Maarten Hofs of Stedin BV and Ron van den Berg from Alliander N.V. talked with Yusuf Latief about flexible ways of managing the grid, a new platform for solving congestion problems that will be announced at Enlit Europe and their experience of the energy industry.
Maarten, an Enterprise/Business Architect, and Ron, a Program Manager, took time from their busy schedules during an extremely busy time for the Dutch grid operators to share their thoughts on the grid situation and talk about the GOPACS platform, which aims to relieve the grid of congestion, a pressing issue of late in the Netherlands.
An initiative of the Dutch grid operators, congestion is registered in the GOPACS platform and a market message is sent out to market parties. Those with an electricity connection in the area can then place a buy order on a connected energy market platform. And to prevent grid balance at a national level from being disturbed, the reduction of electricity production within the congestion area is combined with a sell order from a market party outside the congestion area.
GOPACS checks whether the order does not cause problems at other locations in the electricity grid of the participating network operators. If all signals are green, the network operators pay the price difference between the two orders so that they can be matched on the trading platform and the congestion situation is resolved.
And this combination of buy and sell orders, according to Hofs and van den Berg, is what makes the platform so important:
The two of you will be presenting about GOPACS at Enlit Europe. Can you tell me more?
M: The idea started in 2016, when we foresaw congestion due to high levels of renewables coming onto the grid. We knew we needed to do something and GOPACS was the answer for managing energy flows.
The main function of GOPACS is the algorithm to combine buy and sell orders into one solution. Without this algorithm, we would have a distortion of information in GOPACS because of the process of sending invoices to customers.
Will GOPACS be affected by market volatility?
M: GOPACS can be independent of energy markets, because we’re using a buy/sell order. If prices are high, there are impacts on the prices paid for a grid owner to solve a problem. But the question is, does the problem of market volatility and high prices affect the platform? And no, I think we are a bit independent from that.
With GOPACS in mind, what is the importance of flexibility and digitalisation when it comes to grid management?
M: It allows us to buy time. Before there are dramatic problems in the grid, flexibility allows us a solution before the worst case scenarios are realised. For any work to be done on the grid, permission is needed from local governance. And that can cost us several years. During these kinds of periods we can utilise flexibility.
R: Exactly; we are expanding the grid, which takes a lot of time – time that we don’t have. And this is where flexibility is needed, to avoid the worst case problems. Digitalisation on the other hand speeds things up as it enables access to real-time data. This data allows operations to be much more precise.
M: And it allows us to collect more information on location. It answers questions on assets within a given area and, combined with the information from sensors, gives a better understanding of the actual problem, which we break down within a grid analysis.
So it all boils down to a matter of efficiency?
There was recently a 12-point Athens Declaration from E.DSO about priorities for grid operators, bottlenecks being the first. With this in mind, will something like GOPACS have the potential to be used across the EU?
M: It’s still in the concept phase, so I do think it’s possible. Although it’s still quite early to say.
And every country has its own governance rules. Laws and policies regarding energy markets are not the same in every country and so a product like this wouldn’t necessarily be accessible across borders.
R: And I would like to add that the Declaration is a good sign. I think it will give us more focus going forward, which is excellent.
Is enough being done from a policy perspective to enable smart congestion management to reach its full potential?
R: For GOPACS, not necessarily. But in general, there is a need for speed. And politics often takes too long.
This could all be done much faster, but that’s how politics work. Most of the times it’s getting to consensus and going from there. The best case for these kinds of projects is getting enough resources to do everything you need to do. When you want to do it fast you really need the resources.
But as Maarten already explained, when we want to build a transformer house it takes several years to get licenses. And I’m not sure if politicians see that as a necessity.
More of a personal question: what motivated you to enter the industry?
R: I always worked in energy but not for utilities. I started with Shell and transferred over to utilities in 2006.
And working for society has long been my main driver. Right now is the most important time to be working in this sector. During a birthday I can now actually speak about what I do and people will understand because of how relevant and important the topic is. And that makes my heart tick. And doing all this together with a big team – I love it. So that’s my main, personal driver.
M: It’s the same for me. I never thought that I’d work for so long in the utilities sector. And with the current state of the market and the energy transition, there are many opportunities and challenges that are keeping things interesting. Each day is a new problem and a new set of challenges, which we don’t expect.
And one of these big challenges, at least in the Netherlands, is the pressing need for collaboration amongst grid owners. We all work in different ways but we want to – and need to – make it uniform.
R: And I think that what we all have in common is that we like to have complex issues to solve.
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In contrast, what keeps you up at night?
R: I think about what we already mentioned – this need for speed. If we do not speed things up then our kids, my kids, will be getting some really heavy problems. And that idea sometimes worries me.
M: And for me, a big thing is how to keep it affordable for the world. Making it so that energy can be used by everyone within a truly just energy transition.