Vreeken Bouvardia is the first grower in the Netherlands who has switched to DC. This not so recent news involves more than the average person probably suspects - and that average person was represented by Blooming Breeders at a recent meeting. A group of about 30 people visited Jaap Vreeken's company to learn what is actually going on here. Harry Stokman of Direct Current, who co-supervises the project at Vreeken and is an expert in the field of energy supply, did a bold effort to explain what it entails.
With the new set-up of the electricity, the grower could be an example of one of the ways in which the energy supply of the future could be facilitated. This is nothing new for the select group of people who know what is going on behind the power points, for the general public however this is something incomprehensible. At the same time, that energy supply is changing rapidly.
Jaap Vreeken and Harry Stokman, in the greenhouse at Vreeken Bouvardia
It has everything to do with the way the global energy industry has been organized since the end of the 19th century. When the innovators of everything that has to do with electricity were pioneering and were faced with the problem of how energy could be distributed best, they opted for alternating current. With this AC, you can, as it turns out, transport higher voltage over larger distances than through direct current, which means more people could be connected to electricity.
Since then, the world has changed enormously. Over the past 100 years, that world has invested thousands of billions in building the AC network. By ignoring the technical implications we now live at a time when natural gas has to be phased out and all sorts of renewable energy sources and initiatives are being launched. This causes peak loads at one moment and shortages at the next moment, leads to headaches for the grid operator and also frustrates innovation. For example, Tesla recently wanted to install a few charging stations for cars, but was refused, because this would lead to insurmountable problems. "What is needed," Harry says, "is real-time local autonomous control. In other words: a clever power grid, a 'smart grid'. The technology for that exists and has been promoted for years, but until now not even a single one of such a grid has been realized. The simple reason is that nobody dares to do it because it is delicate."
Own electricity first
With the installation of a DC grid, this vulnerability could be guaranteed better. In addition, it gives the local for local principle a new dimension. "We want to connect sources and users, and thus make it a kind of social network. Primarily it is important that power generated here is also consumed here, and the possible remainder is shared with direct neighbors. Moreover, it is important that what you generate now, is used now as much as possible. That is easier said than done for all sorts of reasons, but we should aim for that."
Harry has not figured out everything by himself; on a much larger scale and in many places people think about the energy supply of the future. Issues such as increasing the capacity of the grid - which means more copper, a costly affair - and the question of which source, which technology, who exactly and when, will have a share in that transition, present a huge question mark. "There is probably not one complete solution, more likely a handful of partial solutions. But why this project at Jaap Vreeken in horticulture is important is because a lot comes together here. In horticulture, a great deal of energy is used, but also supplied, in the electrical engineering field there are the companies that have an important position locally. Moreover, it is an exciting and complex pilot. We want to show that it can be done and that it is efficient, and that is why we are very grateful to Vreeken."
For Vreeken himself, the test means two things. Firstly, he says, innovation is important in itself. Dutch horticulture has a reputation and a position to uphold, and if he can contribute to this by participating in this test, he’s pleased. Secondly, a concrete saving in kWh has been realized. "After you have cut the stems, you have 'dead wood'. New stems will grow on it, but they require, especially in the beginning, only little light. By very controlled dimming - something that is much more efficient with the new infrastructure - we have reduced our electricity usage by a quarter."