Flexibility and renewables in an industrial environment – Findings

Finding flexibility is a matter of determination

Almost in every case-study of harbour companies flexibility can be found, provided that you look beyond the obvious sources. A sludge processing plant in the Antwerp harbour would not have been considered an easy candidate to deliver flexibility – it turned out to be the facility with the highest potential within the project. But: flexibility is an unknown asset. Quite often, companies and institutions have a limited knowledge of their own energy usage patterns and energy streams. The potential economic value of energy flexibility proved unknown for many companies at the start of e-harbours.

Can you make money with the available flexibility?

We would like to answer ‘yes’ to this question, but the answer is more ambiguous. Not all business cases for smart energy networks are available to all types of customers (or industries) in all countries. Small customers seldom have access to energy markets or reserve capacity markets, often their only option is to optimize their energy contract.

It’s a big step to actual implementation

In different harbour zones, we found promising options, resulting in an electricity cost reduction of up to 15% within current market conditions. In practice, however, still no company made the step to actual implementation. Even when the company is really interested, actual profits are often not in balance with investment costs or the total costs of energy of the production process.

All showcases within e-harbours show that economics are the main driver to make energy systems flexible. So, a major breakthrough can only be expected if and when the price for flexibility increases. We also found profitable business cases in some companies, which will not be exploited because of organizational barriers. Companies remain reluctant to offer flexibility to the electricity system because it often implies less flexibility in their daily operations, and avoid the risks of influencing their primary process.

Legal and Social aspects

Although some cases look nice from an economic point of view, quite an additional number of barriers have to be overcome, foremost practical, social and legal issues. For a more detailed analysis, see the report by the Hamburg and Antwerp teams of e-harbours on non-technical barriers.[1]

Social barriers. In the sludge processing plant in the Antwerp harbour, a limited amount of staff is needed to keep operations going. A sound business case for flexibility in this company depends on the introduction of a night shift and weekend work, a social issue that should not be underestimated.

Legal barriers. In the Hamburg study on the use of reefer containers, liability issues proved important. The terminal operator is obliged by contract to ensure power delivery to the reefers at all times. Given the high value of transported goods, the value of a single reefer may exceed the annual revenues from the business case. In several showcases of e-harbours legislative barriers prohibit local trading of energy. For example, in the Netherlands integrating wind energy is permitted only when the turbine is located at the site or in the direct vicinity of the site.

Differences between countries still have an influence

The energy markets and regulations differ from country to country. Hamburg and Antwerp are similar harbours, but business cases can be very different. For example, large consumers in Germany can receive exemptions from grid fees based on their consumption profile, which is not possible in other countries. Therefore, not all business cases are equally relevant in each country.

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