The forthcoming energy ‘revolution’ in Amsterdam

Amsterdam had decided to reduce its CO2-emissions to zero in 2040. The city is everything except a greenfield, so big question is: How to integrate technical solutions in existing – often monumental – buildings, grids and people’s lives?

Yesterday evening a – March 15th – a provisional answer to the question is given in a meeting in Pakhuis de Zwijger: The Energy transformation roadmap for Amsterdam. This roadmap has been developed by professor Andy van den Dobbelsteen (TU Delft) and his team.

Prof. Andy van den Dobbelsteen

The presentation is a milestone in the City-zen project. This project is initiated by Amsterdam, together with Grenoble. Besides the development of this roadmap the project also will save 35.000 tCO2e yearly, retrofitting 76.000 m2 residential buildings and connecting 10.000 dwellings to a smart grid.

City-zen is the inventive abbreviation ‘City z(ero carbon) en(ergy). The name also accentuates the necessity of developing plans not for citizens, but with and partly by them. According to Annelies van der Stoep, project manager for energy transformation: The role of citizens in a smart (energy) city is changing. They’re not only citizens or consumers, but also producing – and in the near future trading – their own local and sustainable energy. Except citizens, many companies and organizations are involved as well.

Below I will mention the headlines of the roadmap and briefly describe some of projects that are running already and are representative for what the future will bring.

The city of Amsterdam is not able to produce all sustainable energy needed, the larger Amsterdam metropolitan area does.

The greening of the grid

Amsterdam needs in the first place a huge amount of electricity to compensate for the natural gas partially. About 146 large wind turbines will have to be erected, only 4 of them in the Amsterdam area. From now on, each year 140.000 m2 PV-solar panels have to be installed. This means, 16 houses a day for 22 consecutive years.

A huge warm water network

To provide houses, offices and plants with warm water, each year 26.000 house-equivalents will have to be connected at the HT-network (water temperature 95 degrees Celsius), which means 75 km. additional water pipes a year. Not to speak of the additional district energy plants that have to be build, using all kinds of sustainable energy sources (earth, water, air). For a smaller number of houses a MT-network (water temperature 65 degrees Celsius) will do. Houses that can adapt their heating system to water of 35 degrees Celsius will deploy (hybrid) heat-pumps of heat-exchangers.

Large differences between neighborhoods

Many additional choices are still open. There is a trade-off between the number of house-equivalents that use green gas, electricity only, HT-connection, MT-connection or producing their own water. In the cases mentioned first, the investments in the centralized production of energy are higher. In the latter cases, the adaptation of houses and offices is challenging in the first place. Houses need to install a new heating system to be heated with low-temperature water. The choices to be made will depend from the characteristics of neighborhoods. In the central parts of Amsterdam, room for large-scale renovation is limited. As a consequence, green gas or a HT network will be unavidable. In newer outlets of the town, renovation will be cheaper and there is more room for more EV-panels.

The transformation has already started

The pillars upon which the masterplan is build are already visible in the projects that City-zen has initiated last years. Many projects are focused on decarbonization of the grid. Other projects deal with the sustainable production of warm (and cold) water. Below, I will focus on projects that aim at the decentralized production of electricity. In another post in the near future, the production of warm and cool water in district energy plants of different size will be elaborated.

The virtual power plant

City-zen’s partners AllianderEnergy Exchange Enablers (EXE) and Greenspread have set up a virtual power plant in the Amsterdam Nieuw-West district.  This is an online platform that is aggregating people’s production and consumption of solar energy. The surplus is stored in batteries in each of the participants’ homes. Innovative is that aggregation enables trading of stored energy on the wholesale markets when prices are high. One of the questions to be answered is whether the local batteries can relieve the grid during peak periods.

A short video is illustrating the virtual power plant project and offers some additional technical details

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The Amsterdam Virtual Power Plant was awarded the Green Digital Charter Award 2017 during the Imagine the Urban Future: Innovation Collaboration and Trust conference in Brussels on 23 January. The jury praised the project because it puts residents at the heart of ICT innovation and because the project can easily be followed by other cities.

A supplementary project enables batteries of electric cars to deliver electricity to the grid instead of the usual way around.

Residential retrofitting

The stepwise limitation of the availability of natural gas and the upcoming fast grow of the number of electric cars will tower the need of electricity. As a consequence, City-zen has initiated projects focused on making houses and buildings energy neutral. One of the examples is the retrofitting by housing corporation Eigen Haard of hundreds of housing-units that are typical for post-war construction which were designed by the English engineer Airey. These houses had to been built very fast and therefore prefab elements were used.

The inner cavity wall was taken down, which enabled the placement of a layer of insulation behind the concrete skeleton. New well insulated fronts and windows replace the draughty steel ones. For each household 6 PV panels were provided. The principles behind the project have been shared with other housing corporations. Detailed measurement of the energy use for and after the renovation reveals an energy reduction of 71%, a promising result.

Towards a ‘smart grid’

The design of data and digital technology is focused on the facilitation of the use, production and trade of energy. The result is a so-called smart grid serving 10.000 homes located in the Amsterdam Nieuw-West area. It is equipped with computer and sensor technology at its key nodes, and with smart meters within the dwellings. This information technology facilitates continuously monitoring of current and voltage from a central location.

A complementary project, VivaCité,  is under development in Grenoble. This project involves the development of an experimental platform for collaborative and real-time management of energy production, distribution and consumption. The data are not just available for city officials and city planners, but also for building operators and residents.

The potential benefits of the smart grid, which will be tested in both projects, are:

  • Resolving power outages faster, and possibly even prevent them entirely;
  • Evaluating the impact of large adoption of PV systems, electric vehicles, heat pumps and home battery storage;
  • Informing consumers in real time about the trading prices of energy, enabling them to decide to transport, store or trade energy.
  • Informing city managers and producers of electricity about the actual demand of energy, compared, enabling them to deploy extra capacity

Digital technology is indispensable to support the new more complicated grid and at the same it offers users and produces (or prosumers) detailed insight.

Citizens first

Looking back at the roadmap and the future projects of Amsterdam and other cities, a remark from Mirko van Vliet, an employee of the Amsterdam Economic Board appears appropriate: At the end of the day it is not only about the sum of projects that define sustainable growth of a neighborhood or city. The key to develop a sustainable city is to bring different stakeholders together, share practices and to find integrative solutions that benefit communities today and prevent future problems.

I feel that this is a particular apt description of the strength of City-zen or more in general the Amsterdam approach to the energy ‘revolution’.

*) This article was brought to you by Professor Herman van den Bosch, Professor at Open University of The Netherlands.

Herman van den Bosch


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