Market view: Splendid isolation
Collaboration between technology companies and an island community is helping achieve energy independence and serves as micro-grid testbed. Massimiliano Premoli explains how it works.
Off the Netherlands’ northern coast is the small island of Ameland. One of the West Frisian Islands, and with a population of just over 3,500, it is a popular tourist destination and together with the surrounding Wadden Sea is an Unesco World Heritage site.
Despite being a relatively small island, Ameland has recently become the location for one of the largest solar farms in Europe. With 23,000 solar panels on the 10 hectare site, the installation is part of the island council’s larger renewable energy ambitions, with the ultimate aim to be self-sufficient from mainland energy supplies by 2020.
These green aspirations stem from an agreement signed in 2006 with major energy utilities, GasTerra, NAM, Philips and Eneco that Ameland could become a test site and global showcase for sustainable energy initiatives. Long seen as an independent mini-state, only formally part of the Netherlands since 1800, the desire to achieve energy independence is a reflection of the island’s heritage.
Responsible for overseeing the various energy initiatives and achieving the goal of energy independence by 2020 is the Ameland Energy Co-operative (AEC), whose owners are the inhabitants of the island. The AEC manages the €7.5 million (£6.5 million) investment raised from stakeholders, including the Waddenfund and the province of Friesland, to cover the cost of the whole renewable energy project.
Further funding has been achieved through the issuing of community bonds, attracting 80 local members. This extra funding is helping to accelerate other, smaller projects such as an electric car park and additional solar panels.
In addition to the solar farm, and complementing the sustainable energy goals, there are 45 fuel cells placed in local businesses and residents’ home. Providing a very efficient way of converting natural gas to electricity, they connect up to the island’s smart grid and supply the balance of power required. In the future the plan is to replace natural gas with biomass gas, which will be produced on the island. With its World Heritage status, the use of wind turbines is not permitted because it is forbidden to change the shape and look of the island.
Japanese electronics company Murata became involved in the project in 2014 having agreed how it could help the AEC with its initiatives and the goal of becoming an energy independent community. For Murata, it also presented the opportunity to develop and test its smart grid energy management system. Aimed at domestic and small business applications, the Smart Energy Management System (Sems) manages the use of energy from a variety of different sources such as solar, battery, fuel cell and grid.
This cloud-connected unit works to use the available energy sources in the most efficient manner, and sells to the grid excess energy or takes from the grid only when the demand requires it. Equipped with a 2.4kWh battery bank, the battery, through its associated inverter, balances the peaks where possible and also charges through the solar panels as available. On Ameland, many houses already have their own solar panels, which complement the energy coming from the grid-connected solar farm.
In addition to managing the energy, the Sems unit monitors and reports on energy usage and can predict future energy demand based on previous usage. Such forecasts may be based on the frequency of regular use of home appliances, such as a washing machine or dishwasher, but factor in variances in solar panel output, for instance because of weather forecasts indicating overcast or storm conditions.
Key to the energy-independence goal of Ameland will be the way in which energy generated can be shared across the island, and the micro-grid is key for this. The micro-grid approach is based on a small number of properties located in the same rural area sharing power, with the emphasis on sharing within the domain of the micro-grid before sourcing any peak-demand from the main grid.
The Ameland initiative is still ongoing, with test results yet to be published. It shows that with a strong goal and collaboration from financial and industrial partners, the municipality is well on its way to becoming independent of mainland energy sources.
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