Rob Jetten wants us to dim our power consumption "at rush hour," but how exactly does that work?

Published: October 20, 2023 at 13:40

When we come home after work, put the electric car on the charger, heat the house with the heat pump and cook electric food, there has to be power. Because it squeaks and creaks on the power grid, large consumers then have to dim for a while - literally, finds energy minister Rob Jetten (D66). But how exactly does that work?

To prevent power outages at peak times, companies should turn on their machines more often at other times. At least: that is the plan of outgoing Minister Jetten. For example, between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., when households use a lot of electricity, companies should turn off their machines or turn them on softer. The cabinet wants to force companies to do this if necessary: in exchange they will pay less for their electricity.

What exactly is the problem?
In a number of regions in the Netherlands - Gelderland being one of them - the demand for power is growing faster than the grid can handle. According to regional grid operator Liander, this is due in part to people installing heat pumps and driving electric cars, but also because more and more homes are being built.

Last November, the high-voltage grid in Gelderland already reached its maximum capacity, more and more often now 'no' has to be sold when there are requests for new (or heavier) connections from homes or businesses. Since November last year, the queue has grown by a thousand wholesale customers. "We realize that this has a huge impact on companies in Gelderland," says director Marc de Zwaan, who is in charge of power capacity at TenneT. "We are working hard to expand the grid, but that takes time."

What is the solution?
An expansion of the power grid. But that means: new power stations and more and thicker cables. In Gelderland, for example, 1250 kilometers of cable will be laid in three years. According to Liander, however, it will take until 2029 before the electricity grid in Gelderland is sufficiently expanded to serve everyone on the waiting list.

For example, Gelderland wants to make more than 70,000 existing homes more sustainable (equipped with solar panels and heat pumps, among other things) by 2030, but with the current power grid, this can only be carried out at a quarter of them. So until then, something else must be done to ensure that housing construction is not affected.

Hence, opportunities to reduce power consumption during peak times, known as rush hour avoidance, are being explored.

Is the idea of rush-hour avoidance that Jetten now suggests really new?
Yes and no. Opportunities for congestion avoidance in electricity consumption have existed for some time. For example, Liander offers various forms of contract for companies that want to participate in so-called "congestion management. What is new is that the minister wants to force companies, if necessary.

How exactly does rush-hour avoidance work?
It depends on the contract. For example, the agreement can be made that companies will reduce their power consumption on demand - they will be told a day in advance. Usually the grid operator sees a peak in consumption coming: companies are then asked, for example, to turn off the machines for a while between 2 and 4 p.m. the next day.

Companies with whom such an agreement has been made receive a kind of fixed fee for a willingness on call to reduce power consumption and possibly also a per-call fee.

Another possibility is for companies to voluntarily sign up for a blackout period. Then, a day before the power problem occurs, they are asked by auction who can reduce their offtake for a few hours. In effect, companies then sell the power they would normally use.

Are there companies that want to participate in rush hour avoidance?
Back in 2018, Liander arranged with Van der Valk Hotel and supermarket chain Lidl in Nijmegen-North that at times they turned their power consumption down. Even then, in fact, the power grid was already overcrowded.

We didn't find enough companies. Not even half of what we need

Companies have also been asked in recent months to participate in so-called rush-hour avoidance. Research published by TenneT this week shows that there are too few companies able or willing to participate. "We didn't find enough companies. Not even half of what we need," said Tennet director De Zwaan.

According to him, the current fee for rush hour avoidance is now too low. "It doesn't pay for companies to participate."

Minister Jetten announced this week higher compensation for businesses that participate in rush-hour avoidance. Meanwhile, gardeners in Gelderland have signed up for rush-hour avoidance.

Source: AD