Systematically planning the energy transition

The transition to renewable energy must be fully completed by 2050. Alliander must look far ahead so that we know what is changing in the energy supply and where and when this will be happening; this way, we can ensure that the infrastructure is ready for this in good time. This means working methodically, setting priorities, and automating common tasks (such as carrying out district analyses, and sharing data and information). We are working with other parties at an early stage to facilitate the energy transition together. In 2019, this collaborative approach helped deliver, among other things, the Climate Agreement, thematic studies, and the development of Regional Energy Strategies.

Dutch Climate Agreement

Under the Climate Agreement, CO2 emissions in the Netherlands need to be reduced by 49% compared with 1990 levels in 2030. Network operators participated in the Electricity and the Built Environment climate round tables. The aim is that these sectors, together, will be emitting around 24 megatons less CO2 by 2030. At the suggestion of the network operators, the Climate Agreement includes agreements on carrying out forward-looking network expansions, reforming the rules governing connections, and bringing in network operators at an early stage when permits for renewable energy generation are granted. The prevention of transmission congestion (overloading the grid) and the imposition of requirements relating to the control functionalities of devices also remain points of attention for the network operators. It is important that these proposals be incorporated into legislation and regulations to keep the costs of the energy transition as low as possible. With improved forecasting of developments and smarter use of the existing power grid, unnecessary investment in the grid can be avoided. However, we need to look further than upgrading the power grid alone: we need to consider how, in the future, we want to combine electricity with renewables like biogas and green hydrogen. In the area of the built environment, the network operators expect a lot from the district-by-district approach, particularly as it will make the work easier to predict and manage.

A better overall view

Now that the energy transition is in full swing, we are seeing bottlenecks that can pose an obstacle to both the energy transition and to the further economic development of the Netherlands. Expanding the grid is a process that will take many years. For network operators, 2030 is actually already here today, and the day after tomorrow it will be 2050, which is why we have to look at the energy transition from a totally different perspective. A better overall view of the required infrastructure is needed at national, regional, and local level. Once we have this, direction and coordination of the transition will be needed so that we can make choices based on priorities and the order of work to be carried out; this way, besides seeing that permits are granted in good time, technicians, who are at a premium, can be deployed where they are needed most. With this approach, we can create the infrastructure needed for a climate-neutral energy supply in the Netherlands, and see that it is ready in good time.

Regional Energy Strategies

Regional Energy Strategies (RES) have been drawn up to implement agreements under the Dutch Climate Agreement. The RES programme divides the country into 30 regions, in which the local authorities work with us, social sector organisations, the business community and, where possible, local residents to make choices for the region. The focus of the RES is on integrating renewable sources of energy and on the heating transition and storage and energy infrastructure. All provinces and municipalities are required to have an RES in place by 2020, subsequently leading to the definition of a heating transition vision for each municipality. With its knowledge and experience, Alliander can play a crucial role in this process. We participate in steering and working groups in the twelve RES regions in our service area. Together with other network operators, we have developed a core document on the energy infrastructure that explains how the energy system works. For our regions, we have created a map showing the grid capacity in these regions. Together with other network operators, we have developed a working process we can use to demonstrate the impact of regional developments on the grid. The network operators are expecting a lot from this approach, particularly as it will make the work easier to predict and manage. It is therefore important that each municipality be considered from a long-term perspective.

Better energy choices thanks to new application

In anticipation of the RES, in 2019 we built an RES calculation module, which can quickly take municipal plans and determine what they will mean in terms of the load on our networks and the related costs. The model can also determine alternatives that can minimise the costs to society. It is essential that we know our customers’ needs as early as possible. With this in mind, we developed the ‘Inzicht in Omgeving’ (Insight into the Local Community) application, where future customer needs can be visualised and shared. Insights can be gained into everything from housing to solar farms, and from ambitions to concrete projects, so that we can forecast the loads on our networks as accurately and as far ahead as possible. We can then use these forecasts to make decisions on long-term investments.

System studies

Many cities are up against a massive challenge. Issues these cities face include the number of electric vehicles they will need to accommodate, which districts to wean off natural gas first, and setting a realistic growth target for the number of solar panels. By conducting system studies throughout and getting a better handle on trends, we help municipalities and provinces to create an overview of these issues. For example, together with the Amsterdam local council we carried out a study of the growing city and energy transition to produce an accurate forecast of the impact on the electricity network. For the province of Noord-Holland, we collaborated with partners on a system study that examined the entire energy supply chain in the province. This study is not only the basis for the further elaboration of the RES, but has also, together with a theme study, served as a model for the approach network operators can use to interpret the impact of the RES on the grids. We intend to do similar studies in other regions as well.

Provincial Executive member for Noord-Holland Edward Stigter, responsible for Climate & Energy, discusses the system study that was carried out in his province in response to the pressure on the grid and transmission capacity statements. The study identified the bottlenecks on the increasingly busy electricity grid in Noord-Holland and proposed possible solutions.

Changes to the law

Having the right legislation to bring about the energy transition is very important for Alliander; a network company is, after all, highly regulated by laws and regulations. However, the current laws and regulations date back to before the start of the energy transition, before there was any local production of renewables to speak of. Alliander is consulting with the relevant stakeholders to work out in more detail how the agreements from the Climate Agreement should be interpreted in laws and regulations. This elaboration is taking place through various law-making processes, like for the Energy Act, the Heating Act 2.0, and the Environment & Planning Act with the National Strategy on Spatial Planning and the Environment. In addition to these law-making processes, there are also a variety of programmes from national and regional government bodies to facilitate the transition to a sustainable energy system. These include the RES, the ‘Aardgasvrije Wijken’ (Natural Gas-Free Districts) programme, the ‘Nationale Agenda Laadinfrastructuur’ (National Agenda for Charging Infrastructure), and the Infrastructure Task Force. Although these are separate programmes, it is essential that the combined impact of all of these programmes on the energy infrastructure be considered. We are committed to seeing that network operators can continue to ensure that our energy supply remains affordable, reliable, and accessible to everyone.

Changes to laws and regulations relating to electricity

For optimum use of our electricity grid, the Dutch 1998 Electricity Act needs to be amended in the short term. Alliander is satisfied with the transmission capacity statement agreed in 2019 for projects that submit an SDE+ application. The transmission capacity statement increases the chance of success of projects for which an SDE+ subsidy has been granted and prevents subsidies from being tied up in projects that cannot be brought to fruition due to a shortage of network capacity.
The transmission capacity statement is part of a package of measures to ensure sufficient capacity for renewables on the grid. This requires that concrete, integrated energy plans be drawn up, that network operators be given the scope to make proactive investments, that the logic behind the order in which we connect customers be clarified, that the statutory connection deadline be adjusted, and that there be the possibility of using flexibility to solve capacity problems in the network and even of switching off customers in an emergency.

Changes to laws and regulations relating to gas

Using a district-oriented approach to wean an entire district off natural gas results in the lowest costs to society. To realise this, the municipal authorities need to be able to set a deadline by which the natural gas in a district will be turned off completely. In terms of actually being able to disconnect buildings, changes need to be made to the laws and regulations so that customers who remain on the gas grid do not have to bear a disproportionate share of the costs. Agreements are also needed on reimbursing network operators for costs they incur for the removal, modification, or early depreciation of existing gas networks.

New infrastructures

The energy transition requires new energy infrastructures. For instance, district heating networks are becoming part of the vital energy infrastructure, meaning that the installation of new district heating networks in the public space has a public dimension. As with the electricity and gas grids, municipalities and residents must be able to count on a public party for the construction and management of the local district heating infrastructure. Proper participation of Alliander in the large-scale roll-out of district heating networks and in hydrogen networks also requires changes to legislation and regulations.