Remote telemetry units (RTUs) are vital to sustainable horticulture in the Netherlands

“Look deep into nature,” said Albert Einstein, “and then you will understand everything better.” The Netherlands is applying this ethos to its energy transition, a nationwide move from fossil fuels towards renewable energy, by implementing a more sustainable approach to horticulture. Here, Ronald Robbertsen, project engineer at the remote telemetry specialist Ovarro, explains why smart grids and remote telemetry units (RTUs) will be critical if the horticulture industry is to help the Netherlands achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

About 80 percent of energy consumption in the municipality of Westland in the Netherlands now comes from horticulture companies. The horticulture industry will therefore play a key role in the Netherlands’ move towards more renewables. However, historically, the industry is also a major user of natural gas. So, what can be done to make the Netherlands’ horticulture industry more sustainable?

There are numerous ways in which this can be achieved, including with more solar panels on company roofs. There are also new cultivation techniques like Het Nieuwe Telen, which translates as The New Cultivation, a national ethos that aims to implement cultivation methods based on the latest insights into greenhouse effects on the Earth’s climate, and the behaviours of the horticultural companies themselves.

According to the specialist horticulture body, Royal BrinkmanHet Nieuwe Telen involves controlling several factors. They include: climate equality, to make sure the climate in the greenhouse is at a certain level to reduce risks of condensation in crops at higher humidity; air movement that stimulates the evaporation of crops; insulation and heat radiation from crops; and dehumidification that causes cultivation problems.

And there is the Netherlands’ Greenhouse as an energy source program, a national initiative designed to stimulate energy savings based on the use of sustainable energy in greenhouse horticulture.

Smart approach

If such diversified energy strategies are to work on a national level, then smart grids will prove critical. Wind, wave, marine, hydro, biomass, and solar are all viable alternative energy sources. But managing these effectively through a smart grid is only achievable through the capture, storage, and interpretation of vast amounts of data from physical assets.

These challenges will rise as the country’s smart grids get bigger with more cables, stations, and solar-powered homes. Photovoltaic systems are on the rise in the Netherlands and accounted for 6.79 percent or 8,144 gigawatt hours (GWh) of the Netherlands’ total energy consumption as of 2020, up from just 0.05 percent or 56 GWh ten years previously.

Another challenge is that new and renewable energy sources like solar panels tend to operate at low- or medium-frequencies on the grid. Measuring these special frequencies is a new area for grid operators, coupled with the challenge of consistent medium-voltage energy supply across the grid. Because the sun only shines at certain times, solar panels feed energy back into the grid periodically. This can make the grid less stable and cause potential disruptions.

Flexibility and maximum security

Not only are conventional network monitoring systems ill-suited to the task of optimally capturing, storing, and interpreting vast amounts of data in these networks, but these systems are also expensive. Smart grid operators need a new, precise, and cost-effective solution that can be tuned to the requirements of unique medium-voltage energy sources.

To overcome these challenges, Ovarro has developed control technology that makes it possible to manage smart grids productively, energy-efficiently, securely, and with higher levels of quality of service (QoS). An RTU can capture, store and interpret vast amounts of data from physical assets on a network. Over the years, RTUs have become a critical part of most power generation and distribution operations and will be essential to today's and tomorrow’s smart grids.

Recognising the advantages of RTUs for smart grids, Ovarro has developed the Datawatt Smart Grid (DSG) series — designed for operation in the waterenergy, and industrial markets. The DSG operates under two main principles, flexibility, and maximum security, to handle the unique and variable requirements typical of low- or medium-voltage networks.

Flexible characteristics of the DSG include its ability to implement a variety of protocols in real time, including IEC104, COAP, and Modbus, with other protocols available on request.

New protocols can be created easily through the Linux operating platform and C# programming language, while programmable logic controller (PLC) programs can also be made with the latest standard from Codesys based on IEC61131-3, the standard industrial protocol for control programs used by many national and international organisations.

Outside the boundaries

One company that’s benefitted from Ovarro’s DSG system is Juva which supports Westland Infra, the grid operator based in Westland, the Netherlands, with Distribution Automation. Juva needed to improve its remote monitoring of low-voltage frequencies on the grid, as used by energy sources like solar and the region’s large horticultural industry ― especially as more and more Dutch households have solar panels because of the energy transition. Juva chose Ovarro’s DSG over other solutions because it needed a monitoring and controlling platform that deviated from the standard template and wasn’t specified within certain boundaries.

According to Juva, the DSG system’s real-time flexibility, and its accessible Linux operating interface, makes it easier to solve problems. Engineers can more easily design and implement the telemetry system and it’s easier to maintain. DSG’s ability to handle many protocols has also greatly benefited the overall security of Juva’s network. The network can use a lot of firewall functions to protect its many inputs/outputs (I/Os). Furthermore, the network has made it easier for Juva to detect instances of illegal energy use.

The DSG can be enhanced with Stream webscada from Ovarro, a modern HTML5 web application that collects real-time process data and makes it available immediately on digital devices like tablets. It is designed to manage and control different locations and geographically spread processes with 24/7 online process information. Stream is scalable and will, for example, notify the customer by email or telephone if the current is too high in a certain part of the grid.

These advanced telemetry solutions make it possible for smart grid operators like Juva to better monitor and control low- and medium-voltage renewable energy sources on the grid, with better insights into the behaviours of the horticultural companies themselves that will prove so crucial to implementing new cultivation techniques like Het Nieuwe Telen.

Grid operators around the world could learn from the Netherlands. As Albert Einstein said, looking “deep into nature” can help energy suppliers around the world contribute toward the world’s carbon neutrality goals. 

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