The Energy Innovation Lab: driving force behind KPN's energy transition




The Energy Innovation Lab is a part of KPN where, as the name suggests, energy related innovations are researched and tested. Since 2019, Jelle-Eric de Vries (30) and Silvana Lefel (29), young sustainability advisors based in Amersfoort, have launched themselves into the challenges that the Dutch energy transition poses for the network.

As the Netherlands’ largest telecom provider, KPN uses a lot of electricity. After all, without electricity there is no network, and without a network KPN cannot connect people with each other. To remain the greenest telecom company in the Netherlands, KPN is investing heavily in becoming even more sustainable. It is the task of the Energy Innovation Lab to investigate where the opportunities for sustainability lie. Their primary focus: the hundreds of KPN local exchanges distributed throughout the country.

Making local exchanges more sustainable
Every village or neighborhood has one: a KPN local exchange. These often-inconspicuous buildings are full of equipment that ensure that customers in that neighborhood can make telephone calls, watch TV, stream their favorite shows and can use the internet. KPN has designated an exchange in Amersfoort as a testing ground for sustainability. Jelle-Eric de Vries and Silvana Lefel have been working for over a year now on the question of they can improve these local exchanges from a sustainability perspective. “This idea was born out of our enthusiasm for and interest in sustainability, tells De Vries. “KPN supported us in this and renamed the exchange in Amersfoort the Energy Innovation Lab.”

Energy storage and green energy
To make the local exchanges – which can differ in size – more sustainable, the Energy Innovation Lab is looking at various ways to generate energy and to make energy use more flexible so that KPN can buy in the right – read: green – energy at the right moment. For this reason, in April 2019, a start was made on installing 120 solar panels on the test center in Amersfoort. The Lab is also researching how it can store the partly self-generated and partly bought in energy in the back-up batteries in the exchanges. “We test whether the batteries can be used for storing energy surpluses, so that we can also use green energy when the sun isn’t shining," said Lefel.

The next step is to make the system that cools the equipment more sustainable. “To start with, we’ll be looking at whether the current system can work even better, tells De Vries. “For example, is the equipment still in the correct position for optimal cooling?” What is innovative is that we are working with ‘smart cooling’. De Vries explains: “For example, we use weather data to determine when we can best start cooling in order to make wind and sun energy work for us a much as possible.” In addition, they are looking at the possibility of converting the heat released from the equipment into energy, so that cooling will be rarely or not needed.

If successful, the energy-saving solutions that are being tested in the Energy Innovation Lab will also be applied to KPN’s other exchanges.