Although the Netherlands was late to move into wind energy, it is now the world’s second-biggest contributor to the supply chain. Considering the country’s ideal location on the North Sea, wind energy could develop to become a Dutch export product. This is the opinion of Hans Timmers, chairman of the Netherlands Wind Energy Association (NWEA). “It’s taken a while but the Netherlands has finally realised that sustainable energy is an economic opportunity.”
Text: Rob Schoemaker
The entire supply chain surrounding wind energy is represented by the sector organisation NWEA, including traditional energy companies active in the Netherlands, developers, producers and supply companies: national and international, small and large. The NWEA is also the point of contact for the Ministry of Economic Affairs. In committees and working groups we discuss the substance of everything to do with wind energy and make policy recommendations,” says chairman Hans Timmers. “For wind farms on land, for example, we are working on a code of conduct to operate in a way that is acceptable to society. For wind farms at sea, a field which is rightfully now developing rapidly thanks to the Energy Accord, we are working with the Ministry of Economic Affairs on the preparation of tenders to be issued. What specifications should these meet?”
The tender system used is unique and the Netherlands is the world leader in this respect. The idea is for the government to cover the risks involved in the exploitation of wind farms by placing ready-made, transparent sections on the market. The fact that the risks – such as uncertainties about permits, the size of parcels, cabling to shore and connection to the grid via Tennet – are covered has a cost-absorbing effect, since tenderers only need to calculate their own risks.
For the wind farms planned in the Energy Accord, the tender for Borssele 1 and 2 was won by DONG. Borssele 3 and 4 will be awarded later in the year, the Holland Coast (Hollandse Kust) parcel next year. After that – Minister Kamp presents his policy document in the autumn – tenders may extend to new parcels, such as on the Dogger Bank and in the Wadden Sea.
“It has taken a while but the Netherlands has finally realised that sustainable energy is an economic opportunity and that wind energy in north-western Europe offers the best possibilities,” says Timmers. “This awareness wasn’t there previously and we’ve lost decades of progress as a result. There is also not a single wind turbine manufacturer in the Netherlands and, if nothing happens in this respect, 10 to 12 per cent of Dutch national product (the combined value of all of a country’s production factors at a given time) will be lost as fossil fuels are phased out.
“We therefore have to create a new economy which not only compensates for this but also offers export opportunities. And these opportunities do exist. The Netherlands is the second-largest contributor to the wind energy supply chain, after Denmark, thanks to supply companies such as Van Oord (foundations, artificial islands), Boskalis, Fugro and IHC. So, we have the expertise, efficiency and know-how, and a ‘Top Sector’ policy that further boosts innovation. In addition, the Netherlands has always been a trading nation that looks beyond its borders. Everyone in the world can now see how the tender system has led to favourable tenders. What’s the secret behind this? Finally, we have fantastic ports for engineering and maintenance. In short, sustainable energy is both a production and export opportunity for the Netherlands.”
If ports are awake to the possibilities, they will surely take advantage of them, believes Timmers. To that end, directors should show leadership, identify trends and facilitate links with companies in the supply chain. Rotor blades are becoming increasingly large and ports need sufficient space, quays and facilities in-house for transport and assembly.
“Geographical distances are important,” stresses Timmers, “but facilities are even more important, as well as an integrated vision at management level on how to make connections and serve the entire supply chain. It’s about having the collective will to be sustainable. On the one hand, that means generous subsidies, on the other it requires the realisation that land-based wind farms and solar energy are inextricable links in the chain. With increasing electrification, it is crucial to cater for local needs on a local basis. The bulk of the energy needed will be generated at sea but cannot come from there entirely: the cabling requirements would be too great. The ports of Amsterdam and IJmuiden look well placed in the North Sea Canal region, with their infrastructure and inland connections. But the message needs to penetrate at all management levels, including the provincial level. In fact, an example regarding sustainability should be set at a national level.”
In the short term, there are many opportunities offered by collaboration with the oil & gas sector on making their production sustainable, Timmers concludes. “A crucial next step is what follows the Energy Accord. We’re already thinking about where to develop wind farms in 2020 and whether these will be large or small farms, depending on the space available. Once again this will need to be based on a consistent, risk-covering government policy towards the situation after 2020. By 2020, 14% of power generation in the Netherlands will be sustainable, by 2023 it will be 16% and by 2050 it should be 100%. We must therefore generate an extra gigawatt per year to reach this target. And that is possible. It is also perfectly reasonable to imagine that we might become an energy exporter with a business model that benefits everyone in the Netherlands: businesses, the treasury, employment and educational institutes.”