Strategic pillar 2: new open networks

All kinds of new infrastructures will be created at a local level, either at the initiative of residents, or because municipalities want to end the use of natural gas. We are creating such new open networks. It is crucial to ensure that these new infrastructures remain accessible (‘open’) to customers and providers of heating sources under equal conditions. 

Transition to new, sustainable heating supply

Alliander has the social task of facilitating the transition to a new, sustainable heating supply within its service area. This major, complex task, which is one of our focus areas, will affect all of the districts within the 145 municipalities in our service area (approximately 1,000 districts). By the end of 2020, all municipalities must have produced a plan setting out how they intend to wean each district off natural gas. When the solution is designed, Alliander will draw on its knowledge and experience relating to the existing energy networks with the aim of avoiding suboptimal choices and unnecessary costs to society. 

Natural gas-free test beds

In October, the municipalities of Amsterdam, Katwijk, Nijmegen, Noordoostpolder, Purmerend, Vlieland and Wageningen, which are situated in our service area, were selected to participate in the Aardgasvrije Wijken (‘Natural Gas-Free Districts’) programme run by the Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. In this programme, municipalities gain knowledge of, and experience in, how to make existing districts more sustainable in a way that is both practical and affordable. The test beds allow us to learn how we the make the transition from natural gas to sustainable alternatives. 

Weaning districts off natural gas in Nijmegen and Zutphen

The municipalities of Nijmegen and Zutphen are aware of the need to find new heating solutions quickly. To this end, a letter of intent, ‘Zutphen van de toekomst’ (‘The Zutphen of the future’), was signed in Zutphen in 2018. In Nijmegen, thousands of new homes have been constructed without natural gas connections and instead have been connected to a heating network. The ultimate aim is that all districts within these municipalities will switch to new energy sources. To help accomplish this aim, we provide information about the age of the gas network and explain the technical and financial consequences of advisable sustainable alternatives. We also share knowledge relating to approaches and processes. 

Heating network in Zaanstad

In 2018, Firan started to develop an open heating network in Zaanstad-Oost. The network will use residual heating obtained from various sources. The first of these sources is a local small-scale biomass plant. Residents, businesses and institutions will benefit from this local, sustainable and affordable energy supply. The future network has an open structure. This ensures that all suppliers of residual heating and customers will be able to make use of the network and that the same rules will apply to all. In the interim, a heating plan for Zaanstad-Oost has also come into effect. Under this plan, new-build areas will also be connected to the heating network. A start was made on the construction of the heating network at the beginning of 2019.

Duty to provide gas connections no longer applies to new-build areas

The construction of natural gas-free buildings is becoming the norm. The government has decided it is no longer desirable for new-build homes to be connected to the gas network as standard practice, the reason being that newly built properties homes are much better insulated, and connecting them to the gas network conflicts with the climate objectives. With effect from 1 July 2018, network operators have no longer been required to connect new homes and buildings to the gas network. 

Dilemma: Working with municipalities

Every province and municipality must have a Regional Energy Strategy by 2020. Municipalities are in charge of preparing this strategy and the related heating transition plans. When doing so, they may make suboptimal choices. For example, they may opt for a new infrastructure, such as a heating network, in a district where there is already a gas network. As a network operator, we are currently still required to install and maintain the existing gas network. This leads to additional costs, which are paid for by gas consumers in every municipality. Moreover, it slows down the energy transition, as it means the network operators are overloaded with work. The dilemma that this poses for Alliander is whether to comply with such demands from municipalities or not. Our challenge is to persuade municipalities at an early stage of the vital role we play in using our knowledge and experience to support the planning process, as this will increase the positive impact of our activities.

Research into hydrogen

Hydrogen is a possible future alternative to natural gas. Whether hydrogen really has a future in the Netherlands is uncertain, as this will depend on availability. In 2018, network operators investigated whether the existing gas network is suitable (or can be made suitable) for transporting hydrogen and green gas. This seems to be the case, provided appropriate measures are taken. These include technical modifications and safety measures to guarantee a safe infrastructure and the safe use of hydrogen. 

The network operators advocate focusing on the development and use of hydrogen in the industrial sector and a number of pilot projects in the built environment. In this context, in 2018, network companies Alliander, Enexis and Stedin took the initiative to construct a test set-up of a hydrogen network at Delft University of Technology’s Green Village. Moreover, in 2018, Alliander joined the Dutch Hydrogen Coalition, an initiative in which network operators, the industrial sector, energy companies, nature conservation organisations, environmental organisations and scientists participate.

Feed-in of green gas continues to grow

Agricultural businesses, market gardeners and waste processing companies are able to feed green gas into our network. Green gas is the sustainable version of natural gas and is made by refining biogas until it is has the same quality as natural gas. We have seen an increase in green gas in our service area. Groen Gas Gelderland produces 400-500 cubic metres of green gas per hour that it feeds into the network. In 2018, a new interconnector was constructed so that in future this can be increased to up to 1,300 cubic metres per hour.

In Friesland, FrieslandCampina assists dairy farmers in installing and using single-feedstock anaerobic digesters for processing cattle manure. The digesters help to lower carbon emissions in two ways: by reducing methane and by generating green gas. The digesters convert manure into biogas, which can then be refined to produce green gas that is then fed into our network.