Energy agreement 2.0

Column by Albert van der Hem, director of BLIX Consultancy

In March we will choose a new House of Representatives in The Netherlands, but no matter what kind of Government we will get afterwards, and which coalition agreement will be concluded, we need a new Energy Agreement. What role will wind energy play? Offshore wind has had a giant breakthrough in 2016. Onshore wind will just achieve its targets. But to meet the Climate Agreement of Paris, we need to take it a step further. How to do this?

Climate neutral in 2050

Recently I saw a nice presentation of the energy coordinator of the Municipality Den Bosch in the Netherlands. Den Bosch is a typical urban municipality with a lot of residents, lots of industry and barely open space. The Municipality aims to be climate neutral in 2050 by saving 50% of the energy usage and produce 50% renewable energy. Let’s calculate. From the current 18 PetaJoule energy usage in 2050 minimal 9 PetaJoule needs to be saved and 9 PetaJoule needs to come from renewable energy resources. Currently Den Bosch produces 0.2 PetaJoule renewable energy by itself and buys 0.8 PetaJoule from elsewhere. Still 8 PetaJoule to go. The energy coordinator mentioned that there is room for 3 PetaJoule renewable energy in 2050 based on 20 wind turbines and 300 hectares of solar panels. Furthermore, he booked 0.5 PetaJoule from offshore wind that will be operational by that time.

Close the gap

What really stood out to me was not only the fact that this civil servant analysed and calculated well, but was open and honest about the huge gap of 5.5 PetaJoule that stood between the ambition and what is feasible to achieve. Thus, additionally he would like to realise 150 wind turbines of 4 MegaWatt in his Municipality to close the gap, but he did not find the space for it. Someone from the audience mentioned that innovations could be the solution. I certainly believe in that, but do we have other options?

Energetic Odyssey

In my opinion this illustrates that again it will be the rural areas that will have to save the cities in 2050. Historically a city can only flourish if the rural areas are able to provide the bulk of the food, energy and raw materials. Think of salsify, peat and wood. This means that rural provinces and municipalities in 2050 should be net exporter of renewable energy. And that the cities would pay for it. Furthermore, you could conclude that the Netherlands as a whole has the characteristics of one big city. Not a lot of open space, cities close to each other, a lot of infrastructure and industry. That’s a huge climate challenge, but we are lucky. West of the Netherlands lies a virtual rural area that we may count as our Economical Zone. A large and shallow part of North Sea with strong winds. According to the estimation of “2050 An Energetic Odyssey” there will be roughly 25,000 till 50,000 MegaWatt wind energy in 2050, which annually produces 425-850 PetaJoule renewable energy. When this estimation is correct, the future energy coordinator of Den Bosch may count on 4 till 8 PetaJoule of offshore wind, based on the current number of residents. In other words, the North Sea can, as our ‘rural area’, support the city municipality of Den Bosch to achieve its targets. Needless to say that the same applies for many city municipalities of other countries that border the North Sea. By the way no reason for Den Bosch to stop with the development of onshore wind projects, although I have every faith that in 2050 there will be a lot of extra wind turbines offshore, I cannot guarantee it.