Grid congestion: don’t just focus on individual connections

Vakblad Electric Power in Europa

Christan van Dorst, Manager Technical Engineering, HyTEPS

More than ten thousand companies in the Netherlands are currently on the waiting list for a connection to the electricity grid. Provinces including Flevoland, Gelderland, Utrecht, Friesland, North Holland, South Holland, Noord-Brabant and Limburg are dealing with serious grid congestion or overloading.

There are several causes. The existing infrastructure has not kept pace with the rapid growth in electricity demand and the shift towards renewables. Rapid growth of solar and wind energy installations is outpacing the grid’s capacity to manage and distribute generated power efficiently, for example. Slow and complex permit procedures for grid expansion, coupled with stringent environmental regulations, delay necessary infrastructure developments. In some parts of Limburg and North-Brabant, the situation is so dire that no new companies can be connected to the grid at all – with significant consequences for the energy transition and the economy.

Effective congestion management is challenging. There needs to be more flexibility in the system to manage peak loads, which involves both technological solutions and regulatory frameworks that enable more dynamic use of the grid. The government and grid operators are looking for solutions, such as expanding the power grid, making smarter use of the existing grid and better matching supply and demand. New actions aim to increase grid capacity and flexibility, allowing for better integration of renewable energy sources and reducing bottlenecks that currently hinder energy distribution. Monitoring, analysis, and ‘inspansion’ – extracting more power from existing electrical installations – are essential for this.

What is congestion exactly

‘Congestion’ can be defined as a situation in which the network becomes overloaded due to overly high electricity flows, leading to excessive load on the network and potential operational problems. (In practice, the term ‘congestion’ is used in two ways – see separate box. Now that grid congestion problems are becoming more frequent, while at the same time demand for connections is growing rapidly (partly due to electrification) new measurement methods and solutions are being examined.

By knowing exactly what is being consumed at any given time, it becomes possible to determine whether power can still be accessed in an industrial area. This requires smart and accurate measurement and analysis. Grid operators have always measured an average value per quarter of an hour – but it is more interesting and valuable to keep track of this far more accurately. So, if you measure every second, every ten seconds or every half a minute, you will see many more variations. Mapping out the exact load per end user allows you to draw up a profile of all parties in an industrial area. That allows you to conclude, for example, that all parties together do not exceed a certain kilowatt peak and therefore remain within the total collective contract capacity. If one party exceeds the contract capacity, but the total in that area remains below the limit, space can still be created for expansions.

Highly accurate measurements

It is important to take very accurate measurements at the individual level, at the customers’ premises, but also at the main connection point of an industrial estate. Based on these two measurement data, you can determine whether you’re really dealing with technical congestion, or whether parties are only in congestion according to their contract with the grid operator.

Based on the data, we can find out what is actually still available and in which location. For example, you can coordinate loads differently in order to be able to ramp up production or make better use of grid capacity. A simple example: say you’re using a compressor that fills an air tank and you’ve set a buffer value of a few minutes. Then you can, for example, vary the time at which the compressor turns on and off. A minute earlier or later can make a big difference to overall load. In this way, you can coordinate switch-on and production times with those of neighboring companies. In this way, you can get more out of grid connections.

Get more out of existing connections

So: on the one hand, we need to map out everything, and on the other hand, we need to coordinate loads and peak moments. Smart software goes a long way towards realizing this. Through measurement, analysis, advice, and technical resources such as connector banks and filters, we can help customers better align production and consumption. We want to know how we can arrive at a smart overview of loads, and together we can come up with a proposal that grid operators find acceptable.

Congestion means fuller, heavily loaded networks, which puts pressure on requirements and Power Quality. Overloading the electricity grid is a complex problem that affects entire nations and requires a coordinated approach from the government and the grid operators. Eventually, grid reinforcement and energy storage will be unavoidable. But individual users can also collectively contribute to the solution. With monitoring, analysis, and ‘inspansion’ it becomes possible to get more out of existing connections. And that will remain important in the future: electrification is well underway – and there is no turning back.

Technical congestion

This occurs when electricity demand exceeds the capacity of the transmission lines and distribution networks, for example. Congestion is measured on high-voltage grids and at the main station. It can occur at different levels, such as at a single company or across an entire industrial estate. If ten companies in an industrial area have a 25kW connection, and there is no additional capacity above 250kW, they are likely to be told not to expand. However, this assumes each customer is permanently using, or wants to use, the full capacity.

Congestion at the grid operator

Suppose you have a contract for a maximum of 100 kilowatts per month. If you don’t use the capacity at certain times, you can also make it available to the market, for a fee, so that others can use it. However, if you need more power than your contract provides for, the grid operator will refer to this as ‘congestion’.


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