How we are addressing the challenges
So that we can continue to ensure the reliability of the electricity grid, we take measures to gain insight into the bottlenecks in capacity in the grid. We do everything we can to expand the network where the bottlenecks are occurring, as well as at locations where we anticipate that demand will increase in the future. We are also looking for opportunities to make even better use of the cables and installations that are already in place.
We are constantly investigating ways to make optimum use of the existing network using innovative solutions, including smart expansions and smart technical modifications to the electricity grid, for example, and initiatives to enhance collaboration between sectors and with supply chain partners and new energy carriers. In 2020, we introduced Dynamisch Terugleveren, i.e. dynamic active power curtailment, as the solution for bottlenecks leading to excessive voltage in the grid. Dynamisch Terugleveren calls for the customer to set up its solar or wind farm to actively limit power feed-in in real time when the grid voltage becomes excessively high.
Further examples of technical innovations that we are constantly working on are cable pooling (connecting solar farms and wind farms to a single cable) and connecting solar panels and wind turbines by using spare capacity reserved for outages and maintenance to allow a greater level of renewable energy generation. From 1 January 2021, in an effort to resolve transmission capacity limitations, Liander will offer customers who only want to feed in energy a connection that can be switched off preventively. This connection is routed via the spare capacity in the power grid (the ‘emergency capacity’). During normal operation, the customer can feed in power. In the event of outages or planned work when Liander needs to be able to use the spare capacity itself, the customer’s connection can be temporarily deactivated as a preventive measure. This customer-specific solution allows us to use the spare capacity to connect more feed-in customers.
Hydrogen at system level is a new type of energy carrier. In 2020, we approved investment in a number of pilot projects. Alliander wants to learn what the large-scale production of green hydrogen from wind and solar energy can mean for affordable and reliable network management.
Digital technologies and innovations are unlocking new opportunities for managing our networks. Liander employs these new opportunities to more quickly detect and even prevent outages, make targeted investments in the networks, and offer customers the data and services (including self-service) they need to make better energy choices and manage energy flows more effectively, allowing for better use of the current grid. This is how we can restrict the need for network upgrades.
Digital components were rolled out further in 2020, i.e. devices that can monitor, detect and, in some cases, switch, such as the Smart Cable Guard (SCG), smart medium-voltage stations, and smart meters. The data from these smart devices are converted into valuable information for customers and employees using innovative algorithms and AI. This way we can ensure that the service technician is already close by when the customer reports a disruption, that outages are prevented, and that optimum use is made of the grid’s capacity.
Fewer and shorter disruptions
Smart Cable Guard (SCG) is a system that detects and pinpoints weak spots in the underground electricity network, ideally before these lead to outages. Using this system, in 2020 we prevented 49 power cuts and shortened the duration of 100 others. By the end of 2020, we had over 1,500 SCGs monitoring our network (2019: around 900). Smart meters installed in homes and small businesses also help to shorten the duration of power outages. These meters help us pinpoint faults so that the service technician can get to the location faster, and we do not have to ask customers all sorts of technical questions either: we already know the answers. Service technicians now work with an app that provides on-site information that was previously only available in the office. If customers are entitled to financial compensation as a result of a low-voltage power outage, this is automatically calculated and paid out in more than 80% of the cases.
Targeted network investments
Digital installations can support traditional installations in order to shorten the outage duration as much as possible at the lowest costs possible. There are countless possibilities for combining digital with traditional installations. For this purpose, an optimisation model has been created that uses algorithms to automatically come up with the most cost-efficient proposal for the installation of smart medium-voltage stations, SCGs, and breakers. This helps us take targeted investment decisions. With regard to the smart medium-voltage stations, the 134 we installed in 2020 put us above the planned 97 units. A total of 694 smart medium-voltage stations are in operation.
Following on from the flex-markets in Nijmegen-Noord and Zuidplaspolder, businesses in the Neerijnen region also had the opportunity of participating in congestion management from October onwards, through the GOPACS (Grid Operators Platform for Congestion Solutions) platform. GOPACS is a partnership set up by the Dutch network operators to resolve congestion in the power grid. Consuming less power, or supplying more power, in return for a fee prevents capacity problems in the grid. For example, a specific fee is paid to a participating company when it feeds electricity generated by its combined heat and power system back into the grid, or switches off a number of packaging machines. This prevents a capacity shortage (congestion) and therefore reduces the risk of power cuts.
Neighbourhood analysis tool for municipalities
The neighbourhood analysis tool used by Alliander to support municipalities when drawing up the Transition Vision Statement for Heating was improved during financial year 2020 to allow municipalities to use it independently. Thirty-seven municipalities are now doing so. This is a good example of how we increase our partners’ knowledge to facilitate smooth collaboration. In addition, this development saves us a great deal of time because municipalities now have greater control.
Offering smart meters
One crucial link in the creation of a smarter infrastructure is the smart meter. Customers are increasingly making their own energy decisions. Smart meters help customers save energy, encourage them to use energy during cheaper off-peak periods, or feed energy back into the grid when the price of electricity is high. Since the start of the roll-out of the smart meter, we have offered the device to nearly all of our small consumer customers. Each day, more than 2 million requests for data from the smart meter are now being processed. In 2020, we offered the smart meter to over 400,000 customers, taking into account measures against the spread of COVID-19. The final result at the end of 2020 was 107% of our total plan - equivalent to 101% of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy's total offer plan, as some customers were approached more than once.
We will complete the roll-out of the smart meters at the beginning of 2021. This is when we will start offering smart meters in the context of the phased reduction in the statutory feed-in rate: customers who do not yet have a meter that separately registers the electricity flows taken from and fed into the grid will be offered a meter with this capability in 2021 and 2022. We will work in close cooperation with our partners, such as contractors, to implement this second phase.
Improving our operational processes
In 2020, within the operational organisation, we set ourselves the goal of at least doubling production and customer convenience by 2023. We are also working hard to respond to the rapid growth in demand for connections and feed-in capacity, and to solve bottlenecks. In 2021, we will continue our efforts to improve production capacity and focus on our goal of increasing productivity. We are working on the following four concrete developments:
Doing the work in the right sequence
In 2020, we restructured the way we manage investment in the downstream grid by starting to rank projects in the order of their importance in each region. This ensures that we use our capacity, which is finite, to the best effect. The benefits of this approach include an increase in our spare connection capacity, which will allow us to connect customers more quickly in the future and prevent or resolve transmission restrictions. We also took action in 2020 to ensure that we can more accurately predict the amount of work we will have completed by the end of the year.
Expanding production capacity
The programmes initiated in 2019 to recruit more technical staff and outsource more work to the market continued unchanged in 2020. A new strategy has been drawn up for contractors. New tenders have been started for work packages where the contractor is responsible for both implementation and the preparatory work.
In 2020, learning paths and new training courses were set up for foremen, project managers and engineers so that we can train people faster and better and keep them moving up the ladder in the organisation. We also recruited people from outside the sector (including industries that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis) as foremen and for other positions. The first of these employees will start with us in 2021.
Qirion completed the regional reclassification process initiated last year by further simplifying the main structure of the business unit. This reorganisation focuses on creating a simpler organisational structure, ensuring that people can find each other more easily and making core processes clearer and simpler. This means that the work package can grow considerably in the years to come. This development matches the wishes of our internal and external clients.
Digitalisation and optimisation of the design and build process
In 2020, extra digitalisation teams were formed to introduce new digital tools for work preparation, engineering and implementation processes. Smarter planning, better support during execution, better information provision, more effective management based on accurate costing and greater cost awareness are key aspects of this process. For example, the design for a new power grid can now be produced fully automatically by a computer. Administrative processes that previously ran completely separately in different systems are now linked to eliminate double inputting and allow better project monitoring. In 2021, the digitalisation teams will gradually release more tools for use by the organisation. To improve management control, we have implemented a cost system that compares the standard time allocation to the actual time required to complete tasks. The results allow management to identify and respond more effectively to the actual causes of discrepancies.
New products and services
All our technical innovations require process adjustments in order to be able to offer new products and services faster. In 2020, we developed a new process for generating quotations to ensure proper handling of transmission capacity limitations in line with the regulatory framework. We also offered customers new products, such as the switch-on/switch-off medium-voltage connection.
Increasing the organisation’s effectiveness
The energy transition has a major impact on Alliander. We face the mammoth task of expanding the power grid and keeping it reliable. In order to meet this challenge, we need to increase our flexibility and our power of execution. This requires us, as Alliander, to have a shared vision of our goal, operate as an agile, effective and cost-efficient organisation and work as one team. To achieve this, we are taking action to change our organisational culture.
With agility and effectiveness in mind, we developed plans last year for a new and flatter organisational structure that will let us make decisions faster. In December, the Works Council issued positive advice on the plans for the new organisation.
In the new organisation, which came into effect on 1 January 2021, we will be able to work more productively at a faster pace and devise and implement innovative solutions more quickly. In addition, the way in which we organise ourselves helps us focus on our strategy and generic working methods ensure faster and more effective task completion.