Completing more work

For the fifth year in a row, Alliander invested more than the year before, but this is still not enough. A shortage of technical staff, drawn-out procedures and insufficient available space in the public environment are hampering further scale up efforts, and this is quite concerning for us. To achieve the energy system of the future, production will have to increase even further. Every month, the joint network operators need to install underground cables covering a distance from Groningen to Maastricht. The required expansions include 1,000 kilometres of sustainable gas pipes, 50,000 substations and 30km2 of space for system batteries.
In the period between now and 2033, Liander is planning to install almost 40,000 kilometres of cables, to build or modify almost 23,000 medium-voltage stations, to build 110 new stations and to expand about 49 large and 82 smaller ones. In addition to this, our network quality investments ensure that the energy supply’s high level of reliability is maintained.

Considering the challenges that are ahead of us, Alliander wants to be able to get even more work done even faster. The challenge is so huge that we are essentially creating a completely new energy system next to and within our existing energy system. As Alliander we need to achieve this task within a context of structural shortages in terms of technicians, space and materials. This requires upscaling throughout the supply chain and a production process aimed at efficiency. But it also gives rise to dilemmas

District-by-district approach for low voltage

Together with suppliers, contractors, municipalities and provincial authorities we are planning to make the roll-out of energy networks more akin to production work in the future. We expect this approach to gradually replace individual upgrade projects in the long term. In concrete terms this means that we will be using what we call ‘production convoys’ to install the whole future-proof energy infrastructure for the low-voltage network at once, district by district and area by area, using a schedule prepared together with public authorities and following on from the agreed energy planning. To upscale this approach, we are working with public authorities and implementation partners to standardise the process. Our specific focus here is on eliminating obstacles, such as permit issuing, in a timely manner. 

Permit factory

The available aboveground and underground space for energy infrastructure is limited and becoming more scarce. In order to maintain the rate at which the energy transition is implemented, the underground and aboveground space we require will need to be made available more quickly and with more certainty. That is a challenge for municipalities, and in order to gain support we will be helping them with a ‘permit factory’ in which we actively provide assistance in their communication with residents and companies about our plans and their efforts to obtain permits for projects. In 2023 we outlined this concept and completed the preparations for the pilot.

Offering large-scale work packages for high and medium-voltage networks

We are outsourcing large work packages, which also reflects our commitment to creating flow in the end-to-end supply chain and long-term collaboration with contractors, where we provide them with more guarantees for their long-term work packages. We do this to ensure that they have sufficient prospects and will actually be scaling up and investing in recruiting and training additional staff and in labour-saving innovations. Performing work in construction teams will shift the work traditionally carried out by Liander to the contractor, reduce lead times and increase the total available capacity. In 2023, Liander signed its biggest contract ever with five different contractors. In the years to come, they will be working on greatly expanding the power grid in Gelderland and Noord-Holland-Noord on our behalf. This is a massive job involving an investment of more than €1.5 billion. We will be installing 4,500 kilometres of new cables and building 1,600 transformer substations. The work for the NuLelie programme started in September 2023. The programme consists of 37 projects that are divided over three subareas in the Noordoostpolder and Friesland. Until the end of 2025, several ring networks, various stations and upgrades will be installed to increase the capacity of the network in Friesland and the Noordoostpolder.

Customers connecting themselves 

In order to create more opportunities for customers and installers to act on the challenge, we will make it possible for customers to connect themselves with help from their own installer. In late 2023 an initial draft for this was prepared for medium-volume connections. Ensuring that customers can choose their own installer or contractor approved by the network operator to create or upgrade the connection with due care in a single step (without the network operator intervening) reduces the number of dependencies, shortens lead times for the customer and saves on labour capacity. We expect that the first companies will be able to make use of this in 2024.

Reducing sensitivity to interruptions in supply chains

In view of geopolitical tensions and instability we are actively working on reducing our sensitivity to interruptions in the supply chains regarding cables, transformers, medium-voltage stations and other components. We do this by maintaining security inventories, increasing the number of available suppliers and complying with market standards. A new 32,000m2 storage site in Marknesse was put into service in 2023. Preparations have also started on a new site in Apeldoorn, which will be put into service over the course of 2024.

Using smarter labour-saving systems

Another step we will be taking is developing standards to ensure that construction becomes much more ‘plug and play’. One example of this is the compact connection module, which enables us to create connections in the public space significantly faster. This new module is installed in a charging point, a public lighting mast or another object in the public space. Another advantage is that an installer can perform this activity for the customer as a single job, making the connection process for our customers more efficient. In addition to this, we are developing plug and play medium-voltage stations, which make it easier to connect cables and transformer substations. 

Scaling up of our own production capacity

All of the aforementioned work requires even more highly skilled professionals, from technicians, foremen and network specialists to IT specialists and colleagues whose work includes coordinating matters with municipalities and customers. In 2023 we also invested in retaining and finding new highly skilled professionals, partly through lateral entry and through the use of migrant workers, and we will continue the targeted and accelerated training of our technical colleagues.
The labour shortage is so huge that we are also focusing on increasing our productivity by simplifying processes, through digitisation and by implementing labour-saving innovations. One example of this in the design of a substation is the increased use of standard building blocks that we combine into a solution that suits the local conditions.