Amsterdam ArenA: Incubator for the city of the future

Say ‘Amsterdam ArenA’ and inevitably you mean ‘football stadium’. But the imposing structure in Amsterdam Zuidoost is far more than that. Henk van Raan, chief innovation officer at Amsterdam ArenA says: “It’s an incubator, a knowledge center and catalyst for innovations that will shape the city of the future.”


That is not just a meaningless statement. Amsterdam ArenA has been committed to sustainability and innovation for years. The ArenA implemented a multi-year plan entitled ‘ArenA: Vanzelfsprekend Duurzaam’ (‘ArenA: Naturally Sustainable') between 2010 and 2015 and that included several sustainable initiatives.

For example, the stadium now has 4,200 solar panels on the roof and uses Dutch wind energy to provide its remaining electricity needs. In addition, the ArenA is heated with urban heat from [the local suburb] Diemen and it is cooled with water from the [nearby lake] Ouderkerkerplas. Also, in recent years, the stadium decreased waste production by as much as 150,000 kg through working together with suppliers, tenants and visitors.

“Amsterdam ArenA is a public-private initiative.’ Van Raan explains: “In other words, the stadium was built with the help of social funding. Therefore, we feel a responsibility to the area and we want to return something to society.”

Sustainable innovation
Having made great progress in sustainability, in the past two years the stadium has been actively engaged in a new program: innovation. Van Raan: “In terms of the container concept ‘smart cities’, we were asked to accelerate the development of smart applications for Amsterdam city.”

Van Raan knows that such innovations are essential for world cities like Amsterdam, where pressure on facilities such as shops, public transport and infrastructure is only increasing: “Digitalization can play a major role in keeping cities livable in the future. That’s why there is a rising demand for sensors and smart applications.”

In the collaborative project that followed, the parties involved decided that all innovations important to the development of Amsterdam should first be tested in and around Amsterdam ArenA. The stadium also set up its own investment program, reserving € 50m for innovation and sustainability. Van Raan: “Our ambition is to be the world’s most innovative stadium by 2020, partly because in that year we will be one of the cities hosting the European Championships. We’re bucking the trend in our market in a big way: we’re not aiming to expand our stadium – which is the norm – we’re focusing on innovation.”

Acting as incubator for innovations in the field of digitization immediately enables Amsterdam ArenA to explore a new economy. Van Raan expects digitalization and the emergence of smart applications to bring about a major economic transition. “Digitization inevitably leads to a transition from ownership to service. Mobility-as-a-service, lighting-as-a-service, energy-as-a-service. Indeed, the future belongs to service.”


Creating Impact
Van Raan reckons that the deadline of 2020 is a good driver that will create a real impact. “It will happen because, by 2020, the ArenA must be the most innovative stadium in the world.” He adds: “Worldwide there are hundreds of initiatives happening in the field of smart cities, but so far all of them are still in pilot project stage. In Amsterdam ArenA, we’re stepping up to the next level.”

That’s why the stadium must be the ideal test ground for innovations in smart city applications. Van Raan: "We have a roadmap for developing innovations around in six themes: digital connectivity, fan experience, customer travel, safety & security, sustainability & circular economy and facility management. The prerequisite for innovations in all these themes is connectivity.”

Energy company
The first result of this innovation program is fast becoming impressive reality. In the Amsterdam ArenA car park, a 4 megawatt storage battery is under construction as we speak. The new storage battery will contain 280 recycled Nissan Leaf batteries. Due to be delivered in the fourth quarter of 2017, the battery will be deployed to support and stabilize the national grid at times of peak demand and supply. Besides that, the battery will enable the stadium to add another string to its bow and also go through life as Amsterdam Energy ArenA BV.

“Energy storage can lead to huge reductions in CO2 emissions,” says Van Raan. "Coal and gas stations have to run the whole day to meet a few peaks in demand or supply. But imagine if you could meet those peaks with energy stored in batteries: then you could switch off the coal power stations. That will be the core function of the storage battery we are building at the moment.”

Living lab
In addition, the battery will act as a living lab in the field of energy storage and smart grid applications. The storage battery is only the beginning, says Van Raan. “We’re using second-hand Nissan Leaf batteries, which are fairly limited. But cars of the future will have an active radius of at least 500 km. Effectively they will become mobile storage batteries that will be able to stabilize the grid if our parking facilities make that possible. This summer, the ArenA will begin installing the first ten charging stations that will allow electric cars to both recharge and return surplus energy to the grid.”

Van Raan illustrates the benefits with a bit of arithmetic: “If some 10 percent of the population is driving round in electric cars by the year 2020, then 10 percent of the parking in Amsterdam Zuidoost will have to facilitate that. This means that on a busy day 1,200 electric cars would be connected to the grid. Then we’d be talking about 32 megawatts of storage capacity. That would cover the energy demand for the whole district. We’re developing services of the future based on the storage battery.”

At the moment, Amsterdam ArenA is the first and only stadium to offer energy storage as a service. Van Raan expects that this won’t be the case for long. “We’re noticing that other big parties, both at home and abroad are also in a hurry to get started on this. People are coming to us from places like Washington and Singapore with the question: how are you doing it?”


Changing role
Initiatives like the storage battery are changing the role Amsterdam ArenA is playing in the surrounding region. “Our core business is and will always be hosting events, focusing on football,” says Van Raan. “But at the same time, we are increasingly becoming the incubator and driver of innovation and new developments in the field of sustainability and digitization. Our role in this is getting bigger the more knowledge and experience we gain.”

“Basically, a city is one big piece of hardware,” Van Raan adds. “The only way you find out how that hardware works and what improvements would be possible is by making yourself a part of it. By getting involved right in the middle of things. The ArenA has been active in Amsterdam Zuidoost for years. Now we’ve become a knowledge center in the field of multifunctionality, sustainability and innovation in the region. We've been working on it for several years now.”

Most sustainable and innovative stadium in the world
By 2020, Amsterdam ArenA has to be the most sustainable and innovative stadium in the world. According to Van Raan, the stadium is well under way to achieving this goal: “I think we’re making a positive mark, we’ve put ourselves on the map worldwide. At the same time, our ambitions for 2020 reach sky high. That means we have more than enough on our to-do list to make sure we succeed.” And the work on that to-do list is going well. For example, in two months’ time the stadium will have a 5G network), and this summer it will act as field lab for big data applications. External SME innovators can now use the ArenA to test drive big data innovations, which can improve business services. “So, we’ll keep on innovating. The role of field lab is another completely new departure for the Amsterdam ArenA,” concludes Van Raan.