Alleviating Grid Congestion: The Contribution of Electric Buses

By Emiel van Dongen

Grid congestion is a growing challenge in the Netherlands and obstructs the transition to zero-emission public transport. In the Northern Netherlands, governments, Qbuzz, and Enexis are collaborating on innovative solutions to alleviate grid congestion. One example is sharing Qbuzz connections for charging electric buses. These can also be used to charge other electric vehicles during off-peak hours.

Many wind turbines and solar panels have been added to the electricity grid at a rapid pace. The transition from fossil fuels to electric mobility also contributes to a fuller grid. The grid is now sometimes so full that new connections are not possible for companies or solar parks.

Qbuzz is also feeling the effects of this, says Program Director of Innovation Michel van der Mark: “We have won a concession in Friesland, but for the time being, we cannot get enough capacity to electrify all buses. Grid congestion is thus a brake on the transition to zero emissions, although the end goal of driving completely emission-free by 2030 remains intact.”

Smarter Use of Connections

Various public transport companies are currently taking initiatives to use the available capacity more wisely. For example, Qbuzz pilots are investigating whether braking energy from trains can be used to charge buses. And whether discarded bus batteries can serve as stationary energy storage.

Michel van der Mark

The Idea Behind Sharing

Qbuzz is ook initiatiefnemer van het plan om de aansluiting van P+R Hoogkerk buiten piekuren te delen voor het opladen van elektrische voertuigen die niet van Qbuzz zijn.

Van der Mark explains: “Triggered by our own challenge and due to societal importance, we began to think as a company. What are the possibilities to use our own capacity more efficiently? Thus, the idea arose to share the capacity we have for charging electric buses. It is not said that we will ultimately earn something from this concept, that’s not why we are doing it. We simply want to give something back to society in the form of network capacity.”

Naast Qbuzz zijn ook de provincies Groningen en Drenthe, de gemeente Groningen en netbeheerder Enexis betrokken bij de pilot. De Drentse inbreng komt voort uit het feit dat P+R Hoogkerk op de grens met deze provincie ligt. Het achterliggende idee van P+R Hoogkerk wordt nu ook onderzocht voor P+R De Punt in Drenthe. Het plan is de aansluiting daar te delen met aannemers die emissievrij werken aan een fietsroute.

Praktische nadelen en beperkingen

Due to the large and close (informal) mobility network in the Northern Netherlands, Herman Pieter Ubbens, an advisor for smart and green mobility at the Province of Groningen, was involved in the project at an early stage.

“Initially, we aimed at sharing capacity with logistics companies for P+R Hoogkerk. We quickly noticed that there were all sorts of practical disadvantages to this. Large vehicles are not desirable at a P+R, and fast chargers would cause significant peaks in consumption,” Ubbens recalls.

Learning Along the Way

According to Ubbens, this is precisely the utility of such a pilot: “Everyone understands the usefulness of sharing connections. But we also wanted to practically investigate the potential challenges.”

The next use case the parties examined was charging private cars. Van der Mark: “Gradually, we realized that the combination of private cars and public transport is quite logical. You take the bus to the center and save parking costs, while your car is being charged.”

Ubbens points out that private cars are seen as an intermediate step. “It is simpler to implement than charging infrastructure for the logistics sector, while we gain a lot of practical experience. A next step could be to set up charging infrastructure for logistics at another location.”

Herman Pieter Ubbens

Scalable Model

The goal of the pilot is, of course, to find an effective solution for P+R Hoogkerk. But more importantly, the parties want to develop a scalable model for applying this concept elsewhere.

The innovation in this project is not technological, emphasizes Ubbens. “To put it simply, it’s just a matter of installing some charging stations.” Van der Mark adds: “We are primarily looking at replication possibilities. What is needed from a practical, legal, and technical perspective to share connections effectively and efficiently?” Ubbens: “For example, with the Province of Drenthe and the municipality of Tynaarlo, we are already exploring whether there are other locations where connections can be shared.”

Trust as the Basis for Innovation

Close cooperation between all (public and private) parties is essential for such innovation trajectories, according to Van der Mark. “You have to trust each other. Tasks are divided not based on organizational roles but on logic and intuition.”

Ubbens: “Innovation requires joint effort. When multiple parties bring their own knowledge and experience, it leads to more thoughtful solutions and greater support.”

Mobility professionals agree that the Northern Netherlands, thanks to the Hive.Mobility partnership, has a close network structure. Central to this are short lines of communication and a lot of mutual trust between all parties. Van der Mark: “The network in the north is manageable, and you can almost literally feel the energy to tackle challenges together.”

Entrepreneurial Courage

The theme of the New Energy Forum 2024 is ‘entrepreneurial courage.’ Van der Mark and Ubbens state that the Northern Netherlands is at the forefront of innovation and mobility. With all the innovation projects around grid congestion, autonomous transport, and smart mobility, the region shows a lot of innovation power and entrepreneurship compared to the rest of the Netherlands.

Van der Mark: “Sitting back and doing nothing is the easiest for everyone. But of course, you achieve nothing that way. Starting pilots without a guarantee of success requires courage and entrepreneurship. Fortunately, you see a lot of that in the Northern Netherlands. Every party, whether public or private, is willing and active. That is the key ingredient to come up with pilots that ultimately make a real impact.”

Michel van der Mark and Herman Pieter Ubbens gave a presentation about P+R Hoogkerk and other innovation projects around grid congestion at the New Energy Forum 2024 on June 20.