Impression of the Smart Energy Systems Conference

The Smart Energy Systems Conference (SES) has been held in Denmark every year since 2015, alternating between Aalborg and Copenhagen. The event was in the capital city this year. It was attended by some 350 participants from 25 countries. The conference aims to share insights, knowledge and experiences from both science and industry relating to a number of topics: (1) smart energy systems that use renewable energy sources as much as possible, (2) 4th and 5th generation heat networks, (3) the electrification of heat generation/regeneration and transport, and finally (4) more sustainable energy carriers (‘electrofuels’ such as hydrogen and methanol) and energy-efficient systems. On this occasion, Els van der Roest, Daniël Bakker and Dirk Vries were in attendance.

Travelling by train!

Despite the arrangements for the outward journey, with plenty of time for train changes, the trip was slightly scuppered by problems in Germany. Fortunately, the delay of 2.5 hours was not overly long and we happened to run into other Dutch participants on the way and so networking started early. Once we had arrived at the Danish capital, we used the evening to explore the city centre.

Keynotes and first impressions

After a personal welcome speech from Henrik Lund, the organiser of the SES conference, things began with three keynote presentations. Kristian Jensen set the tone by emphasising the vulnerability of European energy systems and the need to maintain cybersecurity and reduce our dependence on Russian gas to zero as soon as possible in order to raise the threshold for Russian war funding. To achieve this, it will be important to diversify and draw on even more energy sources, to upgrade energy infrastructure and to commit to the European production of energy technology. The second keynote, from Christina Grumstrup Sørensen, demonstrated the Danes’ vigorous commitment to the energy transition, with billions being invested in large-scale renewable energy projects by a Danish investment fund (CIP). In addition to the need for investment, obstacles and the urgency of eliminating them were topics addressed by Philip Cole in his presentation about scaling up wind energy in Europe. With many others in the room, he believes that a central issue – alongside the scaling up of the production of wind turbine technology in Europe in order to be less dependent on production elsewhere – is the current clunkiness of permit procedures. We have only six years until 2030, and the permit process can easily take from three to five years!

In the parallel sessions, it was fascinating to see the various applications of AI and control in optimisations of energy problems, ranging from planning and design to real-time operations. A strong example that was presented by Xavier Rixhon from the University of Leuven was the application of Reinforcement Learning (RL) to the planning and deployment of policy options for reducing the carbon budget to zero by 2050. RL is an advanced algorithm that uses neural networks to identify optimal policies by learning from data with a reward function.

Across the board, it was striking to see how many tools are being deployed to determine an optimal balance between costs and/or carbon emissions for a variety of energy systems.

Dirk Vries presents the smart controller for green hydrogen production.

The Binckhorst, a smart, green hydrogen system and Heat City

During the conference, my colleagues Els van der Roest, Daniël Bakker and myself also gave presentations. Els described the case study of a design for the Binckhorst heat system in The Hague, which combines a very low-temperature district heating system that includes power-to-heat and underground heat storage with the regeneration from Dunea’s drinking water buffer. Els showed, on the basis of results from the COHEASY project, that these types of low-temperature heating systems with storage have significant flexibility potential as part of the larger energy system.

My contribution was about the smart control of the production of green hydrogen so that the buffer is large enough for the hydrogen refuelling station in Nieuwegein as part of the H-Flex project. The control mechanism consists of anticipating electricity prices on the European Price Exchange (EPEX) market, which are announced a day in advance.

On Wednesday, Daniël presented the digital twin of the heat plant for WarmteStad in Groningen. That plant is being commissioned step-by-step, with residual heat from data centers, heat pumps, solar thermal systems and underground heat storage as key components of the final picture. Daniël described the economic performance and the share of renewable energy at the heat plant for different scenarios. In that way, he showed which technologies are the most sustainable and which are the most cost-effective.

Networking between lectures at the Smart Energy Systems conference.

The evenings were also enjoyable, with a conference dinner at which the organiser and a DJ livened up proceedings with striking anecdotes and music. On the second evening, we went for another bike ride through the beautiful and modern city of Copenhagen. The Danes certainly see sustainability as a priority. Inspired and a little tired, we got on the train for the journey back home. Although it turned out to be very difficult to follow video meetings on the train, we made good use of our mobile office.

Picturesque Copenhagen during a bike tour through the city.