Lessons from peer-to-peer energy trading in the Netherlands

Peer-to-peer trading is attracting a diversity of consumers and promoting more widespread installation of small scale distributed solar.
Published: Mon 24 Sep 2018

Peer-to-peer trading is an emerging opportunity in the decentralising energy system for small scale generators and consumers to become active players in the market. Energy supply can be optimised, assets monetised and electricity costs reduced.

Many peer-to-peer energy trading pilots have been launched, latterly utilising blockchain technology, but few so far have been expanded to scale. One such initiative is Powerpeers in the Netherlands, which was spun out of Vattenfall, and now numbers thousands of customers and growing.

“Our aim was to develop a new and agile organisation from scratch,” Lars Falch, Founder and Managing Director, told Engerati in an interview of its genesis, ahead of a presentation at Engerati’s October Meet on ‘The Intelligent Grid’.

He describes Powerpeers as essentially comprised of two components. One is the technology arm, which is focussed on the underlying data and energy management platform and other technology developments such as testing blockchain. A ‘while label’ version of the platform also has been developed for use by other parties, the first of which is to be piloted by “a large energy supplier outside Europe”.  

The other is a licensed energy supply company, which is a requirement under current regulation in the Netherlands with responsibilities to ensure that customers continue to receive power when the variable renewable generation supply is low as well as to provide balancing services and financial clearing.

The focus is on the residential sector as customers, while generators are primarily also households but include as a second tier some selected small-scale solar installations and third-tier, large-scale offshore wind. However, the latter is tapped only for backup, mostly during nightimes and notably comprises less than 5% of the total annual consumption.

A grid platform

With the Powerpeers platform, customers are able to both sell and buy energy, selecting their personal supply mix from up to 10 different sources and having visibility on who those generators are, and also invite friends to share energy with.

Falch explains that the generators can be selected or deselected by customers on a daily basis and – contrary to the notion that consumers want such processes automated – a growing number are actively engaging in that process. A daily notification service is planned to encourage more active participation.

However, in case of a mismatch, such as a generator unable to supply at the required time or the energy delivery is at a time when it is not needed, the platform then performs a rematch with a neighbour, which besides better optimising the energy supply also contributes to maintaining the stability of the grid.

“We want to establish how peer-to-peer can support grid operators in flattening local demand peaks and for example to make better use of propositions such as time-of-use and storage.”

Peer-to-peer experiences

With Powerpeers having now amassed a significant volume of data, a key learning that Falch mentions is that it has attracted a broad selection of customers and for different reasons.

While most want to know that their energy choices are having an impact on the transition to sustainability, younger people like the technology side and for them its “an Airbnb meets Facebook-type experience,” he says. “Wherever one goes in the Netherlands, one can see local generation sources popping up in the app.”

On the other hand, the older generation like the sense of community with their neighbours. They also are attracted by the lower price of electricity, which results from among other factors the lower operational costs and for example lower marketing costs of Powerpeers.

Then the customers who are green-minded appreciate the transparency that is enabled in terms of visualisation on the generators.

“This was a surprising finding for us,” he says.

Another notable finding is the high proportion of generation at the household level, reaching 50% of the allocations at the start of Spring and more than 100% during days in the summer.

“It demonstrates that the system works,” Falch says, pointing out that the initiative also has led to a growth in residential solar in the Netherlands. However, he adds that some 70% of households in Europe do not have rooftop access for solar and he is working on an initiative to seek changes to regulation to enable those consumers to install off-site solar so that they can participate in peer-to-peer activities.

“We want to see a level playing field so that all consumers can benefit and that will also further boost the installation of solar and the energy transition.”

In his Lightning Talk Lars Falch gives insights on the challenges and lessons in building and managing an active trader community and the value platform behind it, and delves into potential roles for the emerging blockchain technology and what this could mean for the future intelligent grid.