Free Electrons Utilities: ESB and EDP

One of the characteristics that make Free Electrons a huge opportunity for startups is that it is truly global: the startups joining the program will get a chance to work with 10 global utilities, with experience and big markets under their belt.

Let’s get to know two of the utilities that are part of the Free Electrons utility alliance.

Electricity Supply Board (ESB)

ESB is Ireland’s leading energy company, operating across the full spectrum of the electricity market: from generation, through transmission and distribution to supply. In addition, ESB extracts further value at certain points along this chain: supplying gas, using their networks to carry fibre for telecommunications, developing electric vehicle public charging infrastructure and an international consultancy arm which has worked in 120 countries globally.

We spoke with John Mckiernan, Head of external collaboration at ESB, who gave an overview of ESB’s participation in Free Electrons: it’s their third edition, and they are still working with the startups they piloted with in the first two editions – working with both towards low-cost, low-carb energy – as their customers expect.

John highlighted the sharing of information between all the utilities as a key factor to the success of Free Electrons:

No utility has a monopoly on wisdom. So, we’re actually comparing and contrasting, shoulder to shoulder, with the other utilities. It’s the proof of the pudding. It’s another facet of Free Electrons that is allowing us to see more and understand more.


As an advice for startups joining open-innovation programs, John advised them to “learn as much as possible about the partner” and their needs to make the matching easier and “keeping it simple”.

Watch the whole interview here:

Energias de Portugal (EDP)

EDP is an energy producer, distributor and retailer with around 12 million customers in Portugal, Spain and Brazil. EDP is also the 4th largest wind power producer in the world. The renewable power business is present in 14 countries including the US, Brazil, Spain and the UK.

We spoke with Luís Manuel, Executive Board Member at EDP Innovation, who told of EDP’s journey at Free Electrons. In the first edition, they were still learning the process, but by the second edition, they had doubled the number of deals made in the program – they amount to over 12 pilots by now.

What he says has been consistent in the editions is the fantastic community spirit that is lived in Free Electrons, that they have embraced fully:

I think, above all, what we try to make sure is that as much opportunities as possible for our business units’ people to interact with the startups. We believe that is key – engaging people is really what makes business happen.

He believes that what is changing in the industry is that is looking towards things that are not usually associated with the energy sector: data management, artificial intelligence and digitization processes. So, EDP is looking for a mix of solutions – between traditional energy fields and this technological revolution.

Watch the whole interview here:

The second module of Free Electrons is arriving – it will happen on the 25th – 28th of June in Hong Kong. In this module the teams will deep dive into the details of each others’ solutions.

We also expect to see a better definition of the scope of potential pilot projects, and a strong connection with the local ecosystem as the module offers an immersion in the world’s leading cleantech innovation ecosystem, connecting startups to the epicenter of the technology world.

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