The Northern Dutch energy sector

The Northern Netherlands has become a European hub for the development and testing of various alternative energy sources, and developments towards a carbon-free future.

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Naturally, due to the diversity of this sector, there is an equally diverse networks of businesses, public sector organisations, and clusters that support companies and researchers working in energy. Many of these organisations have been created under the auspices of not only the Dutch government, and provinces of Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe (and their various municipalities), but under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 project.

One of the first sub-sectors within renewable energy that found success in the Northern Netherlands was wind power. Due to the unique topography of the region, both on and offshore wind farm arrays have been built, including the Gemini Wind Farm, which opened fully in 2017 and is the third largest wind farm in the world. Indeed, such is the proximity of the Northern Netherlands to areas of high wind activity, there are actually 2,500 turbines within a radius of 70 nautical miles from the northern Dutch coast.

Consequently, the Northern Netherlands has a large amount of infrastructure dedicated towards wind energy- from extensive and specially designed ports, to a specifically focused organisation called the Northern Netherlands Offshore Wind (NNOW).

Over the last decade or so, various organisations dedicated to alternative energy sprung up in Groningen, Friesland, and Drenthe. To make approaches more joined up, the organisations became the New Energy Coalition in 2016/17. It is housed within the jaw-dropping Energy Academy building in the University of Groningen’s Zernike Campus, and is highly integrated into the research infrastructure of both the University of Groningen and Hanzehogeschool Groningen. At the moment, research includes how future energy infrastructure might work, ENYSTRA- which focuses on the practicalities of energy transition, and integrating off and on-shore energy systems. The New Energy Coalition also provides training (from short courses through to business school courses and a tertiary qualification in new energy methods), and initiatives to support energy-related businesses and start-ups.

One of these is the Venture Lab North, which works similarly to a start-up incubator. One of the areas it focuses on is energy-related business ventures and has an extensive list of contacts across the academic and business worlds. In addition to this, and at the cutting edge of developments in the sector, the Making City project (launched in 2018) will have a base in the city of Groningen, and will work towards creating the systems to allow low-carbon cities under the Positive Energy District approach.

In terms of business development, the New Energy Coalition is also looking into, and supporting efforts for innovation within the fields of Liquid Natural Gas, and ways to make water transport within the Netherlands as clean as possible in the CLINSH project.

A final new energy source that is being developed in the Northern Netherlands is Green Hydrogen. Generally held to be the fuel of the future, the Paris Agreement codified the requirements for making a move to this energy source. It is likely that hydrogen fuel cells will be a large part of a greener future, and with neighbouring Germany being one of the biggest producers of such cells in the world, the Northern Netherlands is well-placed to benefit from this.

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