EPFL and Romande Energie, an ever-growing collaboration

Julien Waehlti, Head of Smart City Assets and Edgar Haldimann, Innovation Manager at the Romande Energie Lab at EPFL Innovation Park © 2022 Aurélie Schick

Julien Waehlti, Head of Smart City Assets and Edgar Haldimann, Innovation Manager at the Romande Energie Lab at EPFL Innovation Park © 2022 Aurélie Schick

It all started in 2010, when photovoltaics was still in its infancy. Already, the EPFL and the CEO of Romande Energie saw the potential of this sector and decided to combine their respective skills to carry out a large-scale project and advance research in parallel. The journey, marked by several stages, has continued to grow over the years. This is another fine example of a successful partnership between the academic and entrepreneurial worlds!

Creating a unique innovative laboratory

"By moving to the EPFL Innovation Park, Romande Energie wanted to accelerate the company's development potential beyond its historical perimeter. At the same time, we were faced with problems in the field for which we wanted to find solutions. This is where the project of an innovation laboratory was born" explains Edgar Haldimann, Innovation Manager of the Romande Energie Lab. An incubator, in partnership with the EPFL, allowing Romande Energie to develop projects connected with research and the outside world and built in a logic of ecosystems and partnerships.

This will be achieved in 2017 with the launch of the Romande Energie Lab on the EPFL campus in the EPFL Innovation Park.

Becoming a player in decarbonization in Western Switzerland

With the growing role of photovoltaics, Romande Energie has quickly positioned itself as one of the major players in decarbonization in Western Switzerland. And here again, the collaboration with the EPFL was another vector to reach this objective, as Michèle Cassani, spokesperson for Romande Energie, explains: "The Romande Energie Lab at the Innovation Park functions as an incubator for new potential activities and levers around our mission of decarbonization of Western Switzerland. It coordinates the exploration of these potentials, which are not all related to technology but also to behavioral sciences. It is a vector of transformation for Romande Energie by bringing in innovations made internally but also external innovation from the ecosystem of start-ups, the academic world and research at EPFL."

And faced with the real challenge of decarbonization, coupled with the challenge of energy supply security, the question arises of the efforts of the various players from human to research fields. Romande Energie has thus developed the Academia program, which aims to transmit the problems of the industry to the various academies, making it possible to make a direct link between research and industry as much for human resources as for research results.

We have defined areas of innovation for the company, and these are passed on to the research institutes via our Academia program. The goal? To create convergences between academic research areas and industry to take decarbonization as far as possible in Western Switzerland

Edgar Haldimann, Innovation Manager at the Romande Energie Lab

When the entrepreneurial and academic worlds work together

"Our presence on campus allows us to bring our company closer to the direct ecosystem of EPFL and thus to have easier access to the knowledge and potentials that exist there. This is done with the aim of providing impactful proposals for the French-speaking market. This connection is guaranteed thanks to the EPFL's vice-presidency for innovation, which functions for us as an entry platform to the hundreds of laboratories and start-ups that are present on the EPFL's sites." continues Michèle Cassani.

In over 10 years, the many achievements between the two entities testify to the success of this collaboration. "It all started with the EPFL making available some twenty roofs for the production of electrical energy via the sun, a large solar installation in total injection where all the kilowatt-hours produced are directly injected into the local distribution network. This project has been developed in three stages, until today more than 15'000 m2 of roofs are covered by photovoltaic. An area has also been equipped with a data acquisition chain, which is available to researchers and laboratories under an agreement between the two entities. The collaboration is growing! In parallel, the storage project with the Leclanché battery and the experimental facades such as the translucent panel cladding of the Swiss Tech Convention Center or the panels of the ELL building are all successful projects that have been realized between Romande Energie, EPFL and the laboratories or start-ups concerned. Some projects have also been supported by the State of Vaud and its "100 million for renewable energy and energy efficiency" program,"( 100 millions pour les énergies renouvelables et l'efficacité énergétique) explains Julien Waehlti, Head of Smart City Assets at Romande Energie.

Edgar Haldimann, Head of Innovation at Romande Energie Lab, talks about the notion of "Romande Energie's social responsibility" and its desire to give maximum speed to innovations aimed at decarbonization. With this in mind, the company has developed a Corporate Venture Capital activity aimed at helping Cleantech start-ups to emerge. In this respect, Romande Energie's lab enables the company to make the link with start-ups, while developing a "mindset" like young emerging companies. A facilitator of collaboration or investment in short.

We have - through this collaboration - gained a lot in terms of innovation maturity and connection to open innovation ecosystems. Our presence on the campus allows us to make more direct and regular connections with the entire ecosystem

Michèle Cassani, spokesperson for Romande Energie

Looking ahead and working together to meet the challenges of energy and climate change

In a world where energy resources are constantly declining and where the climate emergency is increasingly present, companies and researchers must work together more than ever to provide appropriate solutions and anticipate the challenges of tomorrow. Romande Energie shares this opinion, highlighting the role played by EPFL: "EPFL is a breeding ground for innovation and talent, and the link with industry is essential to help us understand the current and future crises in terms of energy and climate.

The company concludes: "The current crises are leading established players to apprehend increasingly important variations in their business environment. Their ability to deal with complexity and uncertainty will become a key factor in their long-term existence. And among the avenues of response are increasing the learning capacity of organizations, their ability to operate in iteration, and their ability to question what used to be true but is no longer or will no longer be true."

We need to collaborate to meet current and future challenges, but not only so, Romande Energie tells us. The confrontation of knowledge, collective intelligence, exchanges, have become vital for companies today. This is an opinion that is shared by the Vice Presidency for Innovation, which supports companies in their innovation process.