DAF: dealing with voltage and current effects the smart way

Ronald Stegers, Energy Manager, DAF Trucks NV
Rutger Kerstiens, Manager Public Relations and Social Media, DAF Trucks NV

Like all large companies, DAF is very dependent on the availability and quality of electricity. A variety of internal and external factors influence this…

Ronald Stegers, DAF

Smart handling of internal factors

At our locations in Eindhoven and Westerlo we have a strong electrical network of our own. This brings enormous benefits and makes us less dependent on external power suppliers. Of course, we do all we can to keep that network strong. For example, we set very high standards for machines we buy. Equipment must be able to withstand significant disturbance levels. However, once you’ve connected several correctly specified machines to an electrical installation with sufficient capacity, you can still be surprised. If anything happens that we cannot explain right away, we need to consult with specialists immediately – and there are very few of these.

Taking care with reactive power is essential to installations. Grid operators will pass on costs when the Cosinus Phi value drops below 0.85. Fortunately, we always stay above that level. However, this requires continuous attention and a proactive stance. We’ve also been working on saving energy for a long time. Thanks to adjustments to our lighting, for example, we have been able to free up a considerable amount of power, which we can use for production machines. We have managed to halve lighting consumption, which is immediately reflected in the total available capacity.

Continuous monitoring is vital, too. Having access to a vast amount of historical and current data that specialists can use to quickly come up with analyses and recommendations is a big advantage. Expert advice doesn’t even need to be directly related to a current problem – for example, analyses can provide surprising insights into energy savings potential and process optimization. You also always know how much capacity is available at any time, at any location, and which load levels are safe. HyTEPS has provided us with quite a few meters and comes up with solutions and suggestions where necessary.

Smart handling of external factors

You can do a great deal to maintain the energy supply and quality yourself. However, you can never get away from outside influences. At DAF, for example, we’d like to increase the capacity of our substation but have been on a waiting list for some time. First, a number of coupling stations need to be expanded, which will not happen until 2026. And even then, final delivery will still take about a year and a half.

However, distribution of capacity could possibly be reconsidered, for example by looking closely at how to cope with peak demand times. Governments should carefully consider what is possible at local level. By working together with grid operators, who have access to power consumption data from all connected parties, it is possible to determine exactly where there is still capacity. This can then be used as efficiently as possible. However, this is only a temporary solution – in the end, the net will really have to be reinforced. The processes that underpin this change are slow, and legislation could be adapted. Companies and trade associations still have plenty of lobbying to do in this area. Fortunately, we’re seeing the first positive reports about this. The Eindhoven Brainport region is being given priority in tackling the power crisis, which gives us hope for the near future.

Electrification of transport

In 2018, we were the first European truck manufacturer to bring a fully electric truck to the market. We now offer a full range of EV trucks: from 12-tonne vehicles for urban use to long-distance tractors that allow you to drive up to 1,000 kilometers on a daily basis. DAF is also actively developing hydrogen-powered trucks and working on trucks that use hydrogen fuel cells as well as trucks that feature a hydrogen combustion engine. (See separate box).

More and more cities are working towards ‘zero emission’ zones to improve local air quality. Traffic electrification can play an important role in this – provided sufficient charging infrastructure is available. The trade organization of all car and truck manufacturers producing in Europe is working to move the European Government in Brussels, as well as national and local governments, to tackle grid congestion. Otherwise, electric vehicles – whether cars or trucks – can’t be charged anywhere and transport will literally come to a standstill.

Technology is the future

We, too, are experiencing a huge shortage of technical staff. Because the number of new students declined in the past, courses have been scaled down. To attract people, you need to have a clear positioning as an employer: they must be really proud to work for your company. The government and the business community need to teach students that technology is the future. Technology studies certainly offer job security because the energy transition will stop suddenly. There are also plenty of growth opportunities. We will always need electrical engineers, who will have to familiarize themselves with new topics again and again. Electrical engineers not only need to keep facilities running but must also maintain a focus on the quality of voltage and current in increasingly complex environments.

The energy transition is in full swing, but we still have a long way to go. All parties will  have to work closely together to find sustainable solutions – but we are optimistic!

Two types of hydrogen propulsion systems for vehicles

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) use hydrogen fuel cells to produce electricity that powers an engine. Fuel is combined with oxygen in a fuel cell. The resulting chemical reaction produces electricity, water, and heat. Because the energy-generating capacity of a Fuel Cell is limited, an FCEV relies on a battery pack as a back-up. This is used to be able to gain speed or when driving on slopes, for example. FCEVs are emission-free at the point of the vehicle, with the only emission being water vapor. Hydrogen refueling is relatively fast. However, the technology is very complex, expensive, requires a large amount of energy (for air intake and cooling) and takes up a lot of space.

Hydrogen combustion engines use hydrogen as fuel. Unlike fuel cells, these engines inject  clean hydrogen into cylinders, like traditional (for example diesel) engines. At present, the hydrogen combustion engine is slightly less efficient than a fuel cell, but it is much cheaper to produce in Europe and has proven to be robust. Water vapor and other emissions are so negligible that the Dutch government considers trucks with a hydrogen combustion engine to be ‘zero emission’ vehicles.


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