Google vs Enel: Innovation, Market Ethics and Strategies of Energy Transition

Alessandro Pastore, Subha Mukherji February 1, 2022


The activist Greta Thunberg’s famous “Bla bla bla” speech calls not only on governments, but also companies and managers to do their part to contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions. The Electrification of private transport is one of the key measures for achieving this goal. Google’s refusal, in September 2018, to publish on Android Auto the Enel-X app – developed to locate, book and pay Electric Vehicle charging services – triggered a series of in/decisions and deadlocks between Enel and Google: a whirlpool of rhetoric without any progress or breakthrough, and vested commercial interests blocking the slightest movement toward the bigger goal of energy transition.

This case presents a crux in the context of a variety of different courses, opening up a generative space for debating the causes and the consequences of “bla bla bla” discourses between companies. Presented in two different narratives to be chosen by the lecturer depending on the class composition and inclinations, it hits a big nail on the head: can digital innovation market dynamics sustain the electrification of private transport or a new approach is needed? It also raises the related question about the role of governments in governing monopolistic positions. In particular, the case provides elements for a reasoned discussion of the ownership of the data generated by the increasing number of EVs that are predicted to be circulating on the roads in the near future. Indeed, the EV is a different beast from the usual combustion engine car with a dashboard, which is already able to run smartphone projection apps like Apple CarPlay or Google Android Auto. The app ecosystem built around the Android and iOS operating systems will very likely be replicated in the EV car, which creates new opportunities but also poses potential or perceived threats for all the stakeholders involved. When sustainability and carbon emission reduction targets are at stake, can companies’ strategy and behavior legitimately continue to be ‘business as usual’?

Target for Teaching

  • Strategy
  • General Management

Target audience and Issues

The case can also be used – and has been used – to explore and illustrate the challenges, risks, and opportunities that sustainable energy transition can present to companies. While the case was written and used for a course on Green Entrepreneurship, it can be of primary use in:

  • Corporate Strategy courses
  • Innovation courses

In Strategy courses composed of graduate or MBA students, students can test the real application of the case, especially its theoretical frameworks, when end-user usage data ownership and analysis represents the foundation of companies’ present and future competitive advantages. The case further provides the opportunity to discuss Google’s business model and their deployment of the ‘terms of use’ of their services to defend their monopoly, in defiance of the ‘rule of law’. The implication of the “first movers take it all” paradigm can also be discussed in application to the digital market.

In Innovation courses, an experiment in dramatic impersonation, enabled in particular by one of the two versions of the case, can make the discussion perfectly suitable for MBAs or executives. Students can not only employ the theoretical framework in their simulations, but also adapt their business acumen developed in the years before the course to make the discussion more “personal” and “engaging” by using a “role play” modality. In particular, the case functions as an example of how to add value using digital services to a commodity such as electricity when sold to recharging EVs by using end-user data provided by digital platforms.

A secondary use of the case is potentially applicable to:

  • Green Entrepreneurship courses
  • Business Ethics courses
  • Industrial organization or advanced Industrial organization courses
  • Competition policy courses, specifically in sessions on antitrust role

In Green Entrepreneurship courses, the case can make intrapreneurial attitudes within companies visible and available for discussion with reference to innovation and market failures. In Business Ethics courses, it can be used in order to illustrate what welfare and commercial morality really mean for companies when sustainability and carbon footprint reduction are objectives to be achieved for the entire society. In Industrial organization or advanced Industrial organization courses, the case can promote discussion about how the organization of companies shapes the capability to respond to sustainability challenges. In Competition policy courses, specifically in sessions on antitrust role, debates could make references to the EU Digital Market Act that is currently under discussion.

Teaching objectives

The main teaching objectives of the case are:

  1. Raise awareness about digitalization and innovation, and their role in fostering the achievement of net-zero emission economy goals.
  2. Make sense of corporate responsibility toward the achievement of society sustainability goals.
  3. Develop the capability to analyze different organization business models and strategies, and how their interaction can impact governments’ carbon emission reduction goals.
This abstract is based on
Google vs Enel: innovation, market ethics and strategies of energy transition | Case Study: Reference no. 322-0002-1 | Teaching Note: Reference no. 322-0002-8