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Ajax’s Amsterdam Arena: Total football meets holistic clean energy

By David Pratt
The Johann Cruyff ArenA in Amsterdam, home to AFC Ajax and a 3MW/2.8MWh battery from Eaton and Nissan.

Over one thousand days is a long time to spend on any number of things, let alone a single project for a commercial & industrial (C&I) customer. But when planning and building the largest commercial battery system using second-life and new modules in Europe, and when the customer in question happens to be the most successful club in the history of Dutch football, it seems that is the amount of time needed.

We know this thanks to the completion of the 3MW/2.8MWh energy storage system launched at Amsterdam’s Johan Cruyff ArenA last week, a project long in preparation and open now to great fanfare by the project partners.

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Home to Ajax football club of the Dutch Eredivisie, the stadium hosts around 15 league home games a season as well as international ties, European cup encounters and a range of non-sporting events throughout the year. Keeping the lights on during these high profile events is of paramount importance, and offers the perfect application of energy storage.

The system – brought together by a power electronics company, a car company, an aggregator, a sustainable construction firm, and an arena – offers a new energy paradigm for the stadium. Charged from the 1MWp solar on the roof as well as some grid supply, the battery’s primary function is to provide uninterruptable back-up power to the venue.

The battery, charged to 100% for such events, can be called on to provide full power to the ArenA for one hour during a major event with maximum energy intake, or three hours if dispensable consumers (e.g. kitchen facilities) are disconnected.

Comprised of 250 second life battery packs with 340 first life battery modules from Nissan, controlled by four bi-directional inverters from Eaton and managed by a control system from The Mobility House, the system can also perform peak shaving during these high demand events to limit the impact on a constrained local grid system.

When not providing these functions, the system is leveraged to perform frequency regulation by charging or discharging batteries based on grid operator requests. Using its own generation from onsite solar, the system can also trade energy on the wholesale market while supporting the grid.

This kind of stack will be familiar to some but according to Henk van Raan, director of innovation at the Johan Cruyff ArenA, it offers specific advantages to the location.

“Thanks to this energy storage system, the stadium will be able to use its own sustainable energy more intelligently and, as Amsterdam Energy ArenA BV, it can trade in the batteries’ available storage capacity,” he said.

Delivering a first for commercial battery storage

Nissan and Eaton have some experience working together, having launched a residential battery offering some months ago in the UK with another high profile sporting partner in Manchester City Football Club (MCFC), current Premier League champions in England.

However, even as far back as May 2017 when talk of a battery being planned by MCFC emerged, the Amsterdam project was already well on the way to being realised thanks to the existing relationship between the two global brands.

It was therefore inevitable that second-life batteries would play a role with Nissan as the biggest-selling electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer looking for uses of its battery packs once they finish their first lives on the road.

“At the moment all the information we have, because we have been commercialising this data for the past eight years, shows that you can have at least 70% of storage capacity remaining in the battery after the vehicle lifetime,” explained Francisco Carranza Sierra, managing director of Nissan Energy Services.

“We think this is very important for a circular economy…if the product is still usable, we prefer to repurpose it into a different application.”

Owing to the limited number of available second-life units, the majority of modules used are new but this mix still offers a dependable system for at least a decade, as Frank Campbell, president of corporate and electrical sector EMEA at Eaton, explained.

“The second-life batteries will serve this stadium at the rated capacity for 10 years, that is what we designed the system to do…to guarantee that the second-life and first-life batteries will meet the 2.8MWh rated capacity for the lifetime of the system,” he said.

250 second life battery packs with 340 first life battery modules from Nissan were used to build the 3MW/2.8MWh energy storage system. Image: The Mobility House.

Creating value across the energy market

Once commissioned, in steps The Mobility House to provide the management software architecture to ensure the battery delivers value for the ArenA as well as the grid. This is carried out by a single rack at the site; the living brain of the project as software engineer George Shaikouski explained.

“We collect all data from the arena regarding energy, PV generation and grid frequency into this rack, which has a connection into our cloud services where we run optimisation, market bidding and the trading strategy to sell and buy the energy, and market grid services.

“This rack gets all the use cases together and generates the signal of what is required for the optimal value generation, which is sent to the storage system and then the inverters do the job.”

As with all commercial battery projects, the secret of success here is to access as many revenue streams and financial benefits as possible within the energy market – a fact not lost on The Mobility House’s managing director Marcus Fendt.

“Currently batteries are still expensive and to make money with it, which is still very tight, you need to do all kinds of different products in the energy markets so you need to have a very flexible battery design. That is why we have 3MW and 2.8MWh; this is not a coincidence, this is exactly how we can leverage the battery most,” he told Energy-Storage.News at last week’s launch.

This will allow the battery and its functions to offer a payback period of just 10 years, while new use cases are already under development.

Fendt said the group is “negotiating hard” with the grid operator to be able to deal energy in the neighbourhood, which is known to have power quality issues. Similarly, it is hoped the battery may even convert those still reliant on fossil fuel technologies to the energy transition.

“If there is a concert they [performers] often bring their own diesel generators because they don't rely on the power quality of the venue, so with this we want to prove we have the better power quality than the diesel generators and can provide really reliable sustainable energy,” Fendt added.

“It creates a lot of trust if you have a public venue where people trust in the back-up power of such a system.”

The Mobility House’s control system brings together all the relevant information from across the stadium to unlock value with the battery system.

Cooperation offers ‘a pretty amazing accomplishment’

Despite all of these benefits to the site, the companies involved, the grid system and the sector as a whole thanks to the public-facing nature of the project, the leading message of success from the launch event comes not from the system itself, but of how it was brought about.

Hank van Raan said the biggest success of the project was the cooperation of all those involved, while Jan Jaap Blum of BAM called it “a perfect example of achieving things together with supply chain partners”.

Speaking from the stage alongside all the project partners, Campbell continued: “The team that is up here all needed to integrate and I think that’s one of the more fascinating aspects of this project. It’s a pretty amazing accomplishment.”

Not least for Eaton, which two years ago had never built a battery module, let alone an entire 3MW system. However, the contact with an “innovative partner” like the ArenA gave the company the drive and opportunity to launch its energy storage business with purpose.

“It was the catalyst for us to act like entrepreneurs and take the opportunity to do something special,” Campbell added.

Representatives from the Johan Cruyff ArenA, Eaton, Nissan, BAM, The Mobility House, funders Interreg and the Amsterdam Climate and Energy Fund (AKEF) and the Mayor’s office at last week’s launch. Image: The Mobility House.

“This is only the beginning”

It could be forgiven if these project partners decided to take their foot off the proverbial gas now that “something special” had been commissioned, but as van Raan said: “This is only the beginning.”

Next comes the addition of electric vehicle chargers to the site, specifically bi-directional vehicle-to-grid (V2G) solutions. A mixture of 18 smart and V2G chargers is to be installed by the start of next year, with plans for 200 in total to take advantage of the flexibility provided by EVs parked outside the stadium.

These will be used to support the ArenA during events, while the battery system would also discharge into the vehicles when needed. The control system is already primed to incorporate these mobile storage resources into its functions, adding yet another innovative technology and potential revenue source into the mix.

Once completed, this would likely offer the biggest simultaneous bi-directional charging project and for The Mobility House, which started life in the mobile storage market, a proposition well within its capabilities.

The tech firm is also developing the means to perform arbitrage from the site, while a planned east extension to the stadium could see up to another 1MWp of solar generation added to the stadium’s arsenal of energy resources.

So 1,163 days may seem like a lengthy lead time, but taken in the round the Johan Cruyff ArenA battery has delivered a range of new capabilities to all those involved, who are already convinced that it will prove to have been worth the wait.

200 smart and bi-directional electric vehicle chargers are planned for the future of the stadium’s energy system. Image: The Mobility House.

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