Last Friday, the Johan Cruijff Arena in Amsterdam was descended upon by a frothy, screaming crowd of thousands, absolutely champing at the bit to see the new car battery tech that had just been installed inside.
OK, they were there to see Ed Sheeran. But had the grid failed during old Ginger Nuts' performance, you'd better believe those heart-eyed housewives would suddenly care a whole lot more about battery backup. Thankfully for them, in the event of a power failure the tech switched on for the first time on Friday would have allowed the show to continue seamlessly, with barely a record-scratch to interrupt that song that sounds like the other song.
Johan Cruijff Arena. Image: DennisM2 via Flickr CC
The stadium's battery backup is an impressively forward-thinking project pulled off by the Dutch city's management and a smörgåsbord of companies including Eaton, BAM, The Mobility House and Nissan, who provided the car batteries. Two-thirds funded by loans and a third by private capital, the project is designed to deliver a return on investment in ten years from now.
Amsterdam Arena was already one of the most sustainable sports venues in the world with more than four thousand solar panels and its own wind turbine. Now, it has a climate-controlled catacomb of both new and what are adorably known as 'second-life' Nissan Leaf batteries (in other words, used ones. Not ones that have been pretending to be a wizard in some retro MMORPG) to take over in the event of a blip in the grid.
But that's not all the 3 megawatt battery array can do. Since the big switch-on – which involved a giant red button that Giz UK surreptitiously pressed and were disappointed to find was a decoy – an incredibly sophisticated software package custom-created by The Mobility House has been pulling together all the data from the Arena and the local area, making split-second decisions about how much power each needs.
The software – housed in a single unassuming cabinet with its own power backup – autonomously manages all the batteries, deciding when and how much to discharge, monitoring the charge state of each one and the Arena as a whole, and even connecting to trading partners to buy and sell energy when it would benefit the budget.
This system allows for peak shaving, which means instead of paying higher charges for using huge amounts of energy during shows or sports games, the Arena can pull power from the batteries instead and save themselves some Euros.
And it's not just the Arena that saves. Local residents with an electric car can plug into one of the 18 bidirectional chargers in the car park (there are another 200 on the way, we're told) in order to power up or contribute energy to the stadium. Contributing energy not only gives people an opportunity to get involved with the sustainability efforts of the Arena: it also gives them a hefty discount on their parking. And realistically, more people probably care about that, since parking in Amsterdam costs bucketloads.
While we were reminded of the somewhat niche nature of battery tech when contrasting the small room of launch attendees with the apparently endless Sheeran queue outside, we were nonetheless inspired to see that these kinds of projects can be pulled off quickly, efficiently, and to the benefit of everyone. Can we get their team in to do Brexit?