years ago, CLP has optimised the performance of our existing business and boosted our technical and operational capability by investing and making use of a variety of cutting-edge digital tools and solutions from established world-class partners.
At the same time, we have teamed up with new partners including start-ups and universities excelling in technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, and the Internet of Things to speed up the development of smarter and cleaner energy services for homes and businesses in the Asia Pacific region.
“Digitalisation is fundamentally overhauling the way the energy sector operates and the kinds of services that can be made available to customers,” says Austin Bryan, Senior Director – Innovation. “Partnering with start-up companies is one way for us to get access to software and data-science technologies,” he says.
Unleashing Free Electrons
In 2018, CLP joined Free Electrons, an international accelerator programme bringing utility companies and start-up companies together to uncover novel solutions and develop new energy products and services.
Comprising a series of intensive week-long collaboration between the start-ups and utility companies in Lisbon, Sydney, San Francisco and Berlin, Free Electrons focuses on delivering cutting-edge proof of concept projects and accelerating the commercial deployment of promising new services and technologies, benefitting both utilities and start-up companies.
More than 500 start-up companies from 65 countries were evaluated for the programme in 2018, and 15 firms were eventually selected to work with 10 major electricity utility companies including Germany’s innogy, Japan’s TEPCO, Singapore’s SP Group, and CLP.
The hard work culminated last October in Berlin, where each of the 15 finalists presented a pitch on how their business will help the future of energy in the areas of clean energy, energy efficiency, e-mobility, digitisation, and on-demand customer services. The finalists competed for the title of Free Electrons World’s Best Energy Start-up and a prize of US$200,000.
“Getting the chance to speak openly and compare notes with leading international utilities on our respective innovation journeys, and being able to share and build on knowledge and capabilities is a vital and unique aspect of Free Electrons,” says CLP Legal Counsel Marissa Wong, who has been managing CLP’s participation in the programme.
“Through the programme, we were able to work with some of the world’s smartest and most dynamic innovators developing solutions to 21st century digital energy challenges. With our industry leadership across Asia Pacific, CLP is well-positioned to work in partnership with the best start-ups to create transformative new energy technologies and applications for individuals, businesses, cities, and Governments,” Marissa adds.
“We are now trialling solutions from the programme’s start-ups across the Group. We are excited to be part of the success and development of these start-ups, and proud to be their partners in transforming the future of energy.”
Director for Asset Management at CLP Power Hong Kong Cathen Ho has worked with start-up companies on several pilot projects under Free Electrons including grid predictive analytics, drone image analysis, and power network performance monitoring.
“Start-up companies are more agile and flexible in developing customised solutions,” Cathen says. “They usually have lower overheads and can offer solutions at a competitive cost. Some start-ups are specialists in AI and data analytics technologies, which can help CLP optimise asset management performance.”
In 2019, CLP is planning on bringing the programme to Hong Kong, inspiring more smart energy innovations in the Asia Pacific region.
At EnergyAustralia, Head of Innovation Anthony Wiseman has been reviewing more than 200 start-up companies a year in the search for partnership and growth opportunities. EnergyAustralia will eventually select eight companies to co-develop new energy products and services for potential commercialisation.
“Innovation is critical for EnergyAustralia to create an adaptable and sustainable business,” Anthony says. Our work with start-ups has already resulted in the deployment of technologies including demand response, customer load control, and data analytics at EnergyAustralia, where the NextGen division focuses on innovative energy services, adjacencies and new growth business opportunities.
In January 2019, EnergyAustralia teamed up with London-based Startupbootcamp on a three-month accelerator programme under which start-up companies from around the world are invited to Melbourne and given financial support and coaching to develop innovative solutions and business models. The partnership ran its inaugural programme in 2017, attracting innovators from Australia, Europe, Americas and Asia.
Taking advantage of Hong Kong’s emergence as a centre for technology and innovation, CLP works with local start-up companies through the STARS Programme, run by the Federation of Hong Kong Industries and the Hong Kong Startup Council. The programme offers mentoring and workshops for start-up companies focusing on smart homes, microgrid controls, and data analytics.
Colleagues from CLP served as mentors to help 12 start-up companies from Hong Kong, South Korea, Sweden and the United States selected for the STARS programme gain deeper insights into the energy market as well as provided advice on business and marketing strategies to realise commercial opportunities. Ten of the start-ups also participated in InvestHK’s StartmeupHK Festival in January 2019 to compete for venture capital funding.
Meanwhile, CLP is taking part in JUMPSTARTER, an accelerator programme organised by the Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund for start-ups in Hong Kong. En-trak, which specialises in smart lighting solutions, won the JUMPSTARTER competition in 2017. Less than a year later, the company received funding from CLP and the Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund to expand its business in Asia.
Direct equity investments in companies such as En-trak form part of a three-pronged strategy for CLP investment in support of innovation, says Director for Group Venture Investment and Strategy Lu Yeung.
“Typically, we consider the direct investment approach for companies with proven technologies and business models,” Lu says. CLP invests in venture capital funds that focus on investment in energy start-ups at early stages of development. In addition, CLP seeks opportunities to set up joint ventures with partners focused on energy innovation, Lu explains.
In 2017, CLP was among the investors in a new US$129 million fund raised by the Westly Group, a Silicon Valley venture capital company focused on opportunities in clean energy technologies, smart buildings, and transportation. Four companies that previously received investment from the Westly Group have been listed on NASDAQ, including Tesla.
Also in 2018, CLP took part in a new funding round by Israel Cleantech Ventures, which invests in companies offering digital energy and transportation technologies.
With their leadership in energy digitalisation technologies, the United States and Israel are currently the main destinations of innovation-related investments by CLP. We will also consider investing in start-ups with strong business models and customer-engagement practices in Mainland China and other Asian markets.
In 2018, AutoGrid, a California-based provider of energy analytics and AI software founded by Stanford University researchers in 2011, became the first start-up company to receive direct investment from CLP. The two companies are now working together to develop advanced energy optimisation and smart city solutions in Hong Kong.
“We are working to define what the future of energy looks like,” says Ben Cohen, Director of Global Strategy at AutoGrid. “Hong Kong has a forward-thinking customer base.”
Eric Lee, CLP’s Assistant Manager – Innovation, says AutoGrid’s technologies are helping CLP develop energy management services for commercial customers in Hong Kong, where electricity consumption settings in most office towers and shopping malls are manually adjusted by building managers. Major energy savings can be achieved by switching to systems using AI analytics.
“AI can be used to analyse previous energy consumption data, and anticipate future usage trends automatically,” Eric says.
Technologies from start-up partners are also helping CLP develop services for smart grids as rising demand for renewable energy in Hong Kong drives the growth of distributed energy systems, including batteries and photovoltaic solar generation. Recent Hong Kong Government initiatives to promote smart city technologies will meanwhile support the development of digitally-connected energy services such as smart street lighting and electric vehicle chargers.
Outside Hong Kong, new technologies from start-up partners will help CLP develop new services for customers in Mainland China, India, and Thailand, says CLP’s Head of New Business Development Saraansh Dave, citing CLP’s partnerships with Beijing TUS-Clean Energy, a company affiliated with Tsinghua University, and public and private sector partners in Thailand as examples.
“The whole Asia region is going through a transformation as markets are deregulated, and more opportunities will surface,” Saraansh says. “We need to be ready to capitalise on those opportunities.”
CLP’s growing portfolio of start-up partners is an advantage as the different technologies they provide can be integrated to build more complex solutions that address the needs of larger customers.
“While start-ups mainly sell their own single products, we can create value by pooling and bundling their solutions,” says Elke Kornalijnslijper, Commercial Manager at CLP Innovation.
Working with some of the world’s best entrepreneurs in the digital energy sector is creating a change of culture at CLP. Simply put, it is putting CLP more in tune with the rhythms of Silicon Valley, Israel, and other global technology hubs.
“Whereas product trials for traditional utility companies typically take between 18 and 24 months, pilot projects with start-up partners are short, sharp bursts of activities,” Austin says. “It has been beneficial for us because start-up partners bring the ability to rapidly introduce new ideas and capabilities. This is genuinely the pathway to creating advantages.”
To learn more about CLP’s connection with society, please check out the latest issue of CLP.CONNECT.
KEYWORDS: CLP, HKSE:0002.HK, EnegryAustralia, Hong Kong, Free Electrons, JUMPSTARTER, Autogrid, En-trak