In the portion of investments aimed at creating shared value in 2018 (see the section on shared value in the chapter “Sustainability, Strategy and shared value”), Euro 62.4 million were invested by the Group in innovation. Specifically, in order of size, the Group invested approximately Euro 31.6 million in smart cities (where investments for the installation of electronic gas meters are located); Euro 25.1 million in utilities 4.0; Euro 5.1 million in innovative circular economy initiatives and Euro 0.6 million in projects aimed at improving the customer experience.
The main projects and the related scope of the activities are listed below.
Smart drop-off point
Dashboards for municipalities
City energy maps
Hera biomethane from waste (see Case Study in the chapter “Smart use of energy” – p. Errore. Il segnalibro non è definito.)
Bioplastic from organic fraction
Bioplastic from hydrogen and CO2
Biorefinery 2.0 to produce biomethane from pruning material
Ultrasonic sludge hydrolysis system
Greenhouses from drying purification sludge
Reuse of wastewater
Internal digitalization and data analytics (Utility 4.0)
Workforce management (Hergo Reti)
Senseable Dep: purification plants trend dashboard
Robotic process automation
Optimisation of purification plants operation
HergoAmbiente and data analysis for waste management services
HERAtech digitalization projects
The evolution of the gas meter with Hera
Customer experience project
New ways to pay bills
Smart city: Smart drop-off point
The aim of the project is to create a technological infrastructure to gather the services for the city in a single point, with a view to optimising energy, environmental, economic and IT resources. The services envisaged include municipal waste collection with user identification, environmental quality monitoring, video surveillance, telecommunication services and electrical charging.
The main innovative aspects of the project are:
- urban quality, by creating a point that gathers together and provides city services;
- monitoring of the main environmental parameters to check the city’s health levels;
- communication, through Wi-Fi hotspots, data concentrators and other telecommunication equipment;
- sustainable transport, by developing a city network of charging stations for vehicles and bicycles.
- security, using a video surveillance and video analysis system;
- a high aesthetic standard of the basic drop-off points for municipal waste collection.
After the first indoor prototype in made 2016, the outdoor prototype was built in 2017, consisting of a technological totem and two waste containers. Subsequently the drop-off point was optimized and integrated with another container to collect paper and cartons, plastic and cans and glass.
In October 2018 an experiment was started in the Municipality of Castel Bolognese in which about fifty families were involved to give their separate waste to the island. The experimentation will about six months to test the prototype and validate the technological choices and construction details. Wi-Fi and air quality monitoring service have been activated at the drop-off point, while the video surveillance service of the area is being set up in collaboration with the Municipal Police, the only subject responsible for the control of the area.
To increase the supply of smart services, during 2018, a smart drop-off point was designed consisting of a canopy to accommodate electric bicycles and group other services such as video surveillance, Wi-Fi, electric charging for tri-ride, monitoring of air quality and noise levels of the area, the production of renewable energy through a photovoltaic roofing and the parcel storage. This smart drop-off point was built and installed in October during the inauguration of the Cesena University Campus to start the prototype testing period.
At the end of the trials, the prototypes will be transformed into industrial products and these infrastructures will be extended to other areas.
Smart city: Environmental sensors
The project aims to develop a network for monitoring the main parameters of air quality in the city through the use of “low cost” equipment capable of providing indications with hourly rather than daily frequency.
In November 2017 6 units were installed in the town of Castel Bolognese, while in 2018 a continuous monitoring and processing of environmental parameters was carried out, highlighting the key role of rain in reducing pollutants. Chemical analyses carried out on particulate matter (PM2.5) have revealed the presence of compounds from the combustion of biomass, a quantity prevalent in the winter months.
The data collected are still being processed in order to better understand the contribution of each source (residential, traffic) to the air pollution found. In addition, in 2018, in collaboration with the CNR-Ibimet institute, acoustic sensors were developed to detect noise in urban areas. In the area of Castel Bolognese 6 of these units have been installed, located according to the acoustic classification of the area. The acquisitions and their processing are still ongoing.
Smart city: Dashboards for municipalities
The dashboard for municipalities is a tool to analyse and monitor the city. It provides an integrated view of the processing and correlation of data (Big Data) from various services and sensors installed within the municipal areas.
The objectives that are monitored come from the SDGs of the 2030 UN Agenda and the Bologna Charter Protocol for the Environment.
Through this tool, Municipal Administrations are equipped with a computer system that allows the constant and real-time monitoring of environmental data. This analysis process is useful to assess the environmental and qualitative state of the area and consequently to implement improvement and change processes.
In 2018 the dashboard was released to the Municipality of Castel Bolognese including the following services: environmental sensors, totems and smart waste, energy maps, environmental passport.
In 2019 a second release of the platform will be released with optimizations to give more value to sustainability objectives, also facilitating the use of the tool by municipal technicians.
Smart city: City energy maps
Energy maps are useful tools to assess a city’s energy consumption over time and to carry out efficiency analyses. During 2018, data were collected on energy consumption from the Castel Bolognese municipal administration (consumption of gas, electricity, water and TARI waste tax data for municipal waste management services) and their processing led to the identification of building consumption classes, as well as the assessment of the consistency between water consumption and the number of residents and an estimate of the type of system used for heating. Further processing is underway, also taking into consideration the contribution of renewable sources. Energy maps may also be useful to public administrations to gain more detailed knowledge of their local community and to promote virtuous, energy-saving behaviour.
Circular economy: Bioplastic from organic fraction
In 2018, a partnership was founded with Bio-On, a world leader in the production of bioplastics. Among the projects planned is also the “PHA-CELL” which aims to produce PHA, a 100% biodegradable bioplastic, using as raw material the sugars contained in lignocellulosic biomass. These sugars are present in all types of wood, but are difficult to use because they are bound in complex structures such as cellulose and hemicellulose. Through appropriate treatments that involve the use of heat and particular enzymes, it is possible to “break” these structures and release the sugars that can then be used in the production process of bioplastics.
The project stems from the desire of the Hera group to obtain high-value products in the future using the organic waste it collects in the area, including mowing and pruning material that could be used in the PHA-CELL process.
Circular economy: Bioplastic from hydrogen and CO2
In 2018 Hera and Bio-On formed a new company called Lux-On, which aims to rapidly develop the technology that uses carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere as a source of carbon for the production of bioplastics, natural and 100% biodegradable. Lux-On’s bioplastic production will be based only on renewable solar energy and, thanks to the use of hydrogen as an energy management tool, will operate 24 hours a day. The laboratories and the first plant will be built by 2019 near the Bio-On Plants industrial plant in Castel San Pietro Terme (Bologna). The development of the technology will be favoured by the fact that many of the principles and equipment used in the standard Bio-On technology can also be used in the new Lux-On production systems; for this reason, the transition from the development phase to the pre-industrial phase will be greatly accelerated. The plant will be built on an area of 1,500 m2, of which 600 m2 will be covered, and will have a flexible production capacity and expandable quickly.
This new production process will use electricity produced by photovoltaic systems. International partnerships with major players in hydrogen (H) technology will be used for energy storage. Hydrogen, a non-polluting gas, will be produced from solar energy, stored until it is used, and then converted back into electricity to power the system when the solar panels do not work, at night or in low sunlight.
Circular economy: Biorefinery 2.0 to produce biomethane from pruning material and agricultural by-products
Hera started targeted research to analyse the technologies to produce advanced biofuels obtained by processing mowing and pruning material collected in the area. These waste materials are currently used in composting processes or are used for energy recovery but in the future, they could be used to produce bioethanol and biomethane. Both of these fuels can be considered advanced because they are produced from waste materials and not from dedicated energy crops which use land which can potentially be used for human food or animal feed. To be able to obtain these fuels from ligno-cellulosic waste, pre-treatments are required, such as steam explosion (a particular thermal treatment with high-pressure steam) that makes the material readily degradable by bacteria, enzymes or yeasts, in anaerobic digestion processes or alcoholic fermentation.
The positive results of the tests carried out in 2017 have reinforced the possibility of producing biomethane from mowing waste, while the idea of production of ethanol has been discarded due to the low yield. During 2018, the experimental period was carried out, and included, among other activities, two continuous digestion tests lasting 5 months and more than 40 batch tests. The tests confirmed the good yields that can be obtained from anaerobic digestion of the pruning material subjected to pre-treatment and the results obtained will be used to start the feasibility phase of a full scale plant. In 2019, the design phase will be completed and the authorization process will be launched.
Circular economy: Ultrasonic sludge hydrolysis system
The project was developed after research carried out in 2017 to identify new technologies to optimize the water cycle and dispose of the sludge from urban wastewater purification.
The ultrasonic sludge hydrolysis system requires that a part of the thickened sludge from the sewage treatment process (20-50%) is subjected to sound waves which, by cavitation of the liquid to be treated generate a cellular breakdown which makes more of volatile solids available for biodegradation, increasing biogas production and reducing the final dry matter in the sludge and thus reducing its volume.
The Forlì treatment plant has been identified as the optimal site for the installation of ultrasonic hydrolysis technology and some preparatory work has already begun. The installation is expected to end in 2019 and subsequently the results will be monitored and the performance of the system evaluated.
Circular economy: Greenhouses from drying purification sludge
During 2018, the technological scouting and technical feasibility of using special greenhouses to dry purification sludge was completed. The application case chosen was that of the sludge produced by the Ferrara purification plant, which could be dried using geothermal energy, as well.
In addition, during 2018, AcegasApsAmga S.p.A. completed the construction of a pilot plant at the Padua purification plant for drying sludge in a greenhouse powered only by solar energy.
Circular economy: Reuse of wastewater
In April 2018, the Emilia-Romagna Regional Government, ARPAE, ATERSIR and Consorzio Bonifica Renana signed a three-year programme agreement to recover the wastewater discharged from the Bologna purification plant (IDAR).
The Protocol has been operational since August 2018, and the flow rate of recovered purified water is over 500,000 m3 (under the agreement the Consortium can withdraw about 2,160 m3/h, equal to about 40% of the flow rate treated in the summer).
In particular, part of the water purified by the IDAR plant to the “Abandoned Savena” is carried through a dedicated pipeline, leaving the corresponding flow, coming from the river Reno, to the “Canale Navile”. This is done through a modulated management of surface water flows by the Consorzio della Bonifica Renana, in relation to the demands and degree of drought of the water bodies.
Under the agreement, Hera and the Consorzio della Bonifica Renana have invested about Euro 120,000 to implement the transfer system (sluice gate and pumping/extraction plant) of part of the flow rate of the Bologna purification plant (IDAR), to the network of channels managed by the Consortium.
During the activity, additional analyses are planned on the waste water discharged by IDAR, to monitor additional parameters with respect to those already in the authorization.
This initiative, in addition to the primary objective of protecting water bodies in the area, also pursues the principle of reuse of water as a good to be preserved. Given the importance of these objectives and the positive results of the project, the Group has chosen to extend the experiments to guarantee the minimum vital flow of watercourses in correspondence with the dry seasons:
- in Sassuolo and Savignano the agreement being signed with the Burana Reclamation Consortium and the Region will allow the reuse of approximately 500,000 cubic meters starting from the 2019/2020 irrigation season;
- in Modena an agreement is envisaged with the Municipality and the Region for the recovery of approximately 600,000 cubic meters of water leaving the Naviglio purification plant that will be conveyed to the Cavo Argine for irrigation of agricultural areas north of Modena;
- the POR-FERS project in which Hera participates (ENEA leader), includes among its objectives the application of smart systems for on-line monitoring of the quality of purified water destined for re-use and the definition of a model to decide the best destination (agronomic, industrial, other) for the water leaving the Cesena purification plant.
Utilities 4.0: Smart Hera
Since 2015, some Hera employees have been meeting periodically to study and develop small projects to improve and increase the efficiency of working tools, and to introduce innovations. They have already carried out a series of activities, while others are ongoing.
The initiatives completed in 2018 include:
- virtual receptions for managing visitor access to Hera sites through remotely-connected operators;
- the implementation of new technologies applied to company badges (such as opening company vehicles);
- the introduction of highly reliable systems that ensure operational communications in the event of emergencies that make regular voice transmission networks unavailable.
Notable ongoing initiatives include:
- the addition of new functions to the corporate app to facilitate the use of a set of services for employees (as for example the display of inter-site travel of employees to enable vehicle sharing);
- the installation of multimedia totems at various Group sites to allow all employees to access the Group’s digital services and news.
Utilities 4.0: Workforce management (Hergo Reti)
Geocall is the new software platform for the management of field activities of network systems, from operation and maintenance, to technical assistance, to emergency response. The first release in November 2018 immediately allowed a significant increase in the efficiency of the emergency activities, with a simplification of activities, an intuitive graphical interface and the use of all the features made available by the technology of smartphones.
Geocall has been fully integrated with our information systems based on SAP technology, and overcomes the previous operational inefficiencies due to consultation of documents offline, persistence of paper documents, the need for continuous phone calls with assistants, access to data only from fixed locations, use of different devices for different functions.
The main characteristics are briefly described below:
- immediate access to technical information of user facilities;
- data entry and search with direct access to company databases (e.g. technical specifications of the instrumentation supporting a specific activity);
- possibility of creating, updating, assigning, and reporting the various work phases directly from mobile devices;
- optimization in the monitoring and scheduling of work orders thanks to the quality of data related to the traceability of individual activities (time and space);
- possibility of direct, in-field readings of the meters;
- online and offline access to cartography;
- access and visibility of the data concerning the staff in service (e.g. on-call time, unavailability bands, work calendars) in order to optimise the management of activities to be carried out on the area;
- “navigation” function to the address of the call;
- acquisition and consultation of multimedia documents (images, pdfs, CAD files, etc.) with the possibility of attaching them to the work order.
All this translates into three terms that well represent what has been done: efficiency, performance and satisfaction. The dissemination path now continues with the management of operation and maintenance activities.
Utilities 4.0: Digital workplace
At the end of 2018, the pilot project (more than 100 users involved) of a fundamental component of the digital transformation underway within the Group was successfully concluded. The introduction of the Office365 Microsoft “Digital Workplace” will provide everyone with a modern technological architecture on the Microsoft Azure Cloud platform, providing mobility, collaboration, integration, ease of use and management, flexibility and security.
Workstations become a device like a smartphone, secure and always up to date, documents will be equally accessible from all devices and all channels, continuous backup, services will always be available even in case of problems to the corporate network, the user will be independent in the installation of business applications and the mailboxes will become virtually limitless.
Also from the point of view of IT service management, the Digital Workplace provides enormous efficiencies in terms of ease of installation and upgrades, self-service deployments, integration of management and maintenance systems, advanced telemetry with identity protection, threat and breach blocking, storage management, governance and data discovery in accordance with GDPR.
During 2019 and the first few months of 2020, the platform will be distributed to the entire population of the Group.
Utilities 4.0: Senseable Dep: Sewage purification process monitoring dashboard
The project aims to create a platform to monitor purification processes by using simplified dashboards that show just a few indices to summarize the “state of health” of the purification process from the biological, hydraulic and energy points of view.
After the construction of this platform at the Forlì purification plant, in 2018 the extension phase to the Cesena, Cesenatico and Savignano plants began, purchasing the equipment necessary for complete monitoring of the process.
In parallel, software optimizations to the platform were carried out to improve the quality of the indices, graphics and user experience of the system operators.
During 2019 we plan to extend the platform and implement artificial intelligence algorithms to create a tool capable of optimizing the purification processes.
Utilities 4.0: Robotic process automation
A new Robotic Process Automation platform was launched in 2018, to automate processes that involve interaction with repetitive and low value-added systems. The experimentation of the technology, carried out with the specific aim of testing its potential, has given extremely satisfactory results in the two processes involved (management of the DURC of suppliers and management of communications between the seller and distributors of energy), both in terms of speeding up the process, and consequent efficiency, and in terms of reliability of the operations carried out. These first experiences will lead to enhancements of the platform during 2019, creating a real “software automation hub” for operating processes that are traditionally resource-intensive, but with low added value. The results in terms of potential efficiency on a Group scale are certainly significant, but above all they will free up time.
Utilities 4.0: Optimisation of purification plants operation
The project, carried out on the Modena wastewater purification plant, involved the development, with the support of Energy Way, of a control system based on predictive logic MPC (Model Predictive Control) and artificial intelligence for the optimized supply of oxygen in the oxidation tanks. The project has the following objectives:
- to improve the performance of total nitrogen abatement compared to the regulatory limits;
- optimize oxygen delivery in the aerobic compartment;
- minimize the energy costs of air blowers.
The project also included the development of a dynamic baseline aimed at forecasting energy consumption, to quantify the real performance of the process and develop multi-variable, real-time energy and production performance indicators (KPIs), aimed at improving control over the real performance of the wastewater purification plant. In 2019, we expect to complete the field installation of the predictive controller and complete the test phase.
Utilities 4.0: HergoAmbiente and data analysis for waste management services
In 2018 we added various Data Analitycs tools to HergoAmbiente’s system.
The Waste Management Services, therefore, actually fit into the world of IoT (Internet of Things), characterized by the production and consequent analysis of the Big Data system.
These tools are part of the company’s Data Management and, in addition to consolidating the system through the introduction of performance indicators extended to the collection centres, they have also consolidated the engineering of predictive analysis tools, aimed at comparative benchmarking and changes in service logistics.
Particular attention must be paid to the development of operational research tools that improve the design of collection services, and can quickly identify logistical scenarios and the related economic benefits.
In 2018 the analyses relating to the study of the degree of filling of the collection containers were refined so as to understand the dynamics of the service with a view to aiming for an on-demand collection.
The experience determined the extension of volumetric sensors based on signal concentrators (LoraWAN) in the Ferrara and Trieste area. The data collected have made it possible to understand the dynamics of filling containers on the area, profoundly changing the nature of the service with the introduction of the caps on the containers of non-separate collection and controlled closures on those of other separate fractions.
Utilities 4.0: HERAtech digitalization projects
For HERAtech, “Digitization” is synonymous with an innovative change that involves the entire corporate structure, through the implementation of an “integrated” system of new functions on corporate management (SAP) and on apps that are accessible from mobile devices. The objective is to collect a set of different project initiatives, to rationalize and digitalize operational processes end-to-end, with particular focus on the services offered to our customers.
Given the complexity of the project, it spanned two years (2017-2018) and covered several areas:
- Customer quotes: an integrated dashboard centrally manages all quotes requested by customers and dispatches on a mobile device the individual technicians that carry out the work, which can then be performed “on the field” using a specific App, without the need for operators to pass through the company headquarters. All the data collected are immediately transferred automatically to the central system, where all the technical and economic information is stored and from which the estimate is then sent, also automatically, to the customer.
- Execution of work for customers: likewise, a dashboard has been developed to manage all works for customers, which also includes the management of the authorizations needed. Again in this case, each “work order” can be assigned on a mobile device both to the technicians of HERAtech’s Works Management office and to the subcontractors. Through specific apps, all the information to carry out the activities of competence are made available to these parties, which once completed can also be finalized in the app, automatically updating the central system.
- Work progress accessible to customers: an application has been prepared, available via web with reserved access for each customer, which allows them to check the progress of technical activities that they requested and to receive a text message at each step of the process.
- Technical work back-office: a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) management system has been developed for all back-office activities for technical work. Tools have also been implemented to digitally manage paper-based documents which are needed for other technical customer account activities (e.g. supply activation/deactivation).
The main environmental benefits are a reduction in the need for personnel to travel, which is due to a reduction in the use of company vehicles and therefore a reduction in emissions, and the digitalization of a set of activities previously managed in paper form, which now saves paper.
Utilities 4.0: The evolution of the gas meter with Hera
The innovation proposed by Hera involves a device that measures the consumption of residential gas customers, based on a novel approach. The current devices, required by ARERA resolution 554/2015, makes it possible to stop the supply of gas to users but cannot be used to identify potentially dangerous conditions.
Hera’s new gas meter 2.0 is a device for measuring the consumption of gas customers which, besides the regular monitoring of consumption, also makes it possible to check the working conditions of the gas supply system and to intervene autonomously in the event of anomalies, both automatically and controlled by the customer. Anomalies can be caused by earthquakes or by abnormal network conditions in the user’s internal system or in the public distribution system.
By checking the gas pressure and flow data, the device can intervene, blocking the supply of gas using the solenoid valve. Once corrective action has been taken it can perform a test to check that the user system works properly, to promptly resume the service. After concluding the development phase, 2019 will be the year in which the production of these devices and installations will begin for residential users.
Customer experience: Customer experience project
The activities relating to the customer experience project are nearing completion. The project aims to reduce the gap between the service provided by the Hera Group and customer expectations.
Thanks to this project, customers have new channels to improve and complete their digital experience, such as the Selfcaring portal, the app and the social networks. The customer experience has also been improved through the Touch Points of the physical channels, the functional redesign of the layout of the branch offices, the introduction of digital signatures, the Alert service (bill issuance, deadline for self-reading and reminder of appointments) and the Tracking function to control the time development of one’s requests (via SMS, e-mail and notifications on the App and On Line Services) for an ever-increasing number of processes (switch, transfer, power and flow rate variation).
Lastly, the “Hera Angel” service was released, a reminder developed to support home change management, the “Queue management system” was improved with the introduction of room and workstation displays and branch office tickets can now be booked through call centers, branch offices, on line services and apps.
For 2019 the following is planned:
- the Go Live of the new site and the enhancement of social CRM services, with new releases to improve/add functionalities to the on line services and app, to support omni-channel service and digitalization;
- the overall redesign of the Customer Experience and the conclusion of the Projects to involve customers and enhance the brand, in support of the centrality of our customers;
- other activities to support the values of operational excellence, flexibility and speed.
Customer experience: New ways to pay bills
Hera has signed several cooperation agreements with major banking players (Unicredit, CBILL, MyBank, Jiffy, Amazon Pay, Paga con Postepay, Masterpass) to develop services that will facilitate a significant simplification of payments and related accounting management.
Under the agreement with Unicredit, 6 million dedicated “virtual” IBANs have been generated that Hera, the first company in Italy to do so on a large scale, has made available to all customers through a communication on the bill, or on the invoice. The customer can thus pay conveniently also from their own internet banking service, without queues, with automatic and unique recognition of the payment.
In addition to the “virtual” IBAN system, Hera is developing additional “smart and mobile” payment methods for its customers, such as digital wallets, to make transactions even simple, immediate and more intuitive.
Specifically, MyBank supports irrevocable online transfers simply and securely using the internet banking service of the customers’ bank. The service provides real-time confirmation of payment and speeds up 100% automatic reconciliation processes and further reduces the risk of fraud.
The CBILL service, on the other hand, through an innovative and advanced, multi-bank and multi-channel approach, allows the customer to make payments through his own internet banking, but also through mobile, ATM and branch office, guaranteeing security for the payer, real-time reporting and complete and integrated coverage of the entire bill collection process, from the issue of the notice to reconciliation.
Customers will also be able, using the MyHera app or the Group’s online services, to pay bills by simply entering their mobile phone number, through Jiffy (Bancomat Pay), without having to enter their credit card or bank account details.
Lastly, the digital wallets Amazon Pay (payment of the bill through your Amazon account), Masterpass, and Paga con Postepay, simplify payments via mobile device or desktop, providing a simple and fast user experience.
The initiative is part of the broader infrastructure and services digitalization process that the Hera Group has started some time ago, with the aim, among other things, of identifying and satisfying the needs of an increasingly “connected” and demanding public. A roadmap that is fully consistent with the European Union’s strategy for creating a digital single market based on three pillars: improving online access to goods and services for consumers and businesses, creating an environment conducive to the development of digital networks and services, maximising the growth potential of the digital economy.