Energy hubs as the solution to net congestion

A governance and innovation perspective on implementing energy hubs

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Abstract

The Netherlands is dedicated to countering climate change, and a necessary approach is transitioning to renewable energy and promoting the electrification of the Dutch industry. However, this shift from a centralized to a decentralized energy system has led to grid congestion due to the existing grid structure designed for lower energy demand and centralization. Limited grid capacity requires improvement, but the traditional solution of grid expansion proves difficult, resulting in a rising number of unmet requests for transmission capacity. A swift solution is needed to avoid hampering the energy transition and economic growth.
One proposed solution is the implementation of Energy Hubs (Ehubs) in congested areas, but this concept is relatively new and requires further exploration. This study aims to understand how Ehubs can be integrated into the Dutch energy system from a governance and innovation perspective. The research utilized qualitative methods, including desk research and expert interviews, employing four theoretical frameworks: Multi-Level Perspective (MLP), Strategic Niche Management (SNM), Governance of Change (GoC), and Backcasting.
The MLP framework identified three main influences on Ehubs' development. Positive aspects include their potential to alleviate congestion, while legal uncertainties regarding shared grid capacity and the financial and temporal demands of Ehubs impede progress. The SNM framework revealed that difficulty in initiating pilot projects hindered Ehubs' niche-level development. Stakeholders shared high expectations for Ehubs but lacked empirical confirmation, generating uncertainty. The GoC framework indicated that the concept of change through Ehubs is widely accepted, fostering legitimacy. Instruments were derived from the MLP and SNM frameworks to guide the GoC framework, culminating in a shared vision via Backcasting.
A shared future vision states that by 2030, local Ehubs would ease energy flow and transport capacity exchange, reducing grid congestion and expanding beyond electricity to heat and other energy forms. Established parties are encouraged to initiate Ehubs' development, reaffirming expectations through pilot projects. Overcoming challenges in setting up pilots could draw insights from citizen energy communities, while future research should explore aligning their requirements with Ehubs. Furthermore, the adaptability of GoC and Backcasting frameworks to sustainable transitions should be examined, and a follow-up study could assess evolving expectations and instrument effectiveness.
Recommendations for stakeholders revolve around three main changes in the follow-up agenda:
1. Practical learning through pilot projects should be prioritized.
2. Legal certainty for Ehubs must be established.
3. Ensuring societal benefits from Ehubs requires measures to align them with societal goals.
Stakeholders are encouraged to actively contribute to implementing these changes, shaping Ehubs' future impact effectively. This iterative process ensures ongoing adaptability and enhancement.