Wind, Solar and Hydrogen go hand in hand

Column by Albert van der Hem, director of BLIX

BLIX's mission is to accelerate the energy transition and it is nice to see that our new Government follows that path. The 10th of October the new coalition agreement was published in a handy bullet list. One of the four chapters took us by some surprise. It is called: “The Netherlands towards Sustainability”, and it is about climate! Bottom line is an ambitious reduction of 49% in emissions of greenhouse gases in 2030 compared to 1990, anchored in a Climate Law. The coal-fired power stations will be closed at the latest in 2030. After 2024 subsidies will be stopped for additional combustion of biomass in coal power plants and the Government stimulates the capture and storage of CO2. Furthermore, the goal for year 2030 is that all new cars will be zero emission and that the Netherlands will commit at European level on taxes for aviation. A great list. As far as I am concerned it still lacks taxation on the consumption of meat, but you can't have it all.

As a wind and sun-adept the following bullets in the coalition agreement are nice to read:

  •          We increase the number of tenders for offshore wind energy sites
  •          There will be more solar energy

In a plan of 70 pages about climate this seems, of course, a bit minimalistic, but the topics are mentioned, so far so good. The non-mentioned topic is onshore wind. That's too bad because it is necessary to further increase the national objective from 6.000 MW towards 10.000 MW wind in 2030. For the Netherlands Wind Energy Association (NWEA) this will be an important lobby statement. I am not sure how municipalities and provinces are able to meet their local sustainability targets without onshore wind, so I expect that the NWEA will lobby for more in The Hague.

Back to offshore wind. Earlier this year BLIX wrote a report for the province of Groningen (in Dutch) in which we concluded that there was room for at least 5,000 to 11,000 MW of new offshore wind locations above the West Frisian Islands. These locations can be realised for the same cost price as any wind farm off the coast of North and South Holland, and can be introduced in the local electricity network. This on the condition that the 5,000 MW 380 Northwest grid connection is finished by 2021. And when the coal plants will close in 2030, several thousands of MW power delivery capability will be added. Offshore wind is increasingly becoming cheaper, but we should realise that on top of the costs for offshore wind comes the grid costs of around 15-20 euro per MWh. For onshore wind these grid costs are already included in the cost price.

The rise of solar energy is spectacular. We are witnessing the development of solar parks in the category of 10 to 50 MW each. The next thing is large solar fields in lakes. At this size, onshore and offshore wind experience is becoming interesting and BLIX is ready to provide this experience. BLIX is currently the advisor for a landowner who is developing a 35-40 MW solar-PV project. Good to know that BLIX will not develop solar farms and in the field of solar energy independent consultants appear to be scarce.

Now that coal-fired power stations will phase out, the wind and solar sector are facing new responsibilities and electricity from sun and wind will be the new ' baseload ‘ in the Netherlands. How will these sectors cope with this? This should crystallise in the next ten years. Luckily wind and sun do not occur simultaneously (when there is wind, normally the sun shines less and vice versa), so that helps. Grid companies plead for wind and solar parks at one connection - where possible - and have started to strengthen the Netherlands electricity grid. It won’t take long until offshore wind farms will be surrounded by solar parks. The surplus of electricity will be stored or transformed to hydrogen, and so the aim of the zero-emission cars in 2030 is becoming useful.

When the wind is strong, the sun shines and it is weekend, it will cause a surplus of electricity which by means of simple electrolysis can be converted into hydrogen. In addition, electricity can be used directly to extra recharge all electric cars during moments of electricity surplus and low prices (for example in that windy and sunny weekend). In times of shortage of electricity, during peak demands, the cars that are connected to the grid can temporarily act as an electricity supplier. The produced hydrogen will be used primarily in fuel cells in inland waterway transport, trucks, buses, or as a range extender for temporarily rented holiday cars. Remaining hydrogen will mainly be used as a sustainable base molecule in large quantities in the industry. In fact, I miss a hydrogen bullet in the coalition agreement. The focus on CO2 capture and storage in particular seems really expensive to me and is not letting the industry innovate. As far as I am concerned our new Climate Minister Wiebes may still fix that.

Summarising, a fast-growing wind and solar market will have to go hand-in-hand with the zero-emission transition of the transport sector and the use of hydrogen in the industry, this way you get the maximum value from both of them. After reading the coalition agreement, therefore, I have confidence in the future. Let's continue to speed up the energy transition!