Dilemmas and lessons learned
Alliander always aims to perform its duties and carry out its activities to the best of its ability. However, we are faced with dilemmas that can influence the way we plan to carry out our work. Moreover, certain incidents, developments and events can have unforeseen consequences. By being aware of this and learning from it, we can continue to enhance the quality of our company. In this chapter, we present a few of the dilemmas and events we encountered in 2019.
Tight control versus flexibility
The support for the energy transition and the chance of it succeeding increases when customers can make their own plans and choices. However, to ensure the energy infrastructure is ready in time and keep the costs as low as possible, systematic planning and coordination between the municipalities, provinces and network operators is essential. But how do we achieve a balance between flexibility for customers and municipalities (bottom up) and strict management from municipalities, provinces and network operators (top down)?
Existing legislation versus the new reality
Alliander, together with fellow network operators, plays a crucial role in achieving the climate goals for the Netherlands. For example, investment in grid expansions and innovations needs to be made on a large scale, completely new partnerships need to be set up, and people who are even better-skilled need to be recruited. At the same time, the strict legal frameworks and public opinion we face make it difficult for us to operate in this new reality. Changing this is a long-term process however. The question is, how can we ensure that we do not slow down the energy transition despite these obstacles?
Where should we deploy our valuable supply of trade professionals?
The amount of work that we, along with our contractors, need to get done over the next decade, on the power grid in particular, is enormous. At the same time, there is a huge shortage of technicians on the Dutch labour market, meaning we have to set priorities and decide which work should be handled first. If the Netherlands wants to achieve its climate goals, we need to figure out how we can most quickly achieve the greatest reduction in carbon emissions, and then act accordingly. However, network operators are currently required to process customer requests and applications in the order they are received (non-discriminatory allocation). So, the question is, when will this issue be settled in the Netherlands and by whom?
What have we learned?
Better information on defective street lighting
Street lighting contributes significantly to public safety on a street or in a neighbourhood. Municipalities and Liander are jointly responsible for ensuring the streetlights stay on: if a streetlight is not working properly, the local council will see that this gets fixed; if the problem is in the electrical system they will call in Liander to take care of it. Especially in the autumn, when it gets dark earlier, the number of faults reported increases. The place for residents to report broken streetlights is the local council; however, not all residents know this and this results in a lot of complaints, on social media for example.
What have we learned?
To improve the handling of fault reporting, we have opted to provide the public with additional information about the division of roles in fixing streetlights via social media and the Liander website. In this information, we also explain how Liander deals with repairing the fault. For the service technicians to do their work safely, it is sometimes necessary to cut the power on the cable. Local residents are informed about this in advance since they will not have any power either during the operation. Liander will often also need permission to dig from the local council. While waiting for this we make sure everything else is ready to go. Providing good information helps to cut back on reports incorrectly being sent to us, but it does not stop these altogether. Complaints still arise, and local council call centres still incorrectly redirect residents’ calls to Liander. Local councils and Liander increasingly proactively consult to improve this situation a bit more each day.
Solving the Nijmegen-Noord capacity puzzle
The demand for capacity is high in Nijmegen-Noord. Thousands of homes and a large industrial park have been built in the district in a short period of time. The Nijmegen-Betuwe wind farm is ready, and more solar fields and wind turbines will follow. The demand for capacity exceeds the supply. Because the Nijmegen-Noord substation has almost reached full capacity, we will be building a new substation. To bridge the period until the station is brought into operation, at the end of 2018 we introduced the flex-market as a stopgap solution. Though this market functions well, it does not provide sufficient flexible capacity to keep pace with the growth of the business park.
To address this situation, in 2019 we applied a ‘seasonal switch’ for the first time: a part of the load is transferred to a nearby electricity distribution substation. This prevents an excess of electricity being generated at a substation in the summer and an excessive load in the winter. We have also prepared reserve capacity, which can be used in the network as well.
What have we learned?
Thanks to this ‘stacking’ of innovative solutions in Nijmegen, we can make better use of the grid. These innovations are being worked out further for application elsewhere. For example, the procurement process for the flex-market in Nijmegen is also being used now in the Zuidplaspolder region. We are also investigating whether we can switch loads more often. In 2020, we will be able to make better use of the grid because we have made agreements with customers for shutting off grid tie solar power. In parallel, we are working towards a policy to apply these techniques in our entire service area and to have this entire process run automatically.