Panel discussion at PROVADA: Schiphol Trade Park creates digital solution to grid congestion

  21 June 2022  |    News

Limburg, Brabant, North Holland: grid operators throughout the Netherlands are seeing their network capacity maps turn red at an unprecedented speed. Increasingly, companies looking to establish new premises or expand are being told that there is no room on the electricity grid. The feed-in of solar energy is also being stalled due to capacity problems. At the session ‘Grid congestion solved by innovation’ at real-estate fair PROVADA, one visitor summed up the problem by saying: “You can keep a lot of people busy until retirement trying to solve this.” Panel members Arnoud van der Wijk and Olav Steffers (SADC), Jeroen Lotze (Port of Amsterdam), Frans Deeleman (Rijksvastgoedbedrijf [Government Property Office]) and George Koolman (Royal HaskoningDHV), agree. But SADC did not wait for someone else to find a solution. It was able to solve grid congestion at Schiphol Trade Park within a year by setting up a virtual power grid.

 “It was a pressure cooker,” says Arnoud van der Wijk: “We had companies at Schiphol Trade Park that were already building but did not yet have a solution for their power supply. While some had reserved space on the substation in time, others couldn’’t get in.” Van der Wijk is attracting attention for his solution: a virtual electricity network with 12 participating companies. “Grid congestion mainly turned out to be a problem on paper,” says Van der Wijk, “because the 12 companies rarely turn on their equipment all at the same time. We measure the energy demand for each company in real time, which tells us how much power remains unused. As long as demand stays within the margin, we don’t need to intervene.” The infrastructure is optimally utilised and at peak times, solar batteries and generators are used – which is something, says Van der Wijk, “that happens very rarely and fits in with our climate goals.”

Cooperation a formula for success

Sharing costs and machines means power capacity can increase by a factor of three, says Van der Wijk. So besides being smarter and more sustainable, the virtual network is also cheaper. George Koolman thinks Schiphol Trade Park is setting a good example and recommends digitalisation to other business parks. “With digital twins, you can work out scenarios for potential solutions faster,” he says. Frans Deeleman, who works on innovations for heating in the EnergieRijk Den Haag energy group, adds that collaboration is a prerequisite for success, along with knowledge sharing. He says: “In residential construction, we often think vertically, but sometimes you also have to look horizontally – at the neighbours. Not everyone benefits at the same time, and everyone has their own drive, but everyone sees the higher goal of cooperation: a more efficient heat grid.”

Follow-up: an area approach

SADC is bucking the trend. Thanks to its own local approach to grid congestion, it can continue to accommodate companies that want to set up around Schiphol. Olav Steffers says: “We are showing that we are working privately and publicly on a solution and have something to offer as the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area.” Frans Deeleman broaches the next dilemma, asking: “Who takes the lead?” The province, according to one suggestion, and central government. The latter can drive innovations in the electricity grid through laws and regulations. But that takes time – and there is none. A good example is good to follow, is the practical advice from the audience, with one of those present saying: “As industry and grid operators, work out technical standards together that can be copied and scaled up.”

Rolling out in the Port of Amsterdam

Rolling out the formula to other areas and to deal with other issues such as mobility and nitrogen emissions is exactly what Van der Wijk wants, so that SADC’s area approach can move beyond the pilot phase. Jeroen Lotze is already in talks with SADC. He hopes to start using existing grid capacity more efficiently in the Port of Amsterdam. “Our last substation is in the red and we see that some parties are choosing other locations because of that. This is a problem, especially now that we are working on the energy transition and want to attract new, innovative companies.”