The 2018 FIFA World Cup has transformed England in two notable ways. Firstly, Gareth Southgate has inspired the revival of the traditional waistcoat, but more importantly, England is revelling in a common identity.

Whether its fanbases or the local eco-system that a club resides in, football has always had a deep-rooted connection to communities and the World Cup has expanded this sense of belonging to capture entire nations.

It is surprising, then, that one of the major absentees of this year’s tournament, the Netherlands, is paving the way for an energy transition that empowers communities to revolutionise their approach to energy consumption.

Last Friday (29 June) was recognised by Henk van Raan, chief innovation officer at the Johan Cruijff Arena in Amsterdam, as a “special and extraordinary day”. Ed Sheeran was in town to perform at the packed-out 54,000-seater venue, but it was something in the carpark that had van Raan beaming behind an ominous big, red button.

Amsterdam’s deputy mayor Udo Kock had just switched on a 3MW capacity at the Johan Cruijff Arena – also known as the Amsterdam Arena. The big, red button had brought the system online, enabling the largest storage system made from second life and new electric vehicle (EV) batteries, currently operating on a commercial building, in Europe, to store energy sourced from the 4,200 solar panels located on the arena’s roof.

Numerous public and private organisations were involved in the project, but van Raan was already envisioning a time where the storage system would allow the public to contribute to the arena’s ongoing energy independence ambition.

“We have solar on the roof, and LED lighting in the stadium,” van Raan tells a packed room of delegates. “But, there was a missing link. We needed energy storage. Now we have a complete system and hopefully, very soon we can be completely independent in terms of production and consumption.

“It’s the beginning; we can connect to the neighbours and hopefully we can soon connect to the whole neighbourhood. We have a local solution for a global challenge.”

The system is the “fruit of three years extensive work” at the arena and required outputs from numerous actors: carmaker Nissan; energy management firm Eaton; flexible energy and storage specialists The Mobility House and funding from the Amsterdam Climate and Energy Fund.

Comprising of batteries from 148 Nissan leaf EVs, the system can store enough energy to power 7,000 Amsterdam households for one hour. The system comes with a 10-year warranty, although numerous developers involved in the project believe it could operate for at least five years beyond the timeframe.

Up to 10 times more energy can be required at the stadium during sold-out events and the energy storage system “makes diesel generators redundant”, according to van Raan.


Finding Netherlands 

If football teams act as an anchor for community identity then battery storage has the potential to strengthen these communities and push them towards independence. 

Alongside the plethora of companies involved in the project – all operating in different sectors – the Amsterdam Arena has also set up a separate company to oversee the power supply initiative. The Amsterdam Energy Arena will oversee distribution and storage and was one of the first outlets from the stadium’s innovation programme with the city government and private partners.

The system can allocate energy to the nearby, 17,000-seat multi-use indoor Ziggo Dome and the AFAS Live concert hall. According to those involved in the project, catering for energy services of nearby infrastructure forms part of the energy company’s “earnings model”.

The next phase of the project will focus on installing smart EV chargers, including vehicle-to-grid infrastructure, across the car park. This will enable EV owners to power their vehicles during matches or concerts and could potentially help with balancing the grid and generating income based on supply and demand.

Of course, the project has benefitted from an enabling policy environment and a willingness from the local authorities. Various companies, governments and knowledge institutions will use the arena as an “ultimate living lab” that explores new concepts regarding sustainability, city living and health and wellbeing.

Nissan is one company attempting to drive the transition to decentralised, independent communities. The company is trialling and assessing microgrid systems across Europe, to examine how local communities can gain access to sustained energy sources, by combining renewable energy and battery storage technologies.

According to Nissan’s managing director of energy services Francisco Carranza, the growth of the energy storage market can only be stimulated through new, cross-sector collaborations – including government representation – that ensures projects can be deployed without hindering the grid.

Despite predictions of rapid growth, the energy storage market is still in its infancy, with numerous businesses and public organisations citing cost as a deterrent. While policy undoubtedly has a part to play in creating a favourable market for the technology, Carranza is of the belief that storage is too exciting to ignore.

“There have to be frameworks favouring uptake of distributed storage and solar,” Carranza tells edie. “We need to help to create the aggregation business and for people to provide and contribute to the grid.

“I don’t believe anymore in financial savings being the reason people aren’t buying this. There are very few things people buy solely because of a financial return. Our focus is to create a platform that is exciting for people. Right now, we need to make sure people understand what a Kwh is why it needs to come from solar rather than fossil fuels.”

Nissan’s venture into the EV market is well-documented, with the company claiming that its newly upgraded Leaf is “fastest selling electric vehicle in Europe”. Carranza also notes that EVs are the first topic of conversation at every board meeting. However, the company has realised new market opportunities in offering its products as a service, creating benefits for the manufacturer and the residents it is targeting.

Battery performance is still an issue for some motorists. EV batteries lose around 20% of their capacity during their lifecycle, making them unsuitable for long-distance use at an older age. Even at these levels, the batteries can still be used for stationary storage applications – creating an additional 10 years of use at the very least. It is only at the end of the second life that the components of batteries must be recycled, Nissan claims.

These second-life batteries are being targeted for residential storage use by the automaker. Last year, Nissan commenced construction on the largest collective solar roof in the Netherlands, which will provide enough renewable electricity to power 900 homes. In the UK, Nissan has launched an “all-in-one” energy solution for UK homes, combining solar panels with an energy storage system.

Market opportunity

Looking ahead, Carranza is keen for Nissan to be viewed as more than just a manufacturer and its partnership with Eaton – notably on the xStorage residential battery unit – will help ease the transition.

Eaton views the UK as the ideal location to facilitate demand for battery storage. The US firm has 4,300 UK employees across 30 sites and has worked with Nissan since 2012 to establish a commercially viable energy storage system.

More recently, the firm partnered with Manchester City Football Club to increase brand exposure and offer the residential unit to fans of the club. While edie was unable to get hold of sales figures for these branded units, the company’s EMEA president Frank Campbell hints that projects similar to the Amsterdam Arena’s could be emerging with Eaton’s help.

“Energy storage has a business case today,” Campbell says. “You just need a good solar energy profile and a monetisation strategy. If these are in place, the financial model is fairly compelling.

“In places like this [the Amsterdam Arena], you have to have backup power. A stadium, a hospital and data centres, they’ll all need it. If you have to have it, why not use energy storage? Why not use solar? Instead of having something there making nothing for you – all of a sudden you can get money out of it.”

While Campbell wouldn’t hint at what football stadiums could be following the path set by the Amsterdam Arena, it is worth noting that Manchester City Football Club is yet to complete the final phase of its stadium expansion. So, what comes first to England, World Cup glory or community-empowering storage projects?

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