27 February 2024
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No new connections, no extensions, no opportunities to deliver your solar energy to the grid, let alone share it with other entrepreneurs. Grid congestion - the phenomenon that occurs when the infrastructure can no longer handle the growing supply and demand for power - is gripping entrepreneurs all over the Netherlands. It is not a local problem, but Bergeijk is working hard to find a local solution. With a 'local energy hub', the nine largest electricity consumers at De Waterlaat Business Park want to put an end to the restrictions currently imposed on them by electricity supplier Enexis. Together, they account for most of the energy consumption in the business park.
A way out is being considered everywhere, but in most cases, laws, regulations, and staff shortages stand in the way. It forces Enexis to take drastic measures to prevent the entire grid from failing. The Netherlands started thinking too late about the consequences of the enormous growth in demand for electricity and the simultaneous increase in supply. All that extra power no longer fits on the old network, and so Enexis is left with no other choice than to sell 'no'.
But in Bergeijk, this was not simply accepted as a fact, says Denise de Ronde, who works as a policy officer for sustainability at the municipality. "The big energy consumers on De Waterlaat soon found themselves up against the limit of their existing connection. And at the same time, the first signals came from Enexis that new connections could no longer be serviced." Moreover, laws and regulations prevent that within one company, energy can be transferred from one subsidiary to another, even if the two entities are on the same site. "In a short time, everyone became aware that it was really going to be a big problem."
The municipality started thinking about a solution. "In the beginning, we mainly focused on informing and organizing the entrepreneurs", says Denise de Ronde. "On the Waterlaat, there is no park management, so that really had to come from the entrepreneurs themselves. Fortunately, some project management from the Kempisch Ondernemers Platform (KOP) could be added, and from then on, we really started looking at what the options of a Local Energy Hub are and how it should be put together technically."
Measurement is all about ‘quarter data’, the exact consumption at each quarter of an hour throughout the year. "Once we have collected that data from all the major consumers on the Waterlaat, we can automatically see where the bottlenecks are, which also has predictive value. With that data, we knocked on Enexis's door again, telling them we were ready. We have asked them for permission to be able to take steps for the joint use of that local energy hub." Rietdijk expects that early next year, it should be technically and organizationally possible actually to activate the hub. But for that to happen, of course, Enexis must cooperate.
Indeed, there are still a few uncertainties, Rietdijk agrees. "It is clear that nothing will happen without the permission of Enexis. But besides that, we really need to be able to form a conglomerate of those companies that have now started working together. It is not a given that that will happen because there are other forces they have to deal with. For example, the cost of energy contracts varies quite a bit: for a company with an expensive contract, it is obviously much more attractive to join than one with a cheaper contract. It's up to us to keep those extremes in line anyway. In the end, some will quite possibly have a bit more advantages than others, but so be it."
At the end of the day, Rietdijk believes the local energy hub in Bergeijk will solve three, or perhaps even four, issues: "First and foremost, of course, is that entrepreneurs can get and supply the power they need. Right after that come the growth opportunities for those businesses, and thirdly, there are the possible cost savings. Finally, you could consider trading on the market with such a setup. But we have put that off for now, we will look at those opportunities later."
Meanwhile, the most important suggestions Rietdijk and De Ronde can give other entrepreneurs, business parks, and municipalities is as clear as day: "Don't wait until the situation becomes completely untenable. Start thinking now about solutions that fit your own environment. This need not be a copy of what we are doing here, but of course, we are happy to explain to anyone interested how we proceeded."