Ronald Robbertsen, project engineer at British remote telemetry specialist company Ovarro, explains why smart grids and remote telemetry units in the horticulture industry are helping the Netherlands to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 – with plenty of lessons for Australia.

German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein once said, “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.”

The Netherlands is applying this ethos to its energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy – which has previously lagged behind other European nations – by implementing a more sustainable approach to horticulture.

About 80 per cent of energy consumption in the Netherlands’ municipality of Westland comes from horticulture companies. The horticulture industry is playing a key role in the Netherlands’ move towards more renewables, although historically the industry is a major user of natural gas.

But there is plenty that can be done to make the Dutch horticulture industry more sustainable.

One such way of achieving increased sustainability is the proven method of including more solar panels on company roofs. However, there are also new cultivation techniques such as “Het Nieuwe Telen”, which translates to “The New Cultivation”, a national ethos that aims to implement cultivation methods based on the latest insights into greenhouse effects on the Earth’s climate, and the behaviours of horticultural companies.

According to global horticulture specialist Royal Brinkman, Het Nieuwe Telen involves controlling several factors, including climate equality to ensure a greenhouse’s climate is at a certain level to reduce risks of condensation in crops at higher humidity; air movement that stimulates the evaporation of crops; insulation and heat radiation from crops; and dehumidification that can cause issues with cultivation.

These principles are encompassed in the Netherlands’ “Greenhouse as Energy Source” program, a national initiative from the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture that is designed to stimulate energy savings based on the use of sustainable energy in greenhouse horticulture.

Smart approach

If these diversified energy strategies are to work on a national level, smart grids will prove critical. Wind, wave, marine, hydro, biomass and solar are all viable alternative energy sources, but managing these effectively through a smart grid is only achievable through the capture, storage and interpretation of vast amounts of data from physical assets.

These challenges will rise as the Netherlands’ smart grids get bigger with more cables, stations and solar-powered homes. Photovoltaic systems are on the rise in the European nation and accounted for 6.79 per cent, or 8144 gigawatt hours (GWh), of the Netherlands’ total energy consumption as of 2020, up from just 0.05 per cent, or 56 GWh, 10 years earlier.

Another challenge is that new and renewable energy sources such as solar panels tend to operate at low- or medium-frequencies on the grid. Measuring these special frequencies is a new area for grid operators, which is coupled with the challenge of consistent medium-voltage energy supply across the grid.

Because the sun only shines at certain times – admittedly this is more of an issue in the European winter with shorter days compared to higher levels of sunshine in Australia – solar panels feed energy back into to the grid periodically. This can make the grid less stable and cause disruptions.

Flexibility and maximum security

Not only are conventional network monitoring systems ill-suited to the task of optimally capturing, storing and interpreting vast amounts of data in these networks, the systems are expensive.

Smart grid operators need a new, precise and cost-effective solution that can be tuned to the requirements of unique medium-voltage energy sources.

To overcome these challenges, remote telemetry specialist company Ovarro has developed control technology that makes it possible to manage smart grids productively, energy efficiently, securely and with higher levels of quality service.

A remote telemetry unit (RTU) can capture, store and interpret vast amounts of data from physical assets on a network. RTUs have become a critical part of most power generation and distribution operations, and will be essential for all future smart grids.

Recognising the advantages of RTUs for smart grids, Ovarro has developed the Datawatt Smart Grid (DSG) series, which is designed for operation in the water, energy and industrial markets. DSG operates under the principles of flexibility and maximum security, to handle the unique and variable requirements typical of low- or medium-voltage networks.

Flexible characteristics of the DSG include its ability to implement a variety of protocols in real-time, including IEC104, COAP and Modbus.

Outside the boundaries

One Dutch organisation that’s benefitted from Ovarro’s DSG system is energy transport company Juva, which supports Westland Infra, the grid operator based in Westland. Juva needed to improve its remote monitoring of low-voltage frequencies on the grid, as used by energy sources such as solar and the region’s large horticultural industry, especially as increasing numbers of households in the Netherlands have solar panels.

According to Juva, the DSG system’s real-time flexibility, and its accessible Linux operating interface, makes it easier to solve problems. Engineers can easily design and implement the telemetry system, and it is straightforward to maintain.

DSG’s ability to handle many protocols has also greatly benefitted the overall security of Juva’s network. The network can use a lot of firewall functions to protect its many inputs/outputs. Furthermore, the network has made it easier for Juva to detect instances of illegal energy use.

The DSG can be enhanced with Stream webscada from Ovarro, a modern HTML5 web application that collects real-time process data and makes it available immediately on digital devices such as tablets. It is designed to manage and control different locations and geographically spread processes with 24/7 online process information. Stream is scalable and will notify customers by email or phone if the current is too high in a certain part of the grid.

These advanced telemetry solutions make it possible for smart grid operators such as Juva to better monitor and control low- and medium-voltage renewable energy sources on the grid, with enhanced insights into the behaviours of horticultural companies that will prove crucial to implementing new cultivation techniques such as Het Nieuwe Telen.

Grid operators in Australia and around the world could learn from the Netherlands. As Albert Einstein said, looking “deep into nature” can help energy suppliers contribute towards the world’s carbon neutrality goals.