Grid integration
Grid integration 5 min reading time

Dutch electricity grid is overcrowded - PART II/III

In Part II of this triptych, Wannes Devillé (Novar), Barbara Huneman and Mark Mijnen (Avebe) talk about their collaboration and their innovative solutions to the Netherlands' congested electricity grid. What are the challenges, the problems but especially the solutions they encountered? And how to proceed now? Read the article here.

Novar's Solar park Vloeivelden Hollandia in Nieuw-Buinen is connected for its grid connection to the Closed Distribution System (GDS) of Royal Avebe's production site in Gasselternijveen, where, among other things, potato starch and protein are made. The main reason for this innovative solution is the lack of available capacity at the surrounding grid stations. "We certainly didn't choose the easiest path," says Barbara Huneman, director of Energy & Public Affairs at Avebe. "But in the end, this is really a win-win situation for all parties."

Alderman Freek Buijtelaar of the Borger-Odoorn municipality, together with deputy Tjisse Stelpstra of the province of Drenthe, laid the first solar panel on the solar park last year. With 290,000 panels, it is currently the largest operational solar park in the Netherlands (114 MW). Electricity has been supplied to some 30,000 households annually since December.

 "These kinds of collaborations are all about putting the right people together and having the right energy and chemistry together," Barbara believes. "Only then can you make these kinds of projects happen. I think it worked out very well in this case." Much of the 100-acre project is fully dual-purpose. The plots of land currently set up as a solar park are also used by Avebe for the temporary storage of wastewater from the potato flour mill, or flow fields. "This water treatment is very important for our factories in Gasselternijveen," responds Mark Mijnen, Energy & Portfolio Specialist at Avebe. "We sometimes have large amounts of wastewater that we can't always dispose of at once through our water treatment plant, so we then temporarily use the water basins for that."

Dual land use

Novar and Avebe came up with the plans for the double land use together. "We started building at a height of 2.5 meters because of the dual land use, says Wannes Deville, Sr. Grid Specialist at Novar enthusiastically. "So you can imagine that giant poles went into the ground. However, we built it in such a way that the surrounding area does not see any of it, because the park is hidden behind the already existing embankment of the basins. Consequently, there have been zero views submitted by local residents, which is unique." 

Avebe has a strategy centered on added value and sustainability. "We take our responsibility in terms of sustainability," Barbara continues her story, "we are a biorefinery industry; processing potatoes into starch and protein is a very energy-intensive business. The energy transition is very important to us. Besides saving energy, we are also opting for electrification (using less natural gas and more electricity for production processes). For that reason we decided some time ago to make solar PV possible on all our own sites or roofs. Then we started looking for ourselves where that would be possible."

Dual capacity use

The cooperation with Novar is not only because of the construction of the solar farm on Avebe's liquid fields. "We are now also physically connected to their Closed Distribution System," reports Wannes. "Avebe had to apply for a GDS exemption from the ACM to manage their own electricity grid, to which other parties are now therefore connected. The same grid was already connected to their Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant, which in addition to providing the heat (high-pressure steam) needed, also produces electricity for Avebe's factories. That power needs to be able to go onto the public grid from time to time, because they don't always use it all themselves."

Mark: "At some point we started looking at a new grid connection, and then a piece of sustainability followed. You see, we wanted to use less gas, but then you need more electricity. That meant we had to have bigger cables to be able to transport more electricity to our location. However, a cable can be used in two directions. And so the idea arose to use those cables together - and thus more efficiently - with the Novar project to 100% capacity."

This type of combination has been talked about a lot, but it has rarely been implemented on this scale, Wannes responds. "With this solution, 'double' use is made of the same capacity. So this is potentially very attractive for heavy industries. It is done with a so-called "non-firm agreement." In the future, that will be a hot-topic. Research is being done on how to apply this to the regular grid, but we are already applying it."

It uses a 70 MVA connection, of which Novar is guaranteed to use 54 MVA. "Plus the remaining 16 MVA, provided Avebe does not temporarily need it itself at that time," Wannes explains. "So there is also full-continuous adjustment by the solar farm to constantly adjust to 100% utilization of the feed-in capacity. So that's actually a mini smart grid."

Challenging trajectory

It was a very challenging journey, Mark recalls. "Financially and legally. For example, regarding liability and the transportation agreement. We had to work that out well together." Wannes: "Yes, that was another bit of pioneering. Ultimately you create more efficient and smarter use of the existing infrastructure and grid capacity this way. Moreover, this way you can already realize projects that would otherwise not have been able to be connected to the regular grid for the time being."

According to Wannes, this also allows you to avoid a discussion about the fact that one needs capacity, but may not use it for a while. "In the market, they are very much looking for how to limit that. Because if you don't use it, then you really shouldn't be able to keep it on. This way you avoid that, because we get to use that space from Avebe and at the same time they keep that space available for their own plant. 

So this is a win for both parties, because we both have the same goal in mind, which is to become more sustainable." There was also the challenge around possible interference with the nearby LOFAR radio telescope, Wannes explains. "We had to do all kinds of additional testing to show that our solar farm would not affect the LOFAR antenna system. By applying technical feats of engineering we succeeded in doing so so that the interference of the Galaxy is now greater on the system than the interference of our solar farm on the system."

Risk increase

It's a very positive story, but there are also risks involved, reports Mark. "For Avebe there are of course bottom line obligations added, because essentially - to put it bluntly - we have become a kind of 'grid operator light', while we actually want to produce potato starch and protein and need power to do this. It's great that you can help each other and make it more sustainable, but for owners of such a GDS it is definitely an increase in risk. 

Still, this is a unique project, both parties agree. Mark: "We go for it together, and if we encounter something we solve it together. A lot of attention has been paid to possible risks. For example, Avebe's factories must not run out of steam and electricity if there is insufficient, or temporarily too much sun. Or that due to other technical aspects there would be a negative effect on the existing grid stability of the GDS grid due to the direct connection with the solar farm. Meanwhile, Novar is already in full production, and no one has noticed anything."

Novar and Avebe are both very satisfied with the cooperation. New future plans are even in the works. Mark: "There is now optimal cooperation in terms of land, electricity grid and guarantee of origin certificates, but what we still lack is optimal cooperation in the purchase of the energy produced. I still see that as an extension of sustainability in the coming years. So there is still a lot more that can be done."

Read the 1st part of the triptych on grid incorporation here. 

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