Alliance Blog

A 2020 Resolution You Can Keep: Embrace Corporations as Drivers of Innovation

When we think of “innovation”, we typically envision caffeinated startup founders working through the night in a basement or garage, bootstrapping their ventures and stretching every penny of funding they scraped from friends and family. But, in reality a lot of innovation is driven by larger corporations and so I propose that in 2020 we resolve to broaden our view of innovation to include these pillars of our communities who contribute so much to the ecosystem.

I was reminded of this during a recent visit to a Southern California Edison (SCE) Lab based in Westminster, CA. SCE has several labs where teams of engineers look for innovative solutions to crucial energy issues such as “smart home devices” to optimize energy consumption in the home, “smart garages” to effectively and economically charge electric vehicles, energy storage, and improving their infrastructure to support public safety.

Admittedly, a stalwart utility company doesn’t obviously “scream” innovation, but after our visit to their Westminster lab facilities, my mind was opened. SCE is expending a lot of their focus on public safety, especially solutions which mitigate wildfire risk as well as finding a pathway to clean energy. Ensuring that their customers are safe in a high fire-risk area requires innovative solutions to monitor their roughly 13,000 miles of overhead distribution lines in the area. Aside from boots-on-the-ground, SCE employs drones, helicopters, and “on cable” monitors to ensure that the transmission lines are operational and safe, especially during high-wind episodes that routinely occur in Southern California.

SCE is taking innovative strides to ensure that power outages affect the smallest number of customers possible. Traditionally, when a power outage occurs, SCE deploys a team to visually inspect the current area, assess the situation, and then deploy resources for repair. A new system they’re developing monitors the power grid to identify outages by noting where the power no longer moves through the grid. This allows them to reroute power, confining the power outage to one area and deploying repair crews to the precise location of the problem. Ultimately the goal is to roll out systems so that outages impact fewer customers for shorter periods of time.

Aside from the innovation that SCE is generating in their own labs, the SCE IDEAs (Innovation Development for Energy Advancements) team is tasked with looking for solutions (often developed by startups and researchers) that may help strengthen energy reliability, improve the environment, and enhance service performance. Energy startups and innovators should submit their solutions for the IDEAs team to review via their website This is a great opportunity to work with an innovation team working to improve current energy usage and move forward to clean energy in the future.

The Alliance for SoCal Innovation is greatly anticipating our next visit to one our corporate partners to witness the innovation that is being created. Thank you to Terang Kim, our host and to Southern California Edison for this view into the innovative work being done at SCE.

Jenn Fernandez is Corporate Partnerships and Innovation at the Alliance for SoCal Innovation. You can also find her on LinkedIn.