Sustainable heating supply
The transition to a new, sustainable heating supply affects all companies, consumers and public authorities in our service area. Liander is helping with the implementation of the heating transition. Choosing new heating solutions is a complex puzzle in many areas. What heat sources are available in the area? What types of building are there? What ambitions does the municipality have? The plans leading to the best-fit energy infrastructure for a sustainable future are varied. We are also investigating how long gas networks are expected to remain in use, how much we should invest in them and whether it may be possible to use the network for other applications.
Customers switch to sustainable heating supply
At Alliander, we see it as our role to effectively facilitate the process of making the built environment sustainable, to inform customers about the best way of doing so and to work together with municipalities and housing corporations. To this end, we have a contact person for each municipality to discuss and contribute ideas for the Transition Vision Statement for Heating, the district implementation plans and the housing corporations’ sustainability plans. In 2022, 8,000 residents stopped using natural gas (around 2.5 times as many as in 2018). This was partly due to the increased gas prices. However, we have identified several urgent challenges to implementing the sustainability plans in the built environment.
For example, Alliander notes that the authorities focus heavily on individual energy savings and heating solutions to make the built environment more sustainable. Alliander expects there to be between 800,000 and 1.3 million (hybrid) heat pumps across the Netherlands by 2030 thanks to various national incentive schemes. However, a differentiated approach to the transition for each area is essential for optimal heating solutions at the local level. The development of district heating networks is not living up to expectations. This is partly because municipalities have to coordinate this development (which requires supporting legislation).
Hybrid heat pumps as part of the transition path to a sustainable energy system
Hybrid heat pumps have a very important role to play in making the demand for heating in the built environment more sustainable. In a hybrid heat pump system, an electric heat pump heats the home when the outside temperature is moderate. An existing gas-fired central heating boiler provides additional capacity at peak times on cold winter days and sometimes heating for tap water. This hybrid solution is suitable for almost all existing homes and requires only limited additional insulation. This means the system is a good way for residents to make most of their energy consumption sustainable relatively quickly, while waiting for an appropriate route for the transition to a fully sustainable heating solution at a later stage, such as an all-electric heat pump system, a collective sustainable heating system or the hybrid solution in combination with sustainable green gas or hydrogen.
A hybrid heat pump works well as part of an energy system that integrates multiple energy carriers optimally. The electricity required for the hybrid heat pump is largely generated from wind and solar power in the spring and autumn. This percentage is increasing every year. An additional benefit is that the hybrid use of electricity and sustainable gas aligns very well with the existing capacity of our gas and electricity networks. If the electricity network threatens to become overloaded, the system can switch to a sustainable gas. The average peak electrical power of a hybrid heat pump is also much lower than all-electric heat pumps.
Sustainably produced hydrogen is an important part of the envisaged future energy supply. It is capable of absorbing seasonal differences and providing energy-intensive industries in particular with the energy volumes they require. When and where that will happen and to what extent hydrogen will have a place in the energy system of the future is still uncertain. However, it is crucial that clear choices are made in the period up to 2025. Major investments must be made in either the electricity network or hydrogen to meet the 2030 targets for energy-intensive industries. In the past year, we have seen that many energy-intensive companies are bringing forward that decision due to the high gas prices. This demands broad agreement on the transition programme up to 2030.
We are exploring the use of hydrogen in various projects. A major goal is to learn how our existing networks can be used effectively. One example is the pilot in Lochem, where twelve existing, occupied homes are heated with hydrogen supplied though the existing natural gas pipelines. In this pilot, Alliander will work with residents during the coming three years to determine whether hydrogen could be a good alternative for heating homes. A new natural gas pipeline was installed for the residents in the street who are not taking part in the pilot. The ACM and State Supervision of Mines (SodM) have approved this. Alliander has achieved a world first with this pilot.
In our pilot in Oosterwolde in 2022, an electrolyser was installed next to a solar farm. The goal of this project is to gain a better understanding of the role that electrolysers can play as a solution to transmission restrictions in the electricity network and the technical and regulatory changes that this requires.
As well as carrying out pilot projects, we are now working on regular investments. We are working with the Port of Amsterdam to build a low-pressure hydrogen network for industry in the port area. Alliander is also part of the HyDelta research programme, in which Netbeheer Nederland has a stake. HyDelta primarily focuses on the transport, distribution and consumption of hydrogen.
First Liander gas technicians qualified to work with hydrogen
In 2022, the first Liander gas technicians passed the exam that qualifies them to work with hydrogen. This represents an important step in the energy transition and specifically the pilot that was launched in Lochem in Gelderland at the end of the year, where some of the homes in the Berkeloord district have been heated with hydrogen since October. Working with hydrogen seems at first to be similar to the work the technicians carry out on the natural gas network every day. But while the network is made up of the same components, working with hydrogen involves different and additional procedures. Just as with the gas and electricity networks, working safely is the most important part of this training programme.
In 2022, 25 green gas providers fed in 66 million cubic metres of green gas to the Liander network. The volume of green gas in our network has increased linearly since 2013. The target in the Dutch Climate Agreement is that 2 billion cubic metres of green gas should be fed into the Dutch gas networks by 2030, compared to a total of more than 200 million cubic metres nationwide today. The government has announced the intention to mandate the mixing of green gas into the supply to the built environment to accelerate this transition. An acceleration in the growth of green gas is expected from 2023 as a result of this measure. Together with Netbeheer Nederland, Liander is preparing for the expected growth in both the number of green gas providers and the volume of green gas in our networks.
Liander facilitates the feed-in of green gas by granting providers access to the gas network and ensuring that the gas they produce can be transported to consumers. We do so by examining the transmission capacity of the network as well as the opportunities for using the green gas they produce. This can be a challenge in the summer in particular, as much less gas is consumed then. We consider the traditional solutions employed by network operators, such as links between networks and increasing the capacity of pipelines, and more innovative solutions.
Powercrumbs, an Arnhem-based start-up, won the third Alliander Innovation Challenge. Their idea helps resolving the problem of finding a use for green gas in the summer months when it cannot be fully fed into the gas network. It involves storing the excess green gas at high pressure in mobile storage containers located with the producer. Powercrumbs already employs this technique for biogas from sewage treatment plants. Trucks then transport the containers to construction projects in the local area, where the green gas is used as a sustainable fuel for generators. It replaces diesel and therefore delivers major environmental benefits thanks to the low emissions of nitrogen, particulate matter and greenhouse gases. A pilot launched in 2023 will examine whether this supply chain can be used for excess green gas in the summer.
The green gas booster is another innovation that facilitates the feed-in of green gas. This successful pilot is nearing completion and can be deployed in the gas network where required. A booster is a compressor station that ensures that green gas from a low-pressure network can be fed into a higher-pressure network so that it can reach more consumers. This allows more green gas to be fed in during the summer.