Innovation: building the energy ecosystem of tomorrow, through partnership

Innovation: building the energy ecosystem of tomorrow, through partnership

Against the backdrop of accelerating energy transition, innovation at Teréga, which has historically focused on its core business, is increasingly attentive to the needs of its customers, to support them through the transformation they face. And so, the Group is developing disruptive technologies and new service offers. Cécile Boesinger, the Innovation and Research Manager, presents this new collaborative approach, with increasing numbers of multi-actor projects involving Teréga’s teams just as much as those from external partners.

What is Teréga’s current view of innovation?

Cécile Boesinger: The driver of our innovation has, for many years, been the improvement of our own performance: our tools, our knowledge, our CSR activities, or indeed the future of our business activities such as the transport and storage of new gases. Our innovations were initially developed for Teréga, then some were rolled out as external service offers, using a “technology push” model, where we offer our customers these technologies which have already been tried and tested by us in-house. Today, underpinned by the solid foundations of our innovation, drawing on all the Group’s business activities, we’re now ready to open ourselves up to solving new problems, adopting a “market pull” strategy. This means we’ll be focusing on demands from the market, new needs, and new issues that remain as yet unresolved. Our ambition is to listen to our customers ever more closely, mobilising our capacity for innovation to offer them technologies and services developed specifically for them.

So is the creation of new service offers a top priority for innovation within the Group going forward?

C.B.: Yes, because the energy transition is pushing us to reinvent ourselves. In a world that’s cutting CO2 emissions, there will have to be reductions in the use of natural gas. Diversification of our business is therefore key if we’re to remain a major player in the energy world of tomorrow. Innovation will enable us to make sure we and our infrastructures remain relevant in an increasingly decentralised energy ecosystem. Our customers – and consequently, their needs – are already changing a great deal: once purely consumers of gas, they now include producers, particularly of biomethane, which is injected into the grid.

In the future there will also be a need for hydrogen, CO2 or synthetic methane transport and storage. The whole of industry will also increasingly be on the lookout for decarbonisation solutions. Innovation in all these fields and the development of new service offers is therefore crucial for Teréga. That will allow us to continue meeting the needs of our customers and to position ourselves in the markets of the future.

What are the main areas of innovation you’re working on to meet these challenges?

C.B.: We’re working on the transport and storage of several types of gas: natural gas, biomethane, synthetic methane, hydrogen, CO2 and so on, but Teréga’s research these days goes beyond the boundaries of gas alone. In fact, given the current French policy of mass electrification, interconnection of the different energy networks will become a priority, and it’s with that in mind we’ve involved ourselves in the development of new services such as Power-to-Gas, which helps support the electrical grid by storing large quantities of electricity in the form of hydrogen or synthetic methane, thus compensating for the intermittency of supply created by the rise of the renewables.

We’re also working on the subject of “smart grids”, which consists in developing digital solutions which will give us better management of our network in this new context. We’re the joint leaders with EPFL (Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne) and UPPA (University of Pau and the Pays de l’Adour) of the IMPULSE 2025 project, the aim of which is to respond to the complexity associated with the challenges of decarbonising our energy system and industry through the development of an innovative multi-energy optimisation methodology. The idea is to come up with proposals for the best changes to the technological configuration of a site, based on an assessment of all possible solutions. Teréga has just demonstrated the value and reliability of this methodology for the very first time, through its application to an energy-hungry third party industrial site. A true example of industrial symbiosis, where one company’s waste can serve as fuel for another through the interconnection of networks, IMPULSE 2025 foreshadows the possible uses of our infrastructure in the future. In addition, it can be adapted to any energy-intensive ecosystem: not just industry, but also industrial seaport or airport areas, tertiary buildings, and even entire towns or cities. Through projects of this kind, Teréga fulfils its role as a recognised and responsible network operator, working with the territories to help them steer a path through the energy transition.

How does Teréga drive forward this collective acceleration of innovation?

C.B.: Our participative innovation approach seeks to involve an ever larger community, including all our teams of course, but also increasing numbers of external actors. We have a number of initiatives in place for that. Every couple of years, we organise an Innovation Tour, during which we go out to meet all workers across the Group to share and highlight what we’re doing in terms of innovation, and to get them signed up to future challenges. We’ve also launched TENEXI, a collaborative platform that’s open to our teams, as well as start-ups, VSEs, SMEs and MSBs, who can get involved in calls for projects and innovation challenges. Initially aimed at solving Teréga’s in-house problems, TENEXI is now focused more on the needs of the market: in September 2023, it will become TENEXI 3.0, and will allow all our workers to suggest innovations that may well become new service offers from the Group as part of our intrapreneurial approach. Calls for projects to external actors are also becoming more varied: they may, for example, be to do with the development of new sectors, such as pyro-gasification. TENEXI 3.0 will also help identify new future partners for Teréga.

What types of actor are the Group’s priority when it looks to develop these innovation partnerships?

C.B.: Teréga already has a solid base of partnerships with other natural gas transport and storage operators, as well as universities. For example, we teamed up with the Toulouse-based INSA (National Institute of Applied Sciences) to launch our SOLIDIA technological platform. It’s open to project owners looking to develop methanation and biogas purification technologies. We’d now like to develop our working partnerships with operators of other types of network, such as electricity, especially with our future customers, so we can start working with them now to think about their future needs in terms of hydrogen, CO2 or decarbonisation solutions. We also want to establish preferred partnerships with promising start-ups offering mature technologies, so we can quickly bring new service offers to the market. Our industrial capacity can be put to work to support the development of disruptive innovations. With that in mind we may, going forward, even start incubating start-ups ourselves…

Our expert: biography

Now our Research & Innovation Manager, Cécile Boesinger began her career at Teréga within the Sustainable Development and Environment division. Aware of the leading role the Group can play in changing collective thinking, she sees innovation as a powerful catalyst for change, capable of creating impetus both within the Group and beyond.

R&I manager for Teréga’s Strategy and Innovation division