Smart balancing of the electricity grid

Port of Amsterdam - Netherlands

'Sharing energy to keep the lights on'

The climate targets are clear: coal and gas need to make way for energy from renewable sources, such as solar and wind power. Growth in the demand for and supply of renewable electricity is putting the infrastructure under pressure. Strengthening the grid is a costly and time-consuming process and for many parties is therefore seen as undesirable. For this reason the Port of Amsterdam is examining how it could make better use of the existing infrastructure by allowing companies to share energy with each other.

Source: DuurzaamBedrijfsleven

DuurzaamBedrijfsleven was invited to Prodock: the Port of Amsterdam’s innovation hub. Here ambitious entrepreneurs can develop and roll out their products, processes and propositions. Prodock combines an industrial workshop with office space and is home to around 25 promising companies that are promoting innovation in the port area. One of these is Shared Energy Platform, or SEP for short.

The lights could go out

For Robin Schipper, founder of SEP, it is clear that the Port of Amsterdam is also grappling with the challenges presented by the energy transition. “You can see that the port is being modernised all the time. As a port authority you naturally want to encourage that. However, as a result of electrification and digitisation, we will soon reach the limits of what the substations can handle.” Schipper therefore decided to sound the alarm. “If we do nothing, it won’t be long before we are at maximum capacity. This will have an adverse impact on existing and future businesses across the whole of the port area. People need to be aware that if we carry on as we are, at some point the lights could go out.”

Sun, wind and biomass

Rather than waiting for investments in the grid, Schipper took action himself. In the Amsterdam port area energy is consumed locally in large volumes. However, the relationship between supply and demand is not clear and it is not known when the peak moments are. “With SEP we want to change this. We are an open-source platform that matches energy supply and demand”, Schipper explains. “In this way we balance the grid for each substation to prevent congestion.” SEP is also aiming to achieve real-time matching of the supply of and demand for renewable energy. “This means that if the sun is shining you get solar energy from the roofs of the buildings at the port, and if the wind is blowing you are supplied with wind energy from Ruigoord wind farm. In the absence of both sun and wind renewable energy is provided by waste management company AEB.”

Matching supply and demand

For the primary process, supplying electricity, SEP already has market access via Entrnce, a subsidiary of grid operator Alliander. However, the value of the model mainly lies in enabling companies to share electricity with each other. Schipper: “We are therefore actually focusing on optimising the supply of energy in the port area. By making consumption transparent, we are able to match energy production to this.” Put simply, companies can switch on their machines when the energy price is low and, in particular, switch them off when the price is high. For green electricity producers the exact opposite applies, of course. “And bypassing brokering on the energy market enables us to save costs. That means we can supply green electricity for the price of non-renewable energy.”

Everyone's an energy supplier

Peter Molengraaf, a former director of Alliander who is now at the helm of SEP, is also closely involved in the project. He knows better than anyone what the limits of the electricity grid are. “Sharing electricity makes it possible to optimise the grid locally. The wholesale market does not do this. In theory, our customers are the energy supplier; in practice, and from a legal perspective, SEP fulfils this role”, Molengraaf explains.

This model has a number of benefits. The producer receives a higher price for its renewable electricity, the consumer pays a lower price than would be paid to conventional energy companies and the grid operator sees a reduction in the load on the grid, as companies are balancing energy between each other. “If the community of connected companies grows, we will be able to use energy increasingly efficiently. That means more electricity will be able to pass along the same cable and the port community will be able to modernise and continue to grow.”

Contract with your neighbours

Both men believe that the Amsterdam port area lends itself perfectly to energy sharing. Molengraaf: “All the companies here are independent, of course, but there are also a lot of connections between them. Storage and production companies, suppliers and manufacturers – you find all kinds of economic relationships in a port community like this. Doing things together is therefore not unusual at all.” Schipper: “And the Port of Amsterdam can play a very useful neutral role by bringing these parties together.”

Schipper noticed that many companies at the port are working on the same things. “Everyone is working on sustainability, circularity and the energy transition, but getting started on your own is not easy. We make this possible in an accessible way, simply by means of an energy contract that you share with your neighbours. This could mark the start of a whole lot more collaboration in the area of energy, which is crucial when it comes to the energy transition.”

Making the market transparent

SEP launched the initiative on 1 August. Three customers are currently connected to the platform: Passenger Terminal Amsterdam, Walstroom (shore power for river cruise ships) and the above-mentioned AEB. Energy is now being bought and sold for these parties on an hourly basis. “The system works”, says Molengraaf. “The challenge now is to convince other companies and inspire them with our proposition.”

In the future Schipper hopes to be able to provide an ever greater insight into use of the infrastructure at the port. “At the moment the energy world is rather opaque. You enter into a contract for a fixed amount, but often don’t know exactly where the energy is coming from and when your consumption is highest. We want to make everything much more transparent.” Molengraaf agrees. “The dynamics of supply and demand and how a company’s own processes vary in terms of consumption are often managed at present by the procurement department or outside the company. Our aim is to be much more at the forefront of the management’s mind. Together with their neighbours, companies can then balance their consumption so the infrastructure is used more efficiently.”

Call to action for developers

Schipper and Molengraaf are also explicitly appealing to other parties to help them develop the open-source platform. “We are always on the lookout for partners who can control the consumption and production of renewable electricity”, says Schipper. “Here we are talking about cold stores, pumps in thermal storage systems and batteries, for example. A number of examples of all these applications can be found at the port. If all these parties help us to develop our platform, together we can make the market even bigger. SEP is a distribution channel for them, and they are one for us.”

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