Fuel­ing the Fu­ture of En­ergy

En­ergy gi­ant Shell is tap­ping an un­likely re­source to de­velop clean power so­lu­tions: small, in­no­va­tive star­tups.

Fast Company - - Creative Conversation - By Fastco.works This ar­ti­cle was cre­ated for and com­mis­sioned by Shell.

AAs one of the world’s largest en­ergy providers, it’s no sur­prise that Shell is in­vest­ing heav­ily to fu­ture-proof for chang­ing and ris­ing en­ergy de­mands. In fact, the com­pany in­tends to in­vest up to $1 bil­lion a year in new so­lu­tions by 2020 in three main ar­eas: new fu­els for trans­port, re­new­able power, and ways to con­nect cus­tomers with new busi­ness mod­els for mo­bil­ity and en­ergy ser­vices. What’s sur­pris­ing is that its ap­proach is en­tre­pre­neur­ial, in­clud­ing col­lab­o­rat­ing with star­tups to un­lock in­no­va­tion. Some of these part­ner­ships can be seen in the award-win­ning #makethe­fu­ture cam­paign, which sup­ports six “bright en­ergy” in­ven­tors whose cre­ations are im­pact­ing com­mu­ni­ties around the world, such as tak­ing safe, clean lights to Kenya. Last year, the in­ven­tions went vi­ral in a mu­sic video fea­tur­ing Jen­nifer Hud­son. This year, they’re go­ing mo­bile as part of the Shell Syn­ergy truck, a fu­tur­is­tic food truck cre­ated with U.S. col­lege stu­dents and fea­tured at Fast Com­pany’s an­nual In­no­va­tion Fes­ti­val in Oc­to­ber. Fastco.works spoke with MALENA CUTULI, who leads the #makethe­fu­ture cam­paign as group head of in­te­grated brand com­mu­ni­ca­tions and ca­pa­bil­ity, and GEERT VAN DE WOUW, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Shell Tech­nol­ogy Ven­tures (STV). As a pi­o­neer­ing cor­po­rate ven­ture fund in the oil and gas in­dus­try, STV is both in­vestor and part­ner for star­tups speed­ing up the de­ploy­ment of in­no­va­tive en­ergy tech­nolo­gies. FCW: Of all the ways to show­case new tech­nolo­gies, why a food truck? Malena Cutuli: Food is a uni­ver­sal pas­sion we all love talk­ing about. By com­bin­ing these tech­nolo­gies in a food truck, we can spark a wider con­ver­sa­tion about en­ergy that’s more en­gag­ing than us talk­ing in very sci­en­tific and tech­ni­cal terms. It sur­prises peo­ple be­cause of­ten they are un­aware that Shell is do­ing any­thing other than tra­di­tional hy­dro­car­bon so­lu­tions, when ac­tu­ally, we’re con­tin­u­ously col­lab­o­rat­ing with in­no­va­tors and have a di­vi­sion ded­i­cated to driv­ing new en­ergy so­lu­tions as well as our in­vest­ment fund, STV. FCW: What are some of the in­no­va­tions in the truck? MC: One is Grav­ity­light [in which a fall­ing weight pow­ers an LED light for up to 20 min­utes], which last year we helped launch in Kenya, where peo­ple use kerosene lamps that are very harm­ful to their health. And the walk­way in front of the truck, where peo­ple “dance for their food,” is made by Pave­gen, which helped us build a foot­step-pow­ered soc­cer pitch in Rio de Janeiro; peo­ple play all day and light it up at night with their foot­steps. FCW: What does Shell Tech­nol­ogy Ven­tures look for in a startup? Geert van de Wouw: We look for in­no­va­tors in the oil and gas, new en­er­gies, and dig­i­tal do­mains that will help us ad­dress the chal­lenges within our busi­ness and with the po­ten­tial to shift the en­ergy ecosys­tem. The man­age­ment team is crit­i­cal—it’s bet­ter to in­vest in great peo­ple than in great tech with a poor team be­hind it. Not least be­cause we’re more than in­vestors, we’re also cus­tomers of ev­ery startup we’ve in­vested in. FCW: What tech­nolo­gies are you ex­cited about right now? GVW: From 25 in­vest­ments, we’ve pulled out of just two— beat­ing the VC av­er­age—be­cause we of­fer not just fund­ing but the weight of our R&D and sci­en­tific ex­per­tise as well as a global cus­tomer base and net­work to help our part­ners de­velop their con­cepts. Sense is an ex­cit­ing one—it’s a plat­form that gives home­own­ers real-time data on the power us­age of ev­ery ap­pli­ance in the home—and Kite Pow­ered Sys­tems, which is a long-term part­ner. We’ve re­cently joined forces with two other en­ergy firms to help bring their plan for the world’s first kite power sta­tion to re­al­ity. FCW: Some might won­der if this is all win­dow dress­ing to dis­tract from your re­spon­si­bil­ity to tackle cli­mate change and ad­dress the en­ergy tran­si­tion? GVW: As a busi­ness full of en­gi­neers, our first ques­tion is al­ways “does it ac­tu­ally work?” En­gi­neers are prob­lem solvers and we’re ex­cited about find­ing and devel­op­ing fu­ture en­ergy so­lu­tions for a rapidly chang­ing world. STV is not a so­cial in­vest­ment fund; we de­liver re­turns and help our part­ners suc­ceed, but we do look for op­por­tu­ni­ties to cre­ate shared value for so­ci­ety. Our lat­est ven­ture fund in Nige­ria, for ex­am­ple, is cre­at­ing new en­trepreneurs in a coun­try where we have a ma­jor pres­ence and want to help di­ver­sify the econ­omy and help so­ci­ety elec­trify its en­ergy sys­tem.

In Brazil, Shell part­ner Pave­gen con­verts the en­ergy from soc­cer play­ers’ foot­steps into elec­tric­ity for the field.

Shell’s Geert van de Wouw and Malena Cutuli

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