Post Interview Crowd balancing November 23, 2022

Ben Voorhorst – Special coordinator for grid congestion in the Netherlands


Ben Voorhorst

What is the ambition for your assignment in relation to the energy transition?

Decarbonisation and the energy transition cannot take place at the required pace by extension of the grid alone. We must find ways to better utilise the existing grid, too, while moving from a demand-driven to a supply-driven system. In the past, generation responded to fluctuations in demand. It was steerable, as it took place in coal-fired, gas-fired or nuclear power plants. Now, we are moving to a system with massive amounts of wind and solar energy. These are sources that we cannot steer, so we must adapt the system accordingly. Electricity will not always be available in the amounts that we would like it to be. Hardly anyone is prepared for this, neither the industry nor consumers.

What role do consumer-owned devices play in the future energy landscape?

A consequence of transitioning from a demand-driven to a supply-driven system is that demand must follow the availability of energy. Simply put, use more electricity when it is widely available and reduce consumption when there is less supply. In addition, we need to think about ways of storing energy for later use, in batteries, for instance or by producing heat.
Decarbonisation means that gas will largely be replaced by electricity, which is a major change for consumers. The new devices for heating and mobility will have to be flexible and adaptive, to use energy when it is widely available and cheaper. So, charge the car and preheat the house while the sun is shining.

How can the industry prepare for the change?

Companies must prepare to deal with energy prices that are no longer fixed but vary throughout the day to reflect the availability of energy. Prices will peak from 6 to 9 am, and from 5 to 9 pm. Companies will not only need to rethink their energy contract but re-design their processes, too. This will be doable for some and extremely challenging for others. But they will all have to change or accept paying a premium price for a premium energy product.

What does this change mean for households?

Consumers face the same challenge. They too are not used to flexible prices. If they adapt their demand to the supply, they will get a better offer in the market.
They won’t have to keep tabs on fluctuations in supply themselves. It will be a service they can buy from their retailer or a new service company. Consumer-owned devices like solar panels, heat pumps and electric cars will be automatically steered by algorithms to optimise energy use. It’s a whole new world.

What’s the biggest challenge to sector coupling?

Not all the necessary processes are in place yet. Back-office systems at TSOs and DSOs have to be capable of using hourly or quarter-hourly values in the allocation process to valorise the behaviour of individual customers. This is theoretically possible, but there is still a lot of work to be done and many questions to be answered. For instance, who is responsible for loss of compensation if a consumer-owned device stops working: the consumer or the retailer? We need more standardisation and well-designed processes before roll-out on a large scale.

If we look at 2035, what is the biggest change we will have accomplished?

In 2035 most of the industry and consumers will be a part of this new energy system, with energy consumption on the one hand and energy production and storage on the other. All devices of 5 kWatt or more will be connected to the internet. Service companies will steer them on behalf of customers to optimise energy intake and provide consumers with the services they want. At the end of the day, consumers are not interested in energy but in having a car that is charged when they need it and having a comfortable level of heating, at an affordable price. The biggest challenge that we face is the supply of renewable energy during the winter. But I am confident that we will find ways of dealing with this.

What does the energy transition mean to you personally?

I have worked in the business for a long time, and I know that this is the way forward. The energy transition is a huge change process. It’s not about electricity but about changing our behaviour. The flexibility we need to transition to a supply-driven system will also help us to manage grid congestion. I thoroughly enjoy the intellectual challenge of making the huge and highly complex machine behind the system work.

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