The limits of the power grid are being tested by the energy transition. The prices of solar energy and electrical storage have fallen dramatically over the last five years, and the production costs of wind power generation have more than halved. Technology is addressing the challenge of how to store these unpredictable sources of energy, with the latest thermal storage able to store power with the flip of a switch.
Transforming energy market
The arrival of many new and small players on the scene is transforming the energy market, making it less monopolistic and increasingly competitive. This is also a time of rapid technological innovation, opening up many new opportunities to make the system and our grid work better than before. This also helps to tackle the challenge of rising transportation costs due to increased feed-in of renewables.
For us, innovation is key to developing the systems, services and technology required to address the changes we face. We define innovation as 'the successful exploitation of new ideas to create value for the company and the society'.
Our approach to innovation is to create benefits for our stakeholders with a focus on our strategic goals, to enhance system flexibility and ensure security of supply. We also rely on innovation to advance the use of data and analytics and to drive the integration of the North West European electricity market.
Innovation at TenneT is embedded in our business organisation and strategy; people throughout the organisation are experts in their field and we value their creativity. This ensures innovation contributes significantly to the continuous improvement of our organisation.
We have also designed and implemented an innovation programme that is connected to our strategy, overseen by our internal Innovation Board. To push us further and make sure we are fully aware of cutting-edge technologies, we have also set up an external Innovation Board, comprising experts from the academic world, research centres and other TSOs.
SDG 9 – Industry, innovation and infrastructure
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 9 – Industry, innovation and infrastructure – focuses on building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and fostering innovation. This is essentially our objective with innovation: “the successful exploitation of new ideas to create value for the company and society”. If we succeed with our innovation approach, society will benefit directly, and this in turn will have a significant impact on industry and economic welfare. Doing this in close cooperation with our stakeholders ensures sustainability of our embedded solutions.
Realising our strategy
We believe that moving into big data is important for the future of our company. We need to fully use data and analytics to improve our own system operations and efficiency, and better facilitate the energy market and transition.
In 2017, we made significant progress in this strategic goal and signed partnerships with various companies to contribute to the maintenance of the energy balance in novel ways. In the Netherlands, we signed an agreement with energy supplier Vandebron to start a pilot to use car batteries to help manage our grid. This is using the open source software blockchain to manage transactions for electricity demand and supply. To ensure there is sufficient flexibility in the future, this technique could be one of the alternatives to using conventional power plants.
We have also conducted a pilot using blockchain technology in Germany. Working with Sonnen – a manufacturer of home energy batteries – we use home storage systems to help manage bottlenecks in the grid and limit the amount of expensive wind farm locking that needs to take place. The linked battery storage devices can absorb or emit any excess power in a matter of seconds when required. Blockchain technology gives us a secure overview of the available pool of flexibility, which can be activated at the push of a button.
Innovations like these are essential because the traditional energy model is rapidly disappearing. Old market rules and models must be upgraded to unlock modern technology options and new players to facilitate the growing need for system optimisation.
Innovation is also crucial in maintaining our high level of security of supply. Politicians and citizens alike request us to use more and more underground cable instead of overhead lines. Quickly repairing these cables in case of failure poses a challenge. As such, using an innovative process approach, we developed an emergency preparedness plan in 2017 that makes it clear to everyone in our organisation what needs to be done in case of a cable failure.
The energy transition is also challenging when it comes to IT systems to operate our grid. In order to control the changes resulting from the energy transition and its effects on our network and ultimately security of supply, we must use state-of-the-art operating systems to operate the more complex electricity flows. Therefore we started The Next-Gen Scada (our operating system) project in 2017. In the coming years TenneT will invest in replacing the existing Scada landscape and make it suitable for the future.
To be able to play a leading role in the energy integration of NWE, we need to partner with other parties in the energy sector. We can’t implement every innovation and make it work by ourselves. An example is the three new partners who have joined our vision for the North Sea Wind Power Hub, as outlined in the Lead North Western Energy Integration chapter of this report. But also our continued commitment in the EU Horizon2020 supported projects PROMOTioN and MIGRATE are examples.
Another important new partnership in 2017 was the European Synergy project TSO 2020. This brings renewable power from Denmark into the high-voltage grid, transported through the COBRA cable at Eemshaven. Partners in this project include Gasunie New Energy, Energy Stock, TenneT, EASE, Energy Valley, Delft University of Technology, Green Planet and the Netherlands Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management.
In this project, wind power is partly converted to green hydrogen, temporarily stored in a salt cavern and subsequently transported for applications in mobility. At the gas storage site Zuidwending, wind power is converted into hydrogen by electrolysis of water and made available to gas stations such as Green Planet’s.
To reach our goal of engaging stakeholders, we use innovative solutions to approach our stakeholders, such as our new Virtual Vision installation in Berlin, which opened in May. For further details on this, see the Engage Stakeholders chapter.
As well as investing in innovation to future-proof our company – as outlined in our strategy – we also ensure that innovation is part and parcel of our ongoing daily business. As a fast-growing company, we are constantly challenging ourselves to do things better.
To make our 110/150 kV substations ready for the future, we need to replace approximately 1,140 bays during a period of 10 years' time. Approximately 140 of our 110/150 kV substations are older than 45 years and need to be replaced, which comes down to a replacement average of approximately 1 substation per month. To get this extensive job done there is only one approach: we need to standardise our 110/150 kV stations. Besides technical standardization, the replacement, maintenance and management will be uniformed to achieve the desired predictability and acceleration of replacement. We also seek to work with the supplier market in a different way. Our Program Bay Replacement, which started in 2017, is going to design, learn and test this new approach, with inputs from market parties, starting with a proof of concept phase including the replacement of six substations with AIS and GIS technology. Based on the results of the proof of concept phase from technical, organizational and financial perspectives, TenneT will decide to proceed with the large volume replacement of 110/150 kV substations based on the new technical standards and ways of working.
Improving our business is often a matter of working closely with our suppliers. In 2017, we used a new technique to install cables in our project in the Randstad (the Netherlands), developed by our contractor BAM. Instead of having to open the ground along the full distance to install a cable, smaller openings are made in 500 meter increments. This technique minimises ground excavation and, therefore, disruption of the local community and environment.
We also started a pioneering pilot in Germany to use an alternative for SF6 insulation gas, which has an enormous greenhouse gas impact, at our Frankfurt North substation. The alternative is g3 green gas, developed by 3M and applied by General Electric. Over the next three years, the transformer’s technical functioning will be closely monitored.
|1||Fast-moving technological advances raise the questions such as: are we capable of handling such fast-changing technology and implementing it for maximum benefit? Every day, we make technological and other decisions with far-reaching implications.||We play an important role in this changing environment. TenneT used to be a straightforward and traditional grid operator, but much more is now expected of us. The organisation will use knowledge and expertise across a range of fields to deal with this. This is an organisational challenge that we will continue to cope with in the coming years.|
|2||Technological advances go hand in hand with technological challenges. A prime example of this is the installation of an offshore wind farm far shore and the complexity of bringing this to land. A technological choice between using high-voltage, direct current (HVDC) electric power transmission and the more common high-voltage, alternating current (HVAC) systems needs to made, as well as the choice for the most optimal location to connect to the existing onshore grid.||It is our job to explain the clear technical and societal benefit of one solution over the other. Although using HVDC can be very challenging from a technical point of view, we believe it has distinct advantages in a modern grid designed to carry more renewable power and we will continue to bring this solution to the table.|
Current power markets were designed to accommodate traditional generators and customers who simply use energy and pay their bills. Now, fast-growing energy conversion technologies like wind and solar power, and new opportunities for smart meters, like demand side response, energy efficiency and distributed energy resources, don’t fit the traditional mould. Existing market designs have become barriers to innovation and must be changed.
As a neutral market facilitator, TenneT can help to improve the market design and create and manage a data hub that would provide a data platform for all parties. Collecting and enriching electricity and electricity-related data will also help market players drive market integration.
Developments such as transmitting electricity underground, nature inclusive designs, dynamic line rating or high temperature conductors will help us increase the public’s acceptance given that they demonstrate our commitment to minimising the impact of grid expansion and alleviating ‘not in my backyard’ concerns about transmission lines. To achieve this, we will actively engage with communities to understand their needs and concerns. This will also strengthen our innovation culture and practices and help us work with external partners to address concerns in innovative ways.
A digital future – pilot projects to enhance system flexibility
Digital technologies are paving the way for a decentralised energy world. New developments, such as blockchain technology, make it easier to track energy around the grid. This is allowing market participants to make fast and safe energy transactions, thereby supporting the balance and boosting flexibility in the system.
Lex Hartman, Member of the Executive Board TenneT: "With blockchain technology a virtual power plant can be created that consists of millions of prosumers".
The numbers of electric cars and solar panels with small, individual batteries are growing rapidly. Together these can upload or download substantial amounts of electricity, helping to balance highs and lows in the electricity supplied from wind or solar. For this system to work, the individual batteries must be linked to an ‘aggregator’, which connects households to the TSO. The aggregator makes electricity available to households through smart contracts and price incentives. It stores or releases battery charge, depending on how much is being fed in and withdrawn. One battery won't make much of a difference to a national electricity grid, but a few million could do so. In this way, by so-called ‘crowd balancing’, individual households can help the TSO to balance the grid.
Adjusting and expanding our current business model to accommodate the more volatile flows of renewable electricity is crucial. To this end, TenneT announced two pilot programmes involving the use of battery capacity through aggregators in 2017.
In the Netherlands, TenneT has started a pilot with Vandebron, an aggregator operating a network of private electric car batteries. To help TenneT balance the grid, Vandebron has developed a smart system to make available the capacity of its customers' car batteries, without compromising on battery availability. In this way, this pool of electric vehicles provides a secondary supply of power.
Jean-Baptiste Cornefert, Managing Director of sonnen eServices: "Already today decentralised home batteries can help to stabilise the German electricity grid. Now we are taking an important next step with TenneT, to use these batteries for redispatch measures".
In Germany, we started a cooperation with sonnen eServices, which operates a network of residential smart batteries. Frequently, wind parks in the north of Germany produce huge amounts of electricity. However, consumer demand in the north is lower than in central and southern parts of the country, which leaves surplus energy that needs transportation. As the grid has insufficient capacity to carry it to these regions, alternative solutions are needed. Rather than switching off turbines in the north to avoid regional overload of the grid, and lose valuable green energy, the electricity can be redispatched to clusters of individual residential batteries. This stores the excess electricity for a period before making it available again for the grid.