Dutch Smart Grid

Universities and other public/private initiatives in the Netherlands have very interesting activities focused in Smart Grid technology and services innovations.  I had the welcome opportunity to moderate an exchange of information and ideas while a trade delegation was on a recent tour in Silicon Valley to learn more about their latest achievements and objectives.

For example, my previous writings identified work such as the intriguing pilot occurring in Groningen called PowerMatchingCity – a pilot that has ambitious goals focused on what we would call transactive energy.  Transactive energy envisions a future in which the electric grid relies on more distributed generation powered by renewable energy and is embedded with machines and sensors that have realtime computational power to manage millions of variables, participating in energy transactions.  Three of their universities – Twente, Delft, and Eindhoven – are focused on research in microgrids or transmission and distribution grid innovations that help fulfill the goals of transactive energy.  However, these universities are collaborating to achieve an even more impressive overarching objective – to drive technology innovation that will eliminate the need for fossil fuels in 25 years.  Eliminating fossil fuels excises the noxious emissions that are contributing to climate change.  A region as vulnerable as the Netherlands – already engaged in a centuries-old battle to keep back the North Sea – is acutely aware of the consequences of a rising sea level to their society.  It’s one thing for climate change deniers to ignore the perils of rising seas to a remote Eskimo village or small Pacific island, but it’s another thing entirely when the impacts occur to cities the size of Amsterdam.

For this collaborative university initiative, staving off the worst effects of climate change is not the only goal.  It also has the very admirable objective of ensuring that all 10 billion future humans on this planet have access to energy that supports a modern, developed world lifestyle.  See this article for references to the existing deplorable state of energy poverty in the world today.

Many research objectives also resonate well in North America.  For instance, one research focus is on creating energy communities that can operate autonomously in situations of natural or human-caused (think cyber attack) disruptions.  Small-scale generation in communities that is deployed across the distribution grid helps reduce the vulnerabilities of today’s grid configurations, which are characterized by centralized generation, long distance transmission, and relatively uncommunicative distribution grids.

The theme of reducing grid vulnerabilities, sometimes discussed as energy surety, has gained scope and scale in the USA since Superstorm Sandy devastated a major section of the Eastern seaboard last year.  Weather patterns of the past 50 years no longer serve as reliable data sets for future predictions.  As the governor of New York famously proclaimed, New York is facing a 100 year flood every two years.  That is equally true for other parts of the world.  There is an urgent need to ensure future grid stability and reliability through new grid architectures, new energy sources, and new markets that accommodate distributed generation, energy storage, and participation by prosumers – hence the importance of transactive energy pilots.

The collaborative goal of the three Dutch universities is ambitious – the elimination of fossil fuels in 25 years.  25 years is in my lifetime and hopefully yours as well.  It is not an amorphous target that we won’t live to see.  25 years is something tangible – and that’s what I like about this objective.  It is ambitious, but the Dutch have famously tamed the wild North Sea.  I’ll be cheering for them to mitigate the worst effects of climate change by helping to engineer a better energy ecosystem reliant on renewable energy and Smart Grid technologies, governed by a transactive energy market, and enabling everyone to enjoy a safe, comfortable, and healthy lifestyle.  Who, besides, the aforementioned climate change deniers could be against that?

Photo Credit: Dutch Smart Grid/shutterstock