Internal Elisa startup uses telecom towers to build a more energy-efficient future

The Smart Energy Solutions team at Elisa is driving an internal startup to develop a solution that utilises telecom tower batteries and novel digital solutions to optimise energy use and production.

“If you look around just about anywhere, you can spot at least one telecom tower. Due to regulations, the towers must have the capacity to operate even during a blackout, so each tower has its own backup battery. That opens up a whole world of possibilities”, says Hannu Kokko. 

Kokko is the Head of Software Product Development at Smart Energy Solutions, a team driving an Elisa-backed internal startup that utilises those backup batteries to revolutionise the way power grids and energy markets work.

Solar and, in Finland especially, wind power have become more prominent ways to produce energy, so the need for two things arises, as wind and solar generate energy only in particular weather conditions: the need to store electricity and the possibility to run it into the grid when there is less wind or sunshine.

“Battery technology keeps on developing all the time, and telecom towers provide an ever- growing reserve energy depository. Smart Energy Solutions aims to optimise its use by creating a solution called Distributed Energy Storage, which is a virtual power plant”, Kokko says.

“After all, it is estimated that by 2040, even 20 percent of all the energy used in the world will be stored in batteries at some point.”

And it works

Developing the Distributed Energy Storage solution was set up as an internal startup that operates within the Elisa company structure. The research that led to its founding started in 2021, well before the current energy crisis.

“We have been given lots of freedom in the ways we operate and in the technologies we implement, as long as we can show progress. All in all, our product is right in the heart of Elisa mission, building a more sustainable future through digitalisation”, Hannu Kokko states.

The team has already proven that their code works – the reserve batteries of Elisa network are connected to Finland’s power grid, and they are used to sell capacity to balance the Finnish energy market through transmission system operator Fingrid. The batteries operate just as they were supposed to, the team found out.

Using market data and machine learning, the team has also succeeded in optimising the charging of the batteries during periods of cheap energy and running the batteries to operate the towers during more expensive periods.

“This year we’re expanding the scale and connecting new types of batteries and other equipment into the grid to optimise, monitor, and operate the system.”

Hannu Kokko.

No room for standard solutions

Although the team has already achieved very promising results, Smart Energy Solutions is still on the lookout for new recruits. New team members will have the possibility to influence the decisions on, for example, the implemented technologies and software.

At the moment, the team uses Amazon Web Services for its cloud computing needs, and Databricks for machine learning and data analytics. The programming language of choice is Python.”

“There are certain parts of the system that are very close to the power equipment technologies used in the towers, and they will probably remain as an on-premises solution. There is a relational database in the background, and we use telecommunication Python libraries to communicate with the towers’ virtual power plants”, Hannu Kokko explains.

“We could utilise the lead-based battery technology of the old, but there just aren’t as many possibilities as with virtual power plants built with new lithium-ion technology. And it wouldn’t be nearly as fascinating!”

As the team works on uncharted territory, standardised solutions and ways of operating are not an option.

“The integrations may need to be investigated and researched as there aren’t many standard interfaces. The ability to adapt is crucial as we operate in a multi-vendor world, building a system that needs to operate with a variety of interfaces or hardware connected to it”, Kokko concludes.

For the future

Hannu Kokko has worked for several decades in product development, and he thinks the Smart Energy Solutions team has the most interesting mission in his career in a long, long time.

“The product we are developing has to be reliable and safe in all conditions, and it poses a particular technological challenge. At the same time, the system must support a wide variety of rapidly developing battery technologies and power sources”, Kokko says.

“As a startup, we must move forward every week and build the system architecture with the future in mind. The product grows constantly in all dimensions, in regards to productivity, functionality, and connectivity.”

Kokko estimates that in the future, the capacity of Elisa Distributed Energy Storage is expected to grow up to 150 MWh, making it the largest project of its kind in Europe. With this capacity, Elisa can offer balancing services for Finland’s power grid in addition to optimising its own energy usage. Elisa has been granted NextGenEU funding for the project, enabling accelerated roll-out of the service across its network in Finland. 

“Our product is a crucial part of Elisa mission to build a more sustainable future through digitalisation and to serve the whole society by making our energy system greener and more robust. There is also a strong possibility that we can sell the product to other telecom operators – we are developing something that will hopefully become an international standard.”

Curious to hear more about the team? Please, reach out to Hannu (