Towards a future-proof and sustainable digital infrastructure

Towards a future-proof and sustainable digital infrastructure

Interview with Marjolein Bot- AMEC, Pallas Agterberg - Alliander and Joris van den Aker - ESI (TNO)
published in Innovation Origins

Towards a future-proof and sustainable digital infrastructure

How to manage the growth of digital traffic and still conserve energy. This is what ESI (TNO) advises the Metropolitan Region of Amsterdam on, among other matters.

Interview by Erzso Alfoldy, Innovation Origins with:

  • Marjolein Bot, Lead Energy at the Amsterdam Economic Board and also the initiator of LEAP

  • Pallas Agterberg, Challenge Officer Alliander and member of the Netherlands Council for the Environment and Infrastructure

  • Joris van den Aker, Program manager at ESI (TNO)

Towards a future-proof and sustainable digital infrastructure

Digitalization and the energy transition go hand in hand within the Lower Energy Acceleration Program (LEAP in the Netherlands. As part of this initiative, all kinds of parties, including the ESI (TNO), are working together to support future, more energy-efficient data centers in the Amsterdam metropolitan area.

Data centers are getting bigger all the time in an effort to keep up with our digital trends. Especially in a densely populated place like the Amsterdam metropolitan area. The high concentration of companies in this area means that enormous data centers are needed to process these increases in data traffic. Two of the most important transitions of the moment are converging here – the energy transition on the one hand, and digitalization on the other. The question now is: How can we manage this growth in digital traffic, while at the same time reducing energy consumption and figuring out how to better integrate digital and energy systems? While taking into consideration all the many parties involved with varying perspectives? And how does this relate to the generation of green energy?

Sense of urgency

“The sense of urgency is now being felt by everyone,” says Marjolein Bot, Lead Energy at the Amsterdam Economic Board and also the initiator of LEAP. “With the aim of supporting a future-proof, sustainable digital infrastructure, we are working together within the LEAP platform with a wide range of parties. From governments, businesses and knowledge institutions to network organizations and start-ups. In addition, telecom providers, hardware suppliers and the data centers themselves are also involved in the initiative. All these parties are aware that something needs to be done. The only question everyone is wrestling with is how. Although we did start in the Amsterdam metropolitan area because of the high concentration of data centers, this is not a problem specific to Amsterdam. It is a problem for the whole of the Netherlands.”

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Insights drawn from the high-tech industry

The digitalization of society and the energy transition are complex multi-party issues. With so many parties involved who all have diverse interests, values and perspectives, working together is therefore no easy matter. According to Bot, there was therefore a great need for a party with the right expertise when it came to the formation of LEAP’s vision. This is how ESI, part of the Dutch research organization TNO, came into the picture very quickly.

Joris van den Aker, program manager at ESI (TNO): “ESI (TNO) has a great deal of knowledge of and experience with systemic approaches and open innovation in the high-tech industry. A lot of companies are struggling with the ever-increasing complexity as a result of the speed at which the market, business, products and technology are evolving. Previous successes are no guarantee for the future. Active collaboration in an ecosystem of innovations is absolutely imperative in order to prevent ‘compartmentalization’. I can see all of these aspects in this transition. At ESI, we are used to approaching things on a systemic level. We look at things as a whole, in their mutual relationship and in interaction with the environment. That way of working – by looking at the defined problem on a systemic level and translating that into stakeholders, their interests and solution guidelines – we are also taking this transition on board ourselves.”