Published: 20 october 2023 at 13:40
When we come home after work, put the electric car on the charger, heat the house with the heat pump and cook electric food, there has to be power. Because it squeaks and creaks on the electricity grid, large-scale consumers should then dim for a while – literally -, thinks energy minister Rob Jetten (D66). But how exactly does that work?
To prevent power outages at peak times, companies should turn on their machines more often at other times. At least: that is the plan of outgoing minister Jetten. For instance, between 16.00 and 20.00, when households use a lot of electricity, companies should turn off their machines or turn them on softer. The government wants to force companies to do this if necessary: in exchange, they will pay less for their electricity.
What exactly is the problem?
In a number of regions in the Netherlands – Gelderland being one of them – the demand for electricity is growing faster than the grid can handle. According to regional grid operator Liander, this is partly because people are installing heat pumps and driving electric cars, but also because more and more homes are being added.
In November last year, the high-voltage grid in Gelderland already reached its maximum capacity; increasingly, ‘no’ requests for new (or heavier) connections from homes or businesses now have to be sold. Since November last year, the queue has grown by a thousand wholesale customers. “We realise that this has a huge impact on businesses in Gelderland,” says director Marc de Zwaan, who is in charge of power capacity at TenneT. “We are working hard to expand the grid, but that takes time.”
What is the solution?
An expansion of the power grid. But that means: new power stations and more and thicker cables. In Gelderland, for instance, 1250 kilometres of cable will be laid in three years. According to Liander, however, it will take until 2029 before the electricity grid in Gelderland is sufficiently expanded to serve everyone on the waiting list.
For instance, Gelderland wants to make more than 70,000 existing homes more sustainable (fitted with solar panels and heat pumps, among other things) by 2030, but with the current grid, this can only be done for a quarter of them. So until then, something else needs to be done to ensure that housing is not affected.
Hence, options for reducing power consumption during peak times, known as rush-hour avoidance, are being looked at.
Is the idea of rush-hour avoidance that Jetten is now suggesting really new?
Yes and no. Opportunities for rush-hour avoidance in electricity consumption have existed for some time. Liander, for instance, offers various forms of contract for companies wishing to participate in so-called ‘congestion management’. What is new is that the minister wants to force companies if necessary.
How exactly does rush-hour avoidance work?
That depends on the contract. For instance, an agreement can be made that companies reduce their power consumption on demand – they hear it a day in advance. Usually, the grid operator sees a peak in consumption coming: companies are then asked to switch off their machines for a while, for instance between 2pm and 4pm the next day.
Companies with which such an agreement is made receive a kind of fixed fee for a willingness to reduce power consumption on demand and possibly also an amount per call.
Another option is for companies to voluntarily sign up for a blackout period. Then, a day before the power problem arises, they are asked by auction who can reduce their offtake for a few hours. In effect, companies then sell the power they would normally use.
Are any companies willing to participate in rush-hour avoidance?
Back in 2018, Liander arranged with Van der Valk Hotel and supermarket chain Lidl in Nijmegen-North for them to lower their power consumption at certain times. Even then, the power grid was already congested namely.
We didn’t find enough companies. Not even half of what we need
Companies have also been asked to participate in so-called rush-hour avoidance in recent months. Research published by TenneT this week shows that too few companies are able or willing to participate. “We have not found enough companies. Not even half of what we need,” said TenneT director De Zwaan.
According to him, the current fee for rush-hour avoidance is now too low. “It does not pay for companies to participate.”
Minister Jetten announced this week a higher compensation for companies participating in rush-hour avoidance. Meanwhile, gardeners in Gelderland have signed up for rush-hour avoidance.