In 2015, the Netherlands also signed the Paris climate agreement. This means that we have to reduce CO2 emissions to virtually zero by 2050. This can be done by generating more electricity with solar and wind energy, instead of coal or natural gas. An enormous challenge, also for the network operators.
In the Netherlands, thirty RES regions, which stands for Regional Energy Strategy, have started working on plans to reduce CO2 emissions in the coming years. These preliminary plans include the possible locations where wind turbines and solar parks can be built.
Apart from the support of local residents, there is another problem. You cannot just connect a windmill or solar park to our existing network. The capacity of the existing network is often simply not enough.
This is because solar parks and wind turbines are usually planned in the countryside, because fewer people live there. The idea is that all those windmills and solar panels will cause as little inconvenience as possible and therefore less resistance from residents.
But the problem lies precisely in that rural area. The demand for electricity there is much less and the current network is also designed for this. There are simply fewer or thinner cables and smaller electricity stations.
If you suddenly start building windmills and solar parks in that area, all that extra electricity cannot pass through the existing cables. Thicker cables and more distribution and transformer stations will have to be added.
“We have to lay cables, we have to make sure that we have space to lay those cables. And of course we have to see whether the electricity generated by a solar park, for example, can actually be fed into the grid, or whether it is just heavy enough”, said Jeroen Sanders, board member of the energy transition of grid operator Enexis.
If too much power is generated and the grid is not suitable for this, a short circuit can occur. And with that there is a chance that the power can fail. A nightmare for network operators.
Choices have yet to be made
The grid operator is active in ten of the thirty RES regions. In the North-East Brabant region alone, it is estimated that it will cost a maximum of 151 million euros to adapt the network. The final costs depend on the choices that will be made.
If we opt en masse for local solar energy, because there seems to be the most support for this among local residents, the costs for adapting our electricity network will be greater than if we opt for one or a few wind farms per region.
According to Kristel Lammers, director of the National Program Regional Energy Strategy, it is clear that substantial investments must be made in our network anyway. According to her, it is ‘really billions if we want to realize the Paris ambition’.
“It is a very big job. We have calculated that we will build just as much on the electricity network in the next ten years as we have in the last 40 years combined,” says Sanders.