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 digitalising frequently performed tasks. These include analyses of the effects that specific developments have on voltage levels, and also automated sharing of data and information. The new form of collaboration with local and regional governments is already clearly evident in the Regional Energy Strategies (RES). We will apply this anticipatory form of collaboration increasingly in the future.

A better overall view and greater efficiency

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. This requires control and coordination of the transition, so that we can set priorities and make choices based on the sequential timing of the work. In other words, timely completion of the permit application processes and deployment of technicians - who are in short supply - where they are most needed. 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.
Last year, good forms of collaboration were established in all sectors, leading to an increasing number of national programmes for supporting the work in the regions. These programmes include the Regional Energy Strategies, the ‘Aardgasvrije Wijken’ (Natural Gas-Free Districts) programme, the ‘Cluster Energiestrategieën’ (Cluster Energy Strategies) for industry and the ‘Nationale Agenda Laadinfrastructuur’ (National Agenda for Charging Infrastructure) for mobility. There is a high degree of interdependency between these processes: the choices made for any one region also have an impact on the overall developments in industry, agriculture, mobility and the built environment. Alliander is calling for a coherent and coordinated approach between the sectors and disciplines, with clear priorities. This will ensure that network operators can continue to keep our energy supply affordable, reliable and accessible to everyone. 

Regional Energy Strategies

In the Netherlands, 30 regions are drawing up a Regional Energy Strategy (RES), the ambition being to achieve 35 TWh of onshore renewable energy generation by 2030. The power grid in our country is the backbone for these joint strategies. In the RES programmes in our service areas, government authorities, social sector organisations, the business community and residents work with us to implement regionally supported choices. The first RES will be finalised on 1 July 2021. This is not a finished product: every two years, the RES regions will update their plans based on new information.

In 2020, the first draft versions of the RES were completed. Liander and the other regional network operators provided analyses and information to illustrate some of the consequences of these plans. The impact is huge: during the coming ten years, all the network operators will invest billions in infrastructure expansion projects and a great deal of extra land will be required for this infrastructure (often close to villages and towns). 

Municipalities and provincial authorities have asked us to work more closely with them on solutions for network capacity issues. The first recommendations have been submitted, the final advice and associated actions will follow in early 2021. In addition, Liander has produced analyses for its own RES regions to show how the plans can be integrated in the existing network and merged with existing projected network developments. The application of design principles and technical solutions can greatly reduce the degree of modification required, without compromising the regional ambitions. This approach can save up to almost 60% of the costs to society, 60% of the space required and 50% of the work. Efficient use of the existing grid means that less expansion work is required, so that renewable energy generation initiatives can be connected more quickly. We and the other network operators have collated this information in a national fact sheet. In order to keep the energy supply affordable and the objectives of the Dutch Climate Agreement within reach, the RES regions can use these analyses and information to shape an approach based on an optimum trade-off between local support, the costs to society and implementation times.

In 2021, we will continue to work intensively with our regions. As soon as plans are updated, we will run new analyses to quickly indicate the consequences of those choices in terms of costs, space and time. In addition, we are cooperating intensively within a pilot scheme launched by ‘Nationaal Programma RES’ (National RES Programme) to test application of the range of instruments available under the new Dutch Environment & Planning Act. Our focus here is to examine how the plans in an RES can be put into practice and explore how we can jointly make agreements with local and regional governments about infrastructure expansion projects. Work on this is also being carried out at national level and Alliander’s aim is to coordinate closely with the national RES programme.

Implementation of the regional energy transition

We are preparing for implementation of the regional energy transition. The preparations are based on practical experiences in the ‘test-bed districts’. To aid smooth implementation, we have set up a learning and innovation programme called ‘Mensen Maken de Transitie’ (The Right People for the Transition) with our supply chain partners in the construction sector and educational institutions. For example, we have improved the request process for bulk removal of gas connections, we are working on the final attainment levels associated with the training course to ensure that installers will be capable of upgrading the electricity grid connections in the near future, and we are also setting up a certification scheme for charge point fitters. We have also developed a ‘serious game’ so that supply chain partners can discuss their joint approach well before work starts on a gas-free neighbourhood.

Changes to the law

Alliander’s activities are strongly regulated by legislation and regulations. However, the current laws and regulations date back to before the start of the energy transition, before there was any significant local production of renewables. Alliander is consulting with the relevant stakeholders to work out in more detail how the arrangements provided for in the Dutch Climate Agreement should be integrated in the Energy Act, the Collective Heating Supply Act and the Environment & Planning Act with the National Strategy on Spatial Planning and the Environment. Even though the Dutch Climate Agreement is already more than a year old, the rules necessary for its implementation are not yet in place despite the pressing need for flexible and future-oriented legislation and investment security.

Integrated Energy Act

The current Electricity Act and Gas Act are to be merged and amended in the new Energy Act. Alliander endorses the objective of the new Energy Act, which is to create an integrated and future-proof legal framework for the energy system that can subsequently be fleshed out in more easily amendable subordinate legislation.

The Energy Act is intended to create the legal scope for further market roles, greater diversity of contracts and tariffs, and make it possible for active connected parties to participate in demand response, congestion management, etc. The Energy Act also provides for changes to the connection and transmission obligation. The eighteen-week period will be replaced by a reasonable period, to be specified in subordinate legislation, with the possibility of making a distinction based, for example, on the type of connection. In the case of large electricity consumers, the right to a connection will be linked to the availability of transmission capacity. This is necessary, because the current demand for electricity connections and transmission of electricity has rocketed.

Energy data is crucially important in the context of the energy transition. In our view, it is important to ensure that connected parties have control over their own metering data and that they can decide for themselves who, other than their contract parties, should be allowed access to this data. The network operator has an important facilitating role to play here. The Energy Act defines the conditions for making this data available, and must set out the basic principles that apply to provision of this data by the network operators.

The Energy Act must also create legislative scope for new innovations. For example, network operators need to be legally allowed to distribute hydrogen gas in the existing gas networks. We will only be able to experiment with sustainable gases such as hydrogen in the short term if the new Energy Act makes provision for this.

A new Heating Act

The expectation is that many houses will be connected to a (district) heating network in the coming years. In the proposal for the new Heating Act, municipalities will be given the authority to designate a heating company that will organise and manage the supply of heating in each area of the municipality. The scope of the new Heating Act includes a provision relating to the obligation to appoint heating companies with integral responsibility for several decades. Alliander believes that, rather than focusing on regulating a single type of heating company, the new Heating Act should provide the legislative scope required for diversity and innovation. This means that you can choose not to set up all district heating networks in the same way. Broad support and actually getting district heating networks off the ground depends on municipalities being able to make their own choices.

Environment & Planning Act

The importance of the energy infrastructure must be included, alongside all other interests, in the environmental visions and plans of governments. We call this system efficiency. We have smoothed the way for this and presented our views through our contributions to the RES and the Transition Vision Statements for Heating. We are also seeking to participate in the Digital System for the Environment & Planning Act (‘Digitaal Stelsel Omgevingswet’, DSO) so that we can keep abreast of all developments. We see the DSO as an opportunity to make all the rules transparent, speed up planning processes relating to our infrastructure and ensure input from stakeholders. The new Environment & Planning Act comes into effect on 1 January 2022.