“It’s exciting being right there at the coal face”
Franziska Heintel does something with blockchain, the cryptic technology that has been causing a stir in the financial sector for some time with its decentralised database structures. At some point it may also turn the energy sector on its head, or at least change how we pay our power bills. But otherwise, blockchain technology is – unfortunately – something that most people who talk about it can’t really explain. Heintel isn’t even going to try. “I’m really not a techie,” she says. “But more and more often I find myself reading technical books that explain things like blockchain. I find that cool now.” You can see she can hardly believe it herself.
The 23-year-old, who looks after start-ups in Germany for the innogy Innovation Hub, and travels to Berlin almost every week at the moment, was a “digital sceptic“. Of course I’m a digital native,” she concedes, since she grew up with a mobile phone, e-mail and social networks. But she still found it spooky when her phone once suggested it was time for her to go home (“You have an appointment in the morning”) and then showed her the way to where she had parked her car. “Since I’ve been dealing more closely with digitisation, I’ve become much more of an enthusiast.” Looking for opportunities to take advantage of the free exchange of digital data is something she considers essential – but without taking away individual privacy. “It will be fantastic – if you do it right,” she comments.
“Can it make day-to-day routines easier?”
Today she’s at the premises of the blockchain pioneers Ethereum in Berlin, to talk mainly with young “techies” about their latest ideas. “It’s exciting being right there at the coal face,” she says. In the lively start-up scene in Berlin, they are testing what can be achieved using blockchain technology. “Techies have their own way of looking at things,” says Heintel. “For them, blockchain could be a way of saving the entire world.” innogy’s aspirations are a little more modest: “We see ourselves as the interface to everyday consumers. Can this technology make day-to-day life for our customers any easier?” She says she is looking for the answer to this question as part of the Innovation Hub team, where innogy gathers and tests new ideas, also above and beyond the energy supply of the future.
So could she explain what blockchain is? No, that’s something she doesn’t want to do. “After all, people who use credit cards don’t want to know how it all works at a technical level.” Blockchain, which has become known as the decentralised posting system behind the electronic currency “Bitcoin,” could revolutionise things like the way in which information about customers’ electricity consumption is transmitted to suppliers, or how electricity is sold, ordered and paid for. Blockchain permits a reliable, safe and confidential exchange of data between customers and service providers, for example, and also between two private parties, with no loss of privacy.
It’s a typical situation in the start-up scene: not every idea that someone thinks of will bear fruit. That’s an option the innogy Innovation Hub is prepared for. “We know things sometimes don’t succeed, and we can deal with it.” Even so, that obviously isn’t the goal of this young team with its extremely flat hierarchy. “We are eager to deliver. We want to get something out there.” Using all the digital