Eric’s Challenge: learning by doing with startups

As a Business Development Manager Energy at ICT Group, Eric van der Laan is no stranger to the corporate world: energy companies, grid operators, and major industrial companies alike are considering our energyNXT platform in order to monitor – and where possible optimise – their energy consumption. “I deal with all kinds of complex technical and organisational issues that often take quite some time to resolve.

Adding intelligence to batteries

Eric continues: “That makes it all the more fun when you run into startups willing to work with us. One of these startups is iwell, a company that supplies batteries to housing associations and homeowners’ associations. The business case focuses on using one of these batteries to reduce their peak load and operate with a smaller grid connection. The investment usually pays off in six to seven years in the case of straightforward implementation.

But what if the battery is equipped with additional intelligence? What if you could closely match the supply and demand of energy and use a fully automated process to adjust energy purchases to fill the battery during off-peak times at reduced rates and reuse that energy at peak times when the price is high? What if apartment buildings installed solar panels on the roof, thereby adding a third source of energy? How much more could be saved in terms of carbon emissions and costs? “This is exactly what we configure and make transparent with our energyNXT platform.”

Learning by doing

“Working with startups gives me energy. That’s because iwell sees the potential and shares our enthusiasm. While partnerships with energy companies and grid operators can be highly successful – but it can also take quite a while before you can reap the benefits – startups can adopt an agile approach based on the mottos ‘trial and error’ and ‘learning by doing’. That makes working with startups highly inspiring.” Eric finds that they have a completely different energy level, pace and way of working than many major businesses. “And all things considered, it makes sense: they’re two different worlds – and I get to work with both, which is great.”

“Working with startups gives me energy. That’s because iwell sees the potential and shares our enthusiasm.”

Conceptual and practical challenges

Thanks to the various stages of a project, Eric has a very varied job, in which he faces all kinds of challenges. During the preparation stage he focuses on the conceptual challenges. The implementation stage can present practical issues, such as a meter’s response speed not being fast enough to use the battery at the right time. The next step is to tackle the conceptual challenges based on discussions, calculations and so on, which involves a great deal of desk work. Eric continues: “The practical challenges are best tackled using the previously discussed ‘trialand-error’ approach: let’s try this solution and see if it works. And if it doesn’t, we’ll just try something else. One of the great things about working at ICT Group is the tremendous amount of practical skills and knowledge we have available in our company; we’ll even take out a soldering iron if that’s what it takes to get the job done! I am supported at iwell by my colleague Leon Huijsdens, who knows a lot about both conceptual and practical matters – he’s basically my technical conscience.”

Win-win situation

“The Agile approach most startups use is a great match with our own processes at ICT Group. Similar to startups, we like to be quick on our feet. An added bonus is that we learn a lot from them, because the people at iwell and other startups we work with are extremely intelligent and know all about the latest technology developments. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned about different battery technologies just over the last year!” Startups are very keen on adopting an open and transparent mindset in their partnerships with other businesses. They always aim for a higher level and anyone is welcome to contribute. But startups can also learn a lot from ICT Group: how to produce robust and scalable solutions with wide implementation possibilities, what is involved in the administration of the solution in the long term, and how to be cost-efficient. Eric: “These are areas in which we can share our skills and knowledge with them – so collaborations with startups really are a win-win situation.”

Case study

Did you know that there’s a case study available? Click here to read the case!

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Inigo De La Fuente’s Challenge: Shaping the Future

In February of this year Inigo De La Fuente started working for the Dutch ICT Group as a Senior Software Designer. Now he works on designing and developing software for the online connectivity unit of a well-known car brand. What Inigo really likes about his job is that he can work on the latest high-tech projects with a team of highly skilled professionals that reinforce each other. In this way he directly contributes to shaping the future of driving.  “Millions of cars will be equipped with software that we develop.”

“The aim of the online connectivity unit I am working on is being able to connect the infotainment systems of cars to internet,” Inigo explains. “The car users can then connect to the Wi-Fi hotspot inside the car. Moreover, it will be possible to use new applications on the user’s phone that can control different aspects of the car such as the position of the seats. Overall, the connectivity unit enables intercommunication between the car and applications and with other cars, traffic systems and the backend of the car brand.”

Online connectivity for different countries

“Of course, government policy and regulations describe what data can be shared. It varies per country. We are now working on new features that must be included in the online connectivity unit for an Asian country, this requires specific features that differ from European versions. We work in very close cooperation with our customer(s) regarding the design, development and testing.”

Work on the latest high-tech projects

“I started working for ICT Group earlier this year. The main reason for this is that I wanted to work on the latest high-tech projects. This is what a lot of Dutch companies, especially in and around the city Eindhoven work on. Moreover, I enjoy working with equals, professional developers and engineers that I can learn from and who can learn from me.”

I contribute to shaping the future

“I also love working on automotive. It is an interesting sector with a lot of new technology that is being developed and you get the chance to work with very highly skilled professionals. And what I really like is that I am actually contributing to shaping the future. Millions of cars will be equipped with systems that I have helped to develop.”

Very flexible way of working and excellent facilities

“I work together with a team of ten engineers from ICT Group. A large part of my team works in Eindhoven. I myself, however, live and work in Barendrecht, a city in the vicinity of Rotterdam. Sometimes I work at the ICT head office, sometimes I work at the Eindhoven office and sometimes I work from home. Once in a while, is necessary to travel to the client. In general, ICT is very flexible in allowing employees to choose the most efficient working spaces for the project. The entire company and work processes are equipped with facilities that enable you to work in a flexible manner.”

“What makes the Netherlands extra attractive is that living here is very easy for internationals.”

Lots of possibilities for personal growth

“Also, ICT Group offers a large variety of trainings and courses. As ICT Group’s services directly concern providing professionals they care greatly for the personal and professional growth of their employees. They really guide you on your personal career and show you all the different paths that you can take. At the moment I am taking Scrum and team cooperation courses so that in the end I can become a Scrum Master. Another positive aspect of working for ICT Group is that if I would feel demotivated I could easily switch to another project/sector with different tools. ICT’s operational managers would help me to keep my motivation without having to leave the company or the people I work with.”

Adventure, growth perspective and better working conditions

Moving to the Netherlands in 2015, for me was a big decision. At that time, I worked in Catalonia and I got three offers. One of them was from a company in the Netherlands. Then I had three main reasons for choosing for the Netherlands. The first reason was that I liked the feeling of adventure, I wanted to have a life changing experience. Moreover, I wanted to be able to grow professionally in my career and personally in the Netherlands, basically there are more interesting projects going on than in Spain. And last but not the least the salary and employment conditions are better.”

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René’s Challenge: The human touch in engineering

René van der Pluijm became a member of the ICT Group family after the takeover of his former employer Nozhup, an industrial system engineering company. Nowadays, René is a hands-on project leader for large scale infra projects, a principal consultant for several clients and a manager for the teams he works with.

Opportunity

“Something ICT Group does really well,” René says, “is keeping a flexible mindset where normally a big company tends to become unwieldy. Staying flexible allows ICT Group to truly deploy its human capital. It also explains why ICT is leading in their field: ICT Group sees change as an opportunity. Colleagues learn from each other and the projects that are done company-wide. For example, when I attended the IA Knowledge Event that was organised by ICT Group last November, I was struck by the fact that ICT Group is truly the trailblazers of smarter technology, they are the change.”

Engineering

René loves his job, especially the engineering part of it. “That’s why I enjoy being a project manager so much. Being on the floor helps me keep my knowledge up to date. I’m curious to find out how things work. Why is that installation designed the way it is? It’s great to learn how much thought was put into it, technology will make life easier when it’s done right. When you understand the impact of engineering on a production line, you will build a better factory for your client. Why do we put these installations in a tunnel? ‘Because they also went into the last tunnel we built’ is not a satisfying answer in my book. I want to know everything there is to know.”

“At ICT Group we see change as an opportunity.”

Challenge yourself

So René enjoys a good challenge, getting a project on its feet and have it run like clockwork. “I look back on many interesting projects over the course of my career, each one challenging in a different way. The projects, the new sea lock at Ijmuiden, the completion of the A4 highway between Delft and Schiedam, and the wind energy supply chain issue on the German part of the North Sea, are all ambitious and challenging projects. Nothing is impossible. You are encouraged to think ahead and to grow intellectually and practically. Just challenge yourself.”

René’s challenge:

to guarantee the safety of millions of people at all times. Read the blog about René’s challenge and the case about OpenIJ: prestigious joint construction project of the world’s largest sea lock on our website. The world’s largest sea lock is currently being built in IJmuiden in the Netherlands. The lock exceeds the size of the locks in the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal. Ambitious? Certainly. But it’s a sheer necessity in order to ensure that the Port of Amsterdam remains accessible for large container vessels and cruise ships. And to create a water barrier that stops the sea during storms in order to guarantee the safety of millions of people.

ICT Group has a wide variety of projects. “For every project applies that you connect people, goals and solutions. The key to success lies in human cooperation.” Sometimes, it is necessary to fulfil projects close to the client by working in their office. Other projects are on realization locations. It gives a lot of variety: no day is the same. However, it’s also possible that you work from one of the ICT offices. There are offices all over the country: from Barendrecht to Eindhoven and from Maastricht to Groningen.

René, working on the sea lock at IJmuiden: “Unsafe situations must never arise, under any circumstance whatsoever. The economic and public interests are simply too large. This is the reason why we predict possible failures. What can possibly go wrong, and how can it be prevented? We think of all possibilities in advance, and test all possible situations just as extensively as in a normal situation.”

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Pieter’s Challenge: Creating a safe workplace

The Port of Antwerp is Belgium’s largest sea port and the second largest port in Europe, surpassed only by Rotterdam. The port’s 86 terminals are responsible for 223,655,312 tonnes of maritime goods transport. This means 10,450,900 TEU per year and an average of 45 crane movements every hour. The port relies mainly on manual processes, but ICT Group has taken on the challenge of automating some of this work.

The developments in the domain of IT make this work extremely challenging. “This might include anything from a mobile app to desktop applications, configuring servers, different types of communication protocols, PLCs, web sockets, and so forth. You’re also dealing with a huge range of peripheral equipment that needs to communicate with each other. What really appeals to me is combining this huge range of technical aspects with the human factor.”

Safety

Pieter van der Spek, who is in charge of the software design: “All the vehicles are manned by drivers, including all the cranes, and the office is staffed by people who handle freight customs clearance. That level of activity makes it a pretty dangerous place to work. By automating parts of these processes, we intend to eliminate the need for human workers in these critical areas. But the shift toward automation is also driven by factors such as efficiency and cost cuts.” ICT Group’s vast experience with container terminals not withstanding, Pieter explains that “each terminal is different. The layout of an automated terminal, for example, is completely different from that of a regular, manually operated one. People are not vehicles and not only do they work differently, they also have different requirements when it comes to the work environment. In the Port of Antwerp, there’s the added factor that users are ruled by the tides, to the point where your ship will lay idle for a couple of hours if you happen to be late. All that also affects the requirements for human resources and the software applications we develop.”

Complexity

From a layperson’s perspective, the process of vessels loading and unloading containers onto and from the terminal seems pretty simple. But as Pieter is well aware by now, there’s a lot more to it than that: “The fact that you’re dependent on people, the weather, and all sorts of external systems makes it highly complex.” The developments in the domain of IT make this work extremely challenging. “This might include anything from a mobile app to desktop applications, configuring servers, different types of communication protocols, PLCs, web sockets, and so forth. You’re also dealing with a huge range of peripheral equipment that needs to communicate with each other. What really appeals to me is combining this huge range of technical aspects with the human factor.”

“It is up to us to minimize the risks at all times. Fortunately you’re not alone, you can take on the challenge together with your colleagues!”

‘Tangible’ software

As a software designer, Pieter needs to cover all the eventualities in developing the applications, ranging from the risk of collision, automated lane keeping, a variety of tasks, etcetera. What he finds challenging is to not only look at the ideal circumstances, but also at times when things could go wrong. “That’s where our added value comes in. Of course, you do get it wrong sometimes and then need to find another solution. But if it does work, it always gives me a thrill. In the type of work we’re involved in, the software becomes almost tangible, as it’s installed in devices that actually do something. That’s amazing and I never get tired of it.”

Testing

Container terminals don’t have a test environment where everything can be tested extensively. After all, you can’t take an AGV into the room in which you’re performing your tests. This means that new software needs to be implemented in stages. “The work must continue no matter what, as the financial stakes involved are simply too high. Even though we implement the software incrementally, this doesn’t rule out error. The difference between many and a few can be so large that it could blast out your entire system. That’s when you really have to think on your feet: Should we go back? Or find a solution? A simulation is not the same as the reallife situation.”

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Elke’s Challenge: Investigate the possibilities of flexible energy consumption

Water Authority Amstel, Gooi en Vecht (AGV) and Waternet wanted to know whether the Horstermeer waste water treatment installation could reduce its energy costs by a different way of dealing with its energy supply and demand. In our case study,  you could read more about AGV’s / Waternet’s challenge. However, our born techie Elke Klaassen was challenged as well. Therefore, she has written a blog.

Elke, ICT Group’s technical consultant, describes the challenges of her project: “My assignment was to determine the value of flexibility in the supply and demand of energy. My first step was to visit the water treatment plant to talk to the process operators and investigate all processes and assets. What are their energy consumption levels? My talks with the operators allowed me to determine whether there were any possibilities of flexible energy consumption at all, and to identify any possible quick wins.”

“Shifts in the supply and demand of energy over a period of time are not always possible, and also not always available in all locations”, Elke explains. “For instance, you can’t interrupt the water treatment process at a waste water treatment plant, or only treat the water during sunny weather. Horstermeer turned out to have CHP plants that convert the biogas, which is generated at the treatment site, into electricity. These combined heat and power installations offer tremendous opportunities. After all, CHP plants can produce heat and energy, and the energy consumption can be tuned to their own needs. AGV / Waternet was already aware of the fact that CHPs can offer flexibility, but I managed to make a detailed investigation of the opportunities. When is the CHP plant operational? At what levels of biogas does it produce energy? And what  happens if you increase those levels?”

Options to achieve savings

“Usually there are three ways of achieving savings by controlling the demand. For instance, you can shift processes over a period of time in order to benefit from lower energy rates more often. “This option is called ‘high-low rate’. Another option is to distribute the energy consumption over time, which may allow you to use a lower capacity connection to the grid, or it may enable you to reduce the variable cost of an existing connection to the grid. The last option may even allow the treatment plant to operate in an energy-neutral way by using the available flexibility to optimize the alignment between supply and demand in the plant itself. This is achieved by maximizing the plant’s own energy production, and minimizing the amount of electricity that is returned to the grid. From an economic perspective, this last option turned out to be the most attractive solution for AGV / Waternet. In addition to an increase in the plant’s own consumption of the sustainable energy production, it also results in reduced peak loads on the electricity grid. And this results in considerable savings on an annual basis.”

“My talks with the operators allowed me to determine whether there were any possibilities of flexible energy consumption at all, and to identify any possible quick wins.”

Investments

“AGV / Waternet has to decide whether it wants to invest in an Energy Management System (EMS). This system’s realization will be based on our energy platform energyNXT. This platform offers opportunities for smart ways of organizing and aligning the energy consumption or production of all assets. I’m involved in several projects which make use of various other applications of energyNXT and which utilize this platform with the objective of avoiding congestion on the grid.”

Consultancy

Elke has been working for ICT Group for a year and a half, and she’s passionate about her work. “The assignments are very diverse. Each new customer brings a new challenge. My current work has a lot to do with data science, but I’m aspiring to a position in which I can combine this with consultancy. Something I thoroughly enjoy is presenting research results to groups of subject matter experts . The interaction and feedback that occur during these presentations show clearly whether people have properly understood the things you’ve investigated. ICT offers adequate opportunities for growth and what’s more, the company supports my personal development by offering a range of training courses.”

Energy expert

Elke Klaassen is a real expert in the domain of energy. She completed a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Energy Technology at Eindhoven’s Technical University (TU/e), followed by a PhD in Electral Energy Systems group. After obtaining her doctorate she started working for an energy company where she was involved in marketing a new product via an incubation process. “However, after some time I felt that I wanted to develop myself within the domain of IT and energy.” And it didn’t take long before she had found a more challenging position at ICT.

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Pascal’s Challenge: remaining the most technically advanced terminal

Pascal Muller, employed by ICT Group and currently working as a Software Engineer at ECT, has been closely involved in these operations for the past several years. “My focus over the past three years has been on optimising maritime planning processes. Whenever a ship arrives, we know how many containers, and what types of containers, need to be unloaded from and loaded onto the vessel.”

The Hutchison Ports ECT Rotterdam (ECT) container terminal is located in the Maasvlakte industrial area, directly facing the North Sea. Large cranes are in operation on the site, loading and unloading containers, while automatic vehicles drive back and forth. ECT is one of the leading and most advanced container terminal operators in Europe – a position that ECT, backed by ICT Group, is determined to maintain.

Maritime planning application

ECT is the developer and operator of the first fully automated facility of its kind in the world, and their processes are continuously enhanced and refined in order to maintain this high level of automation. Pascal Muller, employed by ICT Group and currently working as a Software Engineer at ECT, has been closely involved in these operations for the past several years. “My focus over the past three years has been on optimising maritime planning processes. Whenever a ship arrives, we know how many containers, and what types of containers, need to be unloaded from and loaded onto the vessel. Pascal developed a software application that both controls the loading and unloading process and handles administrative tasks. “Stability is a factor you need to consider when loading and unloading containers. If the weight is not distributed properly, it could cause the ship to tilt. To ensure processes in the terminal run smoothly, the number of operations should be kept to a minimum, and containers should therefore be stacked as efficiently as possible. All these factors are incorporated in the software applications we develop, while the planners also still have some measure of control over the process.”

“Automating basic processes simply for the sake of automation is not going to improve your terminal. People’s knowledge and experience remain as vital as ever, just in a different way.”

Optimisation

In order to maintain a ‘human touch’ in automated loading and unloading processes, Pascal has been gathering feedback from both users of the equipment and from the planners. By working closely with his coworkers, he aims to continuously improve the system. In fact, it’s hard to keep up with the sheer pace of innovation in this industry: reducing crane cycle times and changing the driving mode of automated vehicles are just two examples of changes that require the software to be updated. “It’s essentially a domino effect: if we manage to get X right, we might be able to
achieve Y, and so on. And ECT needs to stay on top of these developments.” But Pascal feels it’s important not to jump the gun: “Automating basic processes simply for the sake of automation is not going to improve your terminal. There are certain types of jobs that people manage to do with such precision that machines and software are no match for them, really. People’s knowledge and experience remain as vital as ever, just in a different way.”

Mixed landscape

Customers have an ever-increasing need for information, ranging from a container’s current status to all kinds of other data. “New bits of software are added all the time, and our job is to make these updates interact in the background with older parts of the software, or with applications from other providers. The fact that we’re dealing with a mixed landscape requires that we’re familiar with all the systems and what they can and can’t do, and then to work on using and deploying those systems more effectively. It would be fascinating for anyone to see the sheer scale and level of technical sophistication of an automated container terminal, but what makes it so exciting for me personally is that I’m aware of the decisions that facilitate it and the complex processes that keep it all running.”

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Marten’s Challenge: Can an SME supply flexible power? Absolutely!

The generation of sustainable energy is subject to sharp peaks and troughs which do not match those of consumption, which is why future energy consumption must be scheduled to coincide with energy-generation peak hours, thereby reducing energy storage. We also refer to this deferred energy consumption as flexible power supply. This power can be used to respond to market prices, reduce peaks in the distribution grid, or to provide balancing power to TenneT.

Aggregate energy demand

For instance, if the energy consumption of an individual small or medium-sized business is too low to be able to supply flexible power, they could turn the tables by joining forces with other businesses to aggregate their energy demand. This is relatively easy for households due to the limited number of energy-consuming appliances, which mainly comprises boilers, heat pumps and, at most, an electric car. The number of ‘energy guzzlers’ in the business market is much higher and more diverse. And connecting all these devices to a platform that monitors and manages energy consumption is a highly complex process most businesses will likely want to outsource. To respond to this need, ICT Group joined forces with Engie, Jules Energy, Enexis, New Energy Coalition, TU/e, the City of Groningen and the Zuidoost Business Park. This consortium is tasked with examining methods for promoting the energy transition in the small and medium-sized business segment. As part of this collaboration, ICT Group has provided access to its energyNXT platform, which monitors the energy consumption of all devices connected to it. At moments when the supply of sustainably generated energy is low, energyNXT makes sure energy consumption is deferred as much as possible.

“We examine methods for promoting the energy transition in the small and medium-sized business segment.”

Deferred energy consumption

Not all processes are suitable for deferred energy consumption. A cold store that is normally kept at a temperature of -18 degrees Celsius can easily be cooled to -22 degrees Celsius without affecting the quality of the goods stored in it. It takes several hours for the temperature to subsequently increase to -18 degrees Celsius again. However, this is not an option for foods cold stores because they need to be kept between 2 and 4 degrees Celsius. As soon as the cold store’s door is opened, the temperature rises a few tenths of a degree. Postponing the additional cooling because energy prices are too high, is simply not an option. Some processes are more suitable for deferred energy consumption than others. Which processes this applies to is not always immediately obvious and will need to be further investigated on a case-by-case basis. One of our learning objectives is therefore to develop a method to assess this more accurately. During the first phase of the project, we will be assessing six different organisations operating in various sectors – ranging from a cold store company and a wholesaler in electric transport, to an office building and an educational facility. I’m very curious to find out how much they could potentially save, and we’ll know soon enough, because the project is about to be launched.

Interchanging sustainably generated energy

Another part of this project involves Wasaweg Energieneutraal (Energy-Neutral Wasaweg). As part of this process, thirty businesses located at Wasaweg in Groningen interchange selfgenerated energy. We use the energyNXT platform to assess which companies have an energy surplus at any given moment, and to which company it should subsequently be distributed. ICT Group can set up a virtual dashboard to provide businesses that have not yet switched to self-generated sustainable energy, or that are considering the purchase of additional solar panels or a battery, with real-time information on the potential impact on their energy consumption. For instance, if the sun is shining, they will see their virtual battery charge with energy from the virtual solar panels. This allows companies to see for themselves how they could benefit from the energy transition.

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Marten’s Challenge: Taking an entire neighbourhood off the grid? Let’s investigate if this is really possible!

“We’ve known for some time that analytics will play a key role in the world of renewables, but it’s not clear at this stage what those algorithms should look like. We are part of a consortium of organisations – the other partners being Enexis, the University of Twente, Enpuls, Endona, Buurkracht and Dr Ten, a manufacturer of sea salt batteries – focused on investigating what it takes for an entire neighbourhood to reduce its conventional energy consumption to zero by switching to solar energy and home batteries.”

GridFlex Heeten

We are conducting our pilot project in the De Veldegge section of the town of Heeten in Overijssel province, where 48 homes are connected to a single transformer house. The families residing in this neighbourhood are exceptionally energy-conscious: many of the homes are fitted with solar panels, and the residents have joined the Buurkracht initiative, through which local communities invest in solar energy together. The community initiative attracted the interest of grid operator Enexis, which regards the neighbourhood as a perfect testing ground to examine what it takes to get an entire neighbourhood ‘off the grid’. Based on their previous positive experiences with ICT Group and our energyNXT platform, they phoned me to ask if we were interested in getting involved in their GridFlex Heeten project as a partner. Our role is to integrate the various technologies and to supply our energyNXT platform.

Learning opportunity

I see this as an excellent opportunity to learn what it really takes to make an entire neighbourhood selfsufficient in terms of energy. Besides, it also gives us a chance to learn from new technologies in this area, such as the sea salt batteries created by Dr Ten. When we started this project back in early 2017, we were still relatively inexperienced. How does a sea salt battery work, and how do these batteries differ from lithium or lead-acid batteries? What are some of the factors to consider when connecting a sea salt battery to the solar panels, and how does this affect the grid connection? How can we set up a system that allows neighbours to supply energy to each other? Also, where do we install the batteries?

“I see this as an excellent opportunity to learn what it really takes to make an entire neighbourhood selfsufficient in terms of energy.”

Challenging business case

But the technology is not the only challenge presented by this project: there is also the business case. The Endona energy cooperative played a crucial role in this project: they registered the consortium for the Energy Act Experiments Regulation, which provided a legal framework for generating, distributing and marketing energy in a specific area. Nevertheless, the financial benefits for residents will remain low while the net-metering regulations are still in place (until 2023). That’s all going to change once net metering ends, so our aim with this project is to develop energy storage in sea salt batteries into a ready-made product – one that’s suitable not only for individual homes but can also be used in collective settings such as that in Heeten. In fact, GridFlex Heeten is concerned not just with the potential for families to save costs, but also with the environmental aspect of the project. I think it’s remarkable for so many homes in a single neighbourhood to be so environmentally aware and dedicated to sustainability. They are really open to this experiment. In the near future, 20 homes will be fitted with a battery the size of a large refrigerator, so it takes a certain amount of dedication to be involved in this project. We’re very pleased that they’re giving us the opportunity to conduct this experiment and learn from it.

Shared journey towards a more sustainable world

The preliminary process will soon be wrapped up, and all homes have now been fitted with the energyNXT Gateway, a smart box which measures how much energy a home generates and consumes at a specific time and which communicates with the batteries. This ensures that all energy is distributed across the neighbourhood in the most efficient way possible. All homes already have access to the energyNXT portal, which allows them to track their individual energy generation and consumption and, from December 2018, their collective data as well. After all, the GridFlex Heeten project is all about the power of the collective! Whereas some residents have so many solar panels that they are virtually self-sufficient, others have installed only a few panels and some homes generate no energy at all. But there’s one interest they all have in common: creating a more sustainable world.

Educational

One of the objectives of the GridFlex Heeten project is to learn how much the energy grid load can be reduced once neighbourhoods become largely self-sufficient. I’m very curious to see what sort of data we will generate in the future. Studies have shown that you can save up to 30 per cent in costs. I’m really keen to find out whether those cost savings will actually materialise.

Do you want to learn more? Read our case study!

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John’s Challenge: better results thanks to good collaboration

The Amsterdam Houthavens area has become a special, restricted traffic area for high-quality living along the IJ waterfront, thanks to the Spaarndammertunnel. The brand-new, 800-metre long tunnel, of which 470 metres is covered, has ensured that eighty percent of the daily 22,000 vehicle movements passes underground. The tunnel creates space above ground for greenery, bicycle and walking tracks as well as public transport, and connects the new residential area with the city centre. The connection of the tunnel’s technical installations was realized through the collective efforts of a collaboration that came about in an unexpected manner, but which turned out to be very successful.

Together you go a long way

The Amsterdam Municipality awarded the entire contract for the construction of the Spaarndammertunnel to Max Bögl. This company then subcontracted the technical installation to OSMO, an experienced German installation company. “However, both parties had not taken into account that the Dutch legal requirements with regard to the design and test process are different from those in Germany. Which led to
the fact that they realised that they lacked specific knowhow well before the actual work started. And this is why they contacted us for advice,” says project manager John Voeten as he explains the role of ICT Group in the project.

Added value

ICT Group’s expertise soon proved its added value in the domain of designing and programming. Voeten: “You discuss issues and you help each other, also at times when things are not progressing as smoothly as one would hope. By working together we started to reinforce each other, in several ways.” We kept exploring and pushing the limits of what was feasible, always within the agreed framework and in constant mutual consultation. “Constantly making use and benefiting from each other’s expertise, that’s what resulted in the best possible solutions in the end. For instance, the possibility of predicting when installations or systems are going to break down or when they require maintenance.” What was also appreciated was the fact that ICT thoroughly investigated which tests were critical and which were not. “Our experience allowed us to analyse this in a reliable and accurate manner. As a result, we could achieve a substantial reduction in the total number of tests, in a transparent manner and while remaining in full compliance with the requirements of the Amsterdam tunnel standards as imposed upon the project.”

“If it were up to me, we would work together more often. And as far as that’s concerned, I’m also not the only one.”

Address issues immediately

ICT used the V-model for the testing activities. “The basic principle of this model is that you only pass onto the next phase once the previous phase has been tested and approved. This forces you to pay systematic attention to development and verification. Anything that is not fully correct become clear in a timely manner and can be addressed immediately.” A method with proven results, says Voeten. Participating in the thought process, advising and initiating optimisation measures, both during the design and the testing phase, has accelerated and simplified the process. Resulting in substantial savings of both time and money.

Communicate continuously

The Spaarndammertunnel was opened for traffic during the spring of 2018. And with results I’m proud of, says Voeten. “And I’m not the only one who is entitled to be proud! This project is a prime example of the results you can achieve when you collaborate effectively. As long as you communicate continuously and work together, you can raise a project like the Spaarndammertunnel to a higher level.”

Do you want to work on challenging projects like John?

Take a look at our website: www.ict.eu/jobs.

Victor’s Challenge: managing projects in which things are put in motion

The Amsterdam Noord/Zuidlijn is a 9.7 kilometre underground railway connection that cuts the travel time from the north to the south of Amsterdam in half. The extremely prestigious and ambitious project involved drilling and construction beneath the busy city, in which people live and work. A widely discussed project, which received a huge amount of publicity, both in Amsterdam and beyond.

Collaboration

The Noord/Zuidlijn is a project commissioned by the Amsterdam City Council. The Council signed a contract with Siemens for the realisation of the tunnel-technical installation. Siemens is a reputable party in the domain of system integration and optimisation, and has the required expertise and experience when it comes to infrastructure projects. “In a large project like the Noord/Zuidlijn, there are times when you need additional manpower and knowhow. This is why Siemens contacted ICT Group to obtain their assistance and advice required for connecting the station systems and central control systems with the current network. And this is when I got involved in the project”, says Victor Sikkel, technical project manager for ICT Group.

Putting things in motion

Victor is literally putting things in motion on the Noord/Zuidlijn. “The station system consists of the camera monitoring system, the dynamic route information system and the PA systems, which had to be interconnected with the underground railway tracking system. To achieve this, we worked in close collaboration with the hardware supplier. Together we developed a lay-out on an industrial mini pc with Windows Embedded. This became the foundation for building a .net application with a web-based user interface.” We also used .net for creating a user interface for the camera system and the Dynamic Route Information System (DRIS). The central control systems include the escalators, elevators, burglar alarms on the ticket machines and the fire alarm system.

“I prefer to be involved in a project from day one, and don’t like leaving a project until everything conceived on the drawing table has actually been put in motion.”

Smart technology

The Noord/Zuidlijn was officially opened and put into operation on 22 July 2018, a moment that residents, commuters and local business owners had been looking forward to for years. Safety always had top priority during the entire project, both during the construction and the testing phase. Victor: “We also created additional safety and security by means of the gate detection functionality. This allows for prompt detection of intruders and the necessary subsequent actions. In addition, the smart technology has achieved substantial savings in terms of time and manpower. In the past, when a gate was closed, we had to travel to the actual location and check whether everyone had left. Thanks to this smart technology this is no longer necessary.”

Freedom

Victor continues: “The nicest aspect of the Noord/Zuidlijn project is the level of freedom I was given by the client. Freedom to realise better solutions. A lot of technological developments took place between the moment of receiving the request and the actual start of the project, and we have been able to apply these developments. The Noord/ Zuidlijn project has been completed, and the underground is moving. I’m also putting myself in motion by taking on a new assignment. That’s what I’m looking forward to. We’re working on a large number of interesting and challenging projects at ICT Group. The company stimulates taking initiative and entrepreneurship, and this turns each project into a challenge.”

Do you want to work on challenging projects?

Visit our website: www.ict.eu/careers!