Striving to improve sustainability

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Open innovation is a key factor in driving innovation at scale, allowing organisations to access unique ideas and new perspectives, means the process of finding solutions for pressing business problems is easier than ever before. A2A, an energy company striving to improve their sustainability efforts turned to open innovation, with the help of InnoCentive, they were able to leverage the power of uncountable minds across the globe. Not only were they able to find a solution to their problem in record time but the solution to one problem has given rise to a business opportunity, a device that they can market to other businesses in the utility industry.


solvers engaged


submissions collected in 4 weeks


complete proposals sent to A2A

About A2A

A2A based in Italy, generates, distributes, and markets renewable energy, electricity, gas, water, as well as waste management services. They define themselves as a ‘life company’, as they take care of conditions that are necessary for the quality of life. They are among the largest electricity generators in Italy with approximately 9GW of installed capacity. With their new strategic plan, they are focusing on ways to provide these services in a sustainable way.

Their aims include aligning their activities with principles of the circular economy, looking at how to extract value from waste. They are also dedicated to the process of energy transition, leading to increased green energy production, and facilitating the shift towards sustainable energy consumption. Innovation is a key aspect of ensuring the success of this strategic plan. As they turn to crowdsourcing to solve key business issues, InnoCentive has played an integral role in driving innovation for the company.

The Business Problem


One of A2A’s main goals is electrification and making their network much stronger to support the transition towards more sustainable methods of energy consumption. This means enabling the network to handle higher loads and providing a more quality service.

As part of this goal, A2A, through its fully owned DSO company UNARETI, is committed to installing 1000 new secondary substations by 2030. The cities they operate in are very dense, and there is limited space for these substations. A solution would be to deploy the substations below the ground; however, this poses issues around access, overheating and flooding. The challenge here was finding a design for a substation to overcome all these constraints. Initially, they approached their suppliers to see if some sort of technical solution could be found, however, there were no ideas or much interest in finding an innovative solution. This is when A2A turned to crowdsourcing, specifically through InnoCentive to identify a creative solution to this problem.

The challenge posed to the InnoCentive community was to rethink the entire substation layout and develop a novel design highlighting all the technical challenges that arise and how they can be addressed. Usually, to solve these kinds of problems, a group of experts would study the substation and upgrade it, however this is time consuming and costly.

The Solution and The Role of InnoCentive

Open innovation provides the opportunity for a wider variety of ideas to be found, in a shorter space of time and in a more cost-effective manner. With InnoCentive, it took 2 weeks to initiate the challenge and in 4 weeks, it engaged 75 solvers, collected 12 submissions and in the end 3 complete proposals were sent to A2A. The winning idea was a simple yet highly compact substation design that would reuse existing devices with a novel layout as well as require minimal maintenance.

A2A were able to apply for an intellectual patent for the idea and begin their work on a prototype. Through this process, they have now been afforded the opportunity to create a turnkey device that they can market to other power utilities. Not only making A2A a market leader but providing a solution for the industry at large.

A2A’s strategic plan involves an ambitious investment plan that they aim to reach by 2030, in finding a design solution for the underground compact substation this speeds up their ability to reach this goal.

A2A’s Future Open Innovation Plan


Moving forward, A2A has established an open innovation plan that aims to leverage ideas from both internal and external sources. This open innovation ecosystem consists of three main branches, outside-in innovation, internal innovation, and corporate venture capital.

Working with InnoCentive, they have established an innovation platform to connect with this open innovation ecosystem, including the InnoCentive solver community.

With this new open innovation capability, A2A are geared towards meeting the demands of the competitive nature of their business as well as being able to effectively leverage creative ideas to pursue their goal of providing sustainable sources of energy.

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