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Can Rotterdam's Port Become a Virtual Power Plant?

Rotterdam and General Electric want to transform the city’s port into a smart energy grid

2 min read
Can Rotterdam's Port Become a Virtual Power Plant?

The energy sector is critical to Rotterdam’s economy, but the port city has aggressive plans to cut its carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2025.

The city takes in imports of oil, coal, biomass, and natural gas that are used across Northwest Europe. It is not just a stopover, but also a major refinery hub for the region. Even though Rotterdam relies heavily on the fossil fuel industry, it is increasingly focused on how to leverage renewables and existing assets to power its own port.

Rotterdam is partnering with General Electric [PDF] to develop a smart grid that can act as a virtual power plant (VPP), which would integrate thermal and renewable power production with flexible users in a centrally controlled system that would act as a single power plant. The city has been working with GE in the past few years to reduce emissions, improve water management and increase energy efficiency.

A virtual power plant takes energy efficiency and demand-side management to another level. It can be thought of as a sophisticated microgrid cluster, in which digital measurement and monitoring equipment on distributed resources can respond to the needs of the grid in real time. For example, many of the large industrial plants in the port produce their own electricity and heat, which can be sold into the grid when wind or solar production falls. There may also be more traditional generation, such as a coal-fired power plant or combined heat and power.

“Within a VPP, the electricity use of one part can be coordinated with the production of electricity in another part. A harbor, where many companies produce and consume electricity at a limited distance from each other, should be a suitable location to test and implement such a VP,” Daan Six of Belgian research organization VITO said in a report on the potential of a VPP in Rotterdam.

A virtual power plant usually responds in real-time to changing electricity rates. Depending on the cost of electricity, a large industrial customer may sell some power back to the grid or provide grid balancing services like frequency regulation, which is a larger problem with intermittent wind and solar than with steady, thermal generators.

A dynamic microgrid with various ways to produce and curb kilowatts can lead to cleaner energy use, especially if fossil-fueled peaking power plants can be avoided by consumers curbing their energy use. But a virtual power plant is not necessarily a replacement for fossil fuel-fired plants. An industrial customer might turn to backup generators that run on diesel, for instance, when the price signal is too high to take power from of the grid.

“Rotterdam is certainly one of those global conglomerates of industry in a very tight space and, because of the petrochemical and other activity there, with incredibly high energy demands,” GE’s Stephen Burdis told PortStrategy. “That is one of the drivers behind the project.”

The virtual power plant project is part of a larger energy restructuring in Rotterdam. E.ON and GDF Suez are constructing coal/biomass power stations that will decrease the carbon footprint compared to a coal-only power plant. Some refineries in the port are already capturing carbon dioxide and providing it to greenhouse growers. Steam waste heat is being captured for district heating and the port has plans to double its capacity for wind energy.

The efficiency efforts in Rotterdam are part of a broader effort in the North Sea region, E-harbors, which aims to maximize the use of renewable energy for transportation and electricity consumption.


Photo: Mercator Media

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