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Big ambitions, little action

Energy transition in the Netherlands

In this guest article, Rick Bosman, researcher at the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (DRIFT) at the Erasmus University Rotterdam (Netherlands) points out that the Dutch have the most ambitious energy targets in the EU along with the Danish. The goal is to make energy supply "fully sustainable," the government has yet to define what it means by "sustainable." And does "fully" even mean 100%?

In 2050, Dutch energy supply is to be "fully sustainable" ("duurzaam"), according to the coalition agreement the Liberal and Social-Democrat parties reached when they took office at the end of 2012. In terms of its ambitions, the Dutch government is among the most progressive worldwide, even topping the Germans. Only the Danish have a similar target of 100 percent renewable energy (not just electricity) by 2050.

What do the Dutch mean by "sustainable"? No one knows, for the government has yet to define the term. If the focus is on decarbonization, as in the UK, nuclear could be included, but the closest that the Dutch coalition goes in defining the term is probably on this website, which speaks of "16 percent sustainable energy by 2020 and a fully sustainable energy supply in 2050" without even mentioning the word "nuclear."

Furthermore, implementation lags behind. Currently, only 4% of the Dutch energy supply comes from sustainable sources if, by that, we mean renewables without nuclear. Turning this into 100% in 37 years is a massive challenge, and it is unclear whether policy makers are setting in motion the right changes to fundamentally reshape the energy system.

 - The Dutch House of Parliament in The Hague. The government of the Netherlands wants "100 percent sustainable energy" by 2050, but no one knows what that means.
The Dutch House of Parliament in The Hague. The government of the Netherlands wants "100 percent sustainable energy" by 2050, but no one knows what that means.
Craig Morris

In the Netherlands, the ministry of Economic Affairs is responsible for most energy policy. The most recent vision on the future energy system stems from 2011. There the focus lies on realising the 2020 goals. CCS (carbon capture and storage) and co-firing of biomass in coal fired power plants are seen as the main technologies to reach this goal and also nuclear energy has a role. However, these technologies still depart from a predominantly fossil fuel energy system, and are of little use when the goal is a completely sustainable energy system.

The obvious conclusion that 100% sustainable energy means 0% nuclear and fossil fuels, seems not to have occurred to Dutch policy makers (yet). In informal conversations with ministry officials they admit that the ministry does not have a strategy how to transform the current fossil fuel dominated energy system into a 100% sustainable energy system in 2050. It is surprising (to say the least) that the ministry responsible for realising the governments energy ambitions seems to have little clue on how to do so. Whether ambitions turn into concrete actions therefore remains to be seen.

Rick Bosman, researcher at the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (DRIFT), Erasmus University Rotterdam (Craig Morris)

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2 Comments on "Energy transition in the Netherlands "

  1. heinbloed - 17.04.2013, 13:05 Uhr (Report comment)

    "Why aren't the Netherlands covered with onshore wind turbines?"
    Because fascists ( I'm not using the term Nazis) had a political influence. Under the coalition with Wilders the further expansion of on-shore wind generators was stopped.
    The winds have changed, however, and another 6 GW on-shore should be installed by 2020
    In the mean time century-old technology is brought back into operation:
    A Frisian tidal power project ( artificial islands) here on a video from Belgium:
    explained in English
    In short: Ponds are build by pumping sand from the bottom of the sea up into a ring-shaped wall. The water is then emptied with pumps powered by wind generators. If there is a demand for electricity these ponds are filled by gravity flow of sea water, running electricity generating turbines.

  2. James Wimberley - 17.04.2013, 12:19 Uhr (Report comment)

    Tidal energy? While regular tides aren't very high off the coasts of the Netherlands - as opposed to the devastating storm surges that prompted the gargantuan Delta project - there's a blue-sky Dutch concept called "a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_tidal_power"dynamic tidal power", involving long dams or super-groynes sticking out into the sea and drawing energy from tide-driven coastal currents. The prudent Dutch are trying it out in China first. Wave energy should have potential too if the Scots ever solve the durability problem. The devices work, but corrosion wrecks them quickly. Why aren't the Netherlands covered with onshore wind turbines?

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