“The network in the age of digital reproduction” (to paraphrase the title of Walter Benjamin’s essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”) is one way to define the Network Digital Twin, the new solution which is destined to revolutionise network management. It’s a sort of digital model of a network created through a combination of real operational data obtained using various forms of technology, from Artificial Intelligence to drone scans. The “digital twin” is a computerised construction of a virtual copy of the real network – and each of its individual components – capable of replicating it in its entirety and its operations, in addition to testing it under all possible conditions.
Israel, the cradle of innovation
This research into the Network Digital Twin is the focus of the new Infralab in Haifa that we officially presented on 6 March. It was opened in mid-2018 in collaboration with Shikun & Binui, Israel’s leading construction firm, and with the support from the Israeli Innovation Authority (IIA). It is in fact the country’s second centre of innovation: the first Innovation Hub was opened in Tel Aviv in 2016. Over almost three years at the hub in the capital we have met more than 500 startups and developed 10 proof of concepts with our business lines. The hugely positive response from young Israeli businesses has led us to open another structure in collaboration with our Infrastructure and Networks division.
“For innovators Israel is a sort of Disneyland, a place brimming with formidable technologies to identify, test out and develop,” said Ernesto Ciorra, Enel's Chief Innovability Officer, during the presentation in Haifa. The event was attended by the Italian ambassador to Israel, Gianluigi Benedetti, the Vice President of the IIA, Anya Eldan, the Vice President of Shikun & Binui, Oded Setter and various Enel managers, including Francesca Di Carlo, Head of People and Organization, Vittorio Ayra, Head of Planning and Organization, Robert Denda, Head of Network Technology and Innovation at Enel Global Infrastructure and Networks division, and Fabio Tentori, Head of Enel Innovation Hubs.
Ciorra went on to say: “For us, the Infralab in Haifa, just like the Hub in Tel Aviv, is very important because it connects the main startups that we have found here in Israel with the people working at Enel.” He added: “Thanks to these startups we can better understand our limitations, become disruptive, and identify new technologies that we can adopt and use in our business.”
The specific role of the Haifa Infralab will be to investigate, on behalf of our Group’s Infrastructure and Networks division, the relationship between physical infrastructure and the digital world through the Digital Twin, a concept that is already well known in the field of architecture and construction, thanks to the Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology that represents a new frontier for data-driven network management. Enel is, in fact, the first Group in the world to launch an Innovation Lab in order to support the research and development of this technology, with the aim of introducing it over the coming years in eight countries in Europe and South America, where Enel is the Distribution System Operator.
Infrastructure and Networks, from Milan to São Paulo
“Infralab belongs to our network of laboratories and works, together with the Labs in Milan and São Pauolo which are also focused on Infrastructure and Networks, on the concept that we call the Network Digital Twin,” explained Denda. “In particular, here we’re working with Israeli startups on 3D modelling, Artificial Intelligence, scanners, smart glasses, and new ways of interacting with our operators. We are putting together many different technologies as part of our Network Digital Twin. This is a formidable concept because it revolutionises the way in which we operate: everything that we do on the real network is guided and optimised by the use of data.” Denda pointed out that, through the Network Digital Twin, “it’s possible to create a live model of the network, and the infrastructure in general, that helps us produce simulations, carry out predictive maintenance – we can, for example, simulate and monitor the growth of vegetation around the network – and establish completely new ways of interacting with the staff running operations in the field.”
The Haifa Infralab consists of four large areas: an Open Space for startups (today there are 10, and this number is destined to rise to at least 14 over the course of this year), a Maker Area where the solutions can be constructed, an Electric Lab equipped with a low-voltage network on which simulations on the electricity network can be carried out, and a Windows Area for holding meetings with other labs in the Enel network that are working on the same projects.
In addition to the work on the Network Digital Twin, the Haifa research centre has another particularity. Tentori explained that “unlike the hub in Tel Aviv that has the objective of identifying startups with technologies and business models already at an advanced stage of development, which can then be proposed to all of our business lines, here we have created a laboratory for Infrastructure and Networks to collaborate with startups that are still in the initial phases of development.” Haifa is just the latest in a network of centres of innovation that our Group has activated all over the world in order to attract the best talents around and to apply them to our open and sustainable innovation needs. This global network has so far enabled us to select 450 startups from around 4,000 candidates and to launch 170 development projects, 40 of which have already been rolled out on the market.