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Rotterdam's microgrid trial drives user costs down 11%, producer returns up 14%

Highlights

Platform from S&P Global Platts, BlockLab Rotterdam

Linking AI speed with blockchain transparency

50 MW wind farm integration possible next step

London — A high-frequency microgrid trading platform in the Port of Rotterdam has cut consumer costs by 11% and increased producer returns by 14%, project partners said Oct. 5.

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The Distro platform, developed by S&P Global Platts and the port's BlockLab Rotterdam innovation hub, is trialing high-frequency artificial intelligence trading of solar and battery storage assets in Rotterdam's innovation dock, connecting 32 commercial energy consumers.

"The platform has hosted 20 million blockchain-validated, cleared and settled transactions," James Rilett, S&P Global Platts' head of innovation, said.

This was the first time high-frequency power trading had been successfully integrated with blockchain settlement, Rilett said.

"Blockchain is very powerful for trustful clearing of data but it can slow you down. We're aiming for a system that can benchmark against market leaders in high-frequency trade, with potentially millions of trades per second balancing the marketplace," he said.

On-site use of solar generation rose to 92% during the trials, while returns on battery storage increased by 20%, the partners said.

Trials had removed distribution and grid costs as well as bid-offer spreads, while providing sensibly-priced local storage, Rilett said.

Once fully scaled across the Port of Rotterdam's activities, the platform could support businesses in delivering carbon reductions of up to 30 million tonnes, the project partners said.

"Balancing local electricity needs with local generation holds the key to unlocking significant grid infrastructure savings," Nico van Dooren, Port of Rotterdam's director of new business development & portfolio, said.

Wind farm integration

The next stage could see Distro used to integrate a 50 MW repowered wind farm in the port to a new distribution area, van Dooren said.

"The local grid is not big enough to connect the wind farm to the national grid," he said. "We'll look to see if it is possible to use Distro to connect the wind farm to adjacent distribution activities, optimizing the use of local wind power and avoiding having to expand the grid connection."

The platform provides each market participant with an AI-enabled energy trading agent software tool that learns the user's energy needs, preferences and behaviors.

It analyses billions of data points in real-time, automatically buying and selling energy at the best price for the user.

Prices on the platform respond to changes in local supply and demand fundamentals, providing signals for either using or storing energy.

It then uses blockchain smart contracts to validate transactions and manage identities, ensuring reliability and anonymity. All transactions are immutable and cryptographically verifiable.

ABN AMRO's Banking as a Service sandbox was used to set up virtual accounts for users.

Current, future benefits

Grid connectivity costs would drive bigger use cases for microgrids in future, Rilett said.

Another driver was harnessing inherent optionality to improve wider balancing efficiency.

Large refrigerated storage at supply chain and infrastructure facilities like the port was a good case in point, Rilett said.

The project developers were also talking to an energy-intensive 3-D metals printing firm about demand response potential and the scheduling of large jobs during off-peak hours.

"Once you bring all these elements together, we could see a number of microgrids transacting more dynamically with wholesale and balancing markets, each operating as a community aggregator," he said.

This potential interaction was being modelled by the project developers.

"The microgrid is a price-driven marketplace that automatically trades, providing an elegant interface with balancing markets. All you do is introduce the buyer and seller from a balancing market, and the bid-offer prices come in. If there is a local balancing need, that is expressed through price," he said.

Dutch congestion

Van Dooren said the port of Rotterdam had calculated that, if it wanted to electrify the industrial heart of its operations using offshore wind, it would need a 48-meter-wide cable bed to accommodate the necessary infrastructure.

"We know that is not possible – so we're looking at hydrogen infrastructure and much more efficient use of power to reduce network needs," he said.

One solution was via the port's Zero Emission Services (ZES) joint venture with Engie, ING and Wartsila, which is making 2,000 kWh battery containers for propulsion of inland barges.

"These battery packs will be changed in a container terminal, adding a large amount of onshore storage or delivery capacity to the system behind the grid. If we use an application like Distro to optimize these large battery packs, that would really help us reach our emissions targets," van Dooren said.

Another potential role for the microgrid would be the efficient, clean supply of shore power for sea-going vessels, allowing the vessels to turn off diesel engines when in port.

"We see a lot of different areas for this technology to reduce costs, optimize revenues and reach our CO2 reduction goals," he said.