Power grid capacity is running out and at various locations in the Netherlands there is little or no capacity to connect new projects: a challenge for companies and business estates. What are the possible solutions?
Geri Wijnen, Project Manager Sustainable Economy, VNO-NCW Co-creatie
For some time now, network operators have not been able to respond to all requests for new connections. As a result, expansion for companies and business parks is limited. For example, because they cannot integrate renewable sources, or electrification might be impossible because they cannot obtain a larger connection for new machines and equipment. This has consequences for the entire ecosystem. Grid operator Enexis has informed us that every company is going to encounter this at some point – the demand for electricity will increase by a factor of 4-5. Developments are taking place much faster than we could have predicted, and grid operators have a lot of catching up to do. The increased demand is caused by several factors. These vary between companies and sectors. Sometimes expansion is key, sometimes electrification of processes is the main thing, sometimes it’s all about far-reaching digitization…
If the current situation does not change considerably, there will be consequences for competitive position, climate goals, and the energy transition – not only for individual regions, but for the country as a whole. The worst-case scenario is, of course, not being able to achieve national objectives in the aforementioned areas, because the electrification needed for this is being slowed down. Larger companies often employ a dedicated sustainability manager or other people who are working on this topic, but SMEs are now also need to deal with sustainability objectives more often, sometimes driven by customers, regulators, and employees.
A new attitude
The government, business community, and industry associations must join forces to take on this challenge. That requires a new attitude – not only from companies but from the government and park management too. There needs to be much more cooperation regarding the integration, exchange, and storage of energy. We will have to organize this very differently, both nationally and locally. The first steps are now being taken in many business parks. Unfortunately, regulations are not yet properly defined everywhere. It is essential that this is clarified quickly. Storage will also play an important role. Solar or wind energy can be stored and redistributed locally, and I can imagine business parks will make use of multiple energy carriers and a combination of energy infrastructures. This allows them to store heat, electricity and possibly hydrogen and make optimal use of it.
Employer association VNO NCW Brabant-Zeeland, and in particular the project organization VNO NCW Co-creatie (Co-creation), aims to stimulate cooperation between entrepreneurs, business associations and the government to get a sustainable economy off the ground. Only about 15% of business estates have introduced some form of professional, structured cooperation. That is why we are working to forge the required collaboration around sustainability challenges at fifteen sites.
In addition, VNO-NCW Brabant Zeeland is organizing several member events related to these themes every year, for example regarding circular entrepreneurship, hydrogen, and next steps in the energy transition. The goal is to inspire entrepreneurs and share knowledge. We want to stimulate businesspeople to work together professionally and encourage the government to really start working with business estates, and think about planning, organization, and financing. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation right now – who is responsible and who will take the first step? However, the energy issue is too pressing to take a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude.
Of course, HyTEPS’ activities in this area are also of great importance: not just sharing knowledge, but also helping people find out what they can do with the connection they already have and how they can use it more creatively. In this way, existing installation capacity can be used much more efficiently.
Cooperation between market, government, and grid operators
So, it’s not just about technical solutions – we need to connect all kinds of systems, processes, and partnerships and use existing capacity in a much smarter way. In addition, regulations must facilitate new solutions and not get in the way. Even within municipalities, for example, departments should not work on sustainability separately, but should really develop an integrated and area-oriented policy. And at the same time, we need to determine the best approach for each business park and each region.
In recent years, the government has been busy working on grid connections in residential areas, which is very important, of course. But homes only consume a relatively small portion of all energy in the Netherlands. There are great potential gains when it comes to regulating consumption on company premises. The government may think that the market should take care of this, but structural solutions require cooperation between the market, the government and grid operators!