Transition to a new, sustainable heating supply

Municipalities have a key role to play in achieving the international climate goals of the Paris Agreement (2015), at regional level through the Regional Energy Strategy (RES), and at municipal level through the Transition Vision Statement for Heating and the District Implementation Plan. The transition to a new, sustainable heating supply will affect all of the roughly 1,000 districts within the 145 municipalities in Liander’s service area. 

In 2020, all Dutch municipalities started drawing up a local Transition Vision Statement for Heating, which indicates when a district will be disconnected from the natural gas grid. When developing and implementing natural gas-free heating solutions, the municipalities make use of our expertise and experience in the new energy field. For example, we provide information about the technical and financial depreciation of the gas grid and the status of the electricity grid. One of the tools we provide for this is the Buurtanalyse app, which delivers data at neighbourhood level. By providing expertise, we help advance innovative projects and initiatives of national, regional and local partners and jointly arrive at the optimum solution for specific situations. As a result, we make the right choices and energy remains affordable. All municipalities in the Netherlands are expected to complete their Transition Vision Statements in 2021.

New developments in open networks

Open district heating networks make a considerable contribution to the heating transition. The district heating networks of Alliander subsidiary Firan make it possible to utilise the potential of, for example, biomass, collective heat and cold storage, aquathermal energy, geothermal energy and residual heat from data centres. In 2020, we took further steps to create open district heating networks in a number of Dutch municipalities. Firan has started work on projects in Noord-Holland, Gelderland and Overijssel. Together with initiatives such as ‘Stichting Warmtenetwerk’ and ‘WarmingUP’, we are developing knowledge and expertise regarding sustainable, reliable and affordable concepts. As a result, we and our partners are increasingly finding solutions to current challenges in the heating transition such as changing legislation or regulations, successful collaboration in local heating supply chains and the business case for natural gas-free concepts.

Zaanstad-Oost district heating network

Warmtenetwerk Zaanstad B.V. has created the first open district heating network in the Netherlands in Zaanstad-Oost. This organisation is a partnership between the municipality of Zaanstad, Firan and the provincial authority of Noord-Holland. Thanks to the open structure, all suppliers and customers will ultimately be able to use the heating infrastructure under the same conditions. The district heating network, which has supplied heat to an existing residential district since 2019, is powered by a local small-scale biomass plant in this early phase. In the future, we will also be able to connect newly constructed homes and create links for new products, suppliers and users.

Greening the district heating networks in Amsterdam

In several districts in Amsterdam, Firan is collaborating with partners and residents to determine which energy infrastructures will best satisfy the wishes, needs and possibilities in the district. There are numerous opportunities for district heating networks that are supplied with residual heat from data centres and aquathermal energy. In the Middenmeer-Noord and Amstel III districts for example, we are supporting local initiatives to feed residual heat from nearby data centres into the district heating networks. In Buikslotermeer, we are investigating a source network for transporting residual heat from large sewer pipes.

Pioneering projects in Gelderland

We are taking the heating transition to the next stage in a growing number of municipalities in Gelderland. Firan is actively involved in three test bed projects set up under the ‘Aardgasvrije Wijken’ (Natural Gas-Free Districts) programme (Arnhem Elderveld, Apeldoorn Kerschoten and Huissen). Firan is also involved in Alliander’s pilot project with the Buurt Energie Systeem (Neighbourhood Energy System) for the Hengstdal district in Nijmegen, which is a second-phase test bed project. Furthermore, we have been involved in the district heating network in Dukenburg for quite some time. We are also working with the provincial authority of Gelderland and the municipalities of Arnhem, Wageningen, Apeldoorn, Ede, Lingewaard, Culemborg and Nijmegen to set up a study to investigate the feasibility of a public heating infrastructure company for the region.

New steps towards district heating networks

In collaboration with partners such as municipalities and housing corporations, we are exploring opportunities for future-proof district heating networks at various locations in the Netherlands. In 2020, this activity resulted in new developments in our partnerships with the municipalities of Haarlem and Wageningen. We also started new investigations and initiatives in the Rijnland region. The district heating network in Hengelo, a smart system that uses residual heat from local industry, was voted the most innovative heating network in the Netherlands by the 2020 ‘Nationaal Warmtecongres’ (National Heating Conference).

Test beds

Several Dutch municipalities are testing approaches to making districts natural gas-free. These municipalities receive a contribution from the government to make existing homes and buildings natural gas-free – or to ensure that they are ready to become natural gas-free – using a district-oriented (‘test bed’) approach. This government grant was made available again for 19 districts in 2020. Of these, eight are located in a municipality in Liander’s service area: Amsterdam, Apeldoorn, Arnhem, Doesburg, Hilversum, Lingewaard, Nijmegen and Opsterland.

These test bed projects play an important role in helping us understand how we can work together to make an existing district natural gas-free. The greatest challenge is to make good system choices in the design phase. Only then can we ensure that everybody has the right supply of heat in the future, keep costs affordable, avoid repeated excavation work to open up the street and efficiently deploy scarce labour capacity. The municipality is responsible for managing implementation of the plans. Liander actively seeks to collaborate with municipalities, housing corporations, residents, market parties and other stakeholders. We assist in the decision-making process for creating a new sustainable energy supply to ensure smooth joint implementation at a later stage.

Hydrogen pilots

The potential applications for hydrogen are being studied and discussed all over the world. However, application in the built environment only seems likely after 2030, assuming adequate supply availability and further price reductions. Because network operators invest for the long term and we still have an expensive, extensive gas infrastructure at our disposal, we are following the developments in this area closely and adopting a policy of investigating possible opportunities ourselves in order to make the right choices regarding our gas pipelines.
Alliander has set up pilots with other partners in order to learn what the use of hydrogen means in practice. In Lochem, for example, we will be providing homes with hydrogen instead of natural gas. In Oosterwolde in Friesland, we are trialling a hydrogen conversion plant in partnership with the owner of a solar farm. This is a possible solution for relieving grid congestion, but it may also be possible to store sustainably generated energy for a longer period of time for other applications, such as sustainable mobility or heating. Having this option available means that the energy producer does not immediately have to feed all the energy into the grid. This will help make a fully sustainable energy system more flexible.