The alarm has been sounded about the power grid, but how to proceed?

Published: October 20, 2023 at 14:05

Now that the Cabinet has declared its intention to spare the congested power grid during peak hours, wholesale consumers are advocating a rapid upgrade of the grid. They unanimously express a desire for a plan of attack to avoid outages or sky-high peak-hour tariffs.

It was not unexpected, but still caused unrest when outgoing energy minister Rob Jetten reported that our electricity grid in all provinces is "largely full, probably full or almost full. Jetten therefore wants grid managers to make agreements with companies to use less electricity at peak times, such as between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., for a fee.

A contract that assures companies of capacity to transport power 24 hours a day, seven days a week should become a luxury product with a higher price. The minister also wants to make it possible for large consumers to coordinate their power consumption among themselves.

Why do these plans now hang like a sword of Damocles over business, and perhaps even over ordinary households in the future? Billions have been poured into expanding the power grid for years, but the demand for space is growing faster than cables can be laid. The government is pushing to make land available and shorten permitting. But for the next five years, it seems to be mainly carrying water to the sea.

Lapping agents

And the business community finds this objectionable. VNO-NCW and MKB-Nederland think it's good in itself that the government is betting on various stopgap measures, but tackling the core problem - through expansion and reinforcement of the power grid and better use of the existing grid - must take priority.

'The everywhere congested power grid calls for new creative solutions,' the umbrellas call out in a press release, without really defining those solutions. In particular, they cite 'more flexible use of the grid' as part of the temporary approach to which the business community can quickly contribute. VNO-NCW and MKB-Nederland also see 'opportunities to better coordinate the generation and consumption of energy and to share energy'.

Techniek Nederland, the trade association for the engineering sector, is more concrete. The problems on the electricity grid can largely be solved by controlling technical systems in buildings and homes more intelligently. Measures "behind the meter" can reduce the peak load on the electricity grid by 25 percent, the organization claims.

Power sharing

Chairman Doekle Terpstra of Techniek Nederland: ,,We can reduce grid congestion, for example, by sharing sustainably generated energy with homeowners or businesses in the immediate vicinity. Government and grid operators should make that legally possible.'' Techniek Nederland also does not see technical measures as the only solution. ''Energy conservation and grid expansion remain necessary.''

Terpstra emphasizes that the business community, with for example mini-plants on business parks that distribute power intelligently, and the government must use every opportunity to create more space on the electricity grid in the coming years. Minister Jetten writes in the parliamentary letter that she is happy to continue discussions with the technology sector about possible solutions. We accept that offer as a matter of course.

According to grid operators, 105 gigawatts of applications are now in the queue. These are unprecedented volumes. In 2021, TenneT "only" managed to connect 9.9 Gigawatts. Business organizations have long been pleading for entrepreneurs to have access to those queues so they can determine when to make their investment decisions.

Energy-intensive large consumers include printers and laundries, metal and greenhouse horticulture companies, (industrial) bakers, brick makers, chemical companies and manufacturers of products such as plastics and paper, damage repair companies and butchers.

Energy Transition

Not only are there economic disadvantages, ABN Amro says the overcrowded power grid is getting in the way of the energy transition. The sour thing is that the grid has become so overloaded in recent years precisely because of the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy. And expanding the capacity of the power grid takes years.

In one report, bankers and economists literally write, "Grid congestion is an obstacle to further electrification of our energy consumption. For example, because new construction projects are stalled. 'Until a few years ago it was sporadic that a new construction project did not get off the ground due to a shortage of grid capacity, nowadays this is the rule rather than the exception, particularly outside the Randstad.'

ABN Amro's experts believe that first the scarce capacity of the grid must be used more intelligently. Watchdog ACM is already doing a lot to combat congestion and speed up the energy transition, they say. For example, grid operators are given opportunities to take back capacity that has been contracted by companies but is not used within a maximum of two years. This capacity can then be redistributed.

Easier to unite

Eventually, a new energy law should also provide relief and "allow companies to share power with neighboring companies, and make it easier for companies to join together in an energy collective and share all kinds of energy supplies. Today, however, solutions such as saving energy and generating your own solar or wind energy can already be worked on. In addition, save your own.

Still, it seems to be years before companies all have their own battery in the building, so they don't put pressure on the power grid at peak hours. And it really can be done faster, concludes Techniek Nederland. ''The government should also do more to encourage home batteries and neighborhood batteries.''

Source: AD