We need to do smart things together. That is the very short summary of the round table discussion on what the energy transition means for the Northern Netherlands.
NOM facilitates several roundtable discussions on topics of importance to the Northern Netherlands. The first was about energy transition. The transition presents challenges for the Northern Netherlands, but we prefer to talk about the opportunities, which - everyone seems to agree - are enormous. But how do we capitalize on the opportunities, and how do we accelerate the transition?
The Northern Netherlands is the logical place for a pioneering region in energy transition. Not only does the North say so, so does The Hague. To quote Sandor Gaastra, Director General of Climate and Energy on behalf of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK): 'Hydrogen is becoming increasingly important - both as an energy carrier and as a building block for the chemical industry - and the North is leading the way in this. The entire energy policy requires a lot of green energy, and that too is concentrated in (the sea above) the Northern Netherlands. Many of the industrial consumers of hydrogen are in the North. Such a pioneering function means economic perspective in a region that deserves it.'
Joint agenda needed
Billions are available for climate policy in the coming years. That a generous portion has been set aside for hydrogen initiatives is clear. And the Northern Netherlands must grab those billions, in numerous areas. In infrastructure, mobility, storage of green energy, industry, as a replacement for natural gas and more: in Groningen and its surroundings, everything is essentially ready for realization.
But what do we spend it on? That's an easy question with a difficult answer. Do we start with education? Should the money go to smart startups, or to existing companies? Do we need resources to attract staff? Is it useful to start working on public and business support first? Perhaps it would be useful to first launch a thorough study. In doing so, it is essential to look realistically at bottlenecks and at plans and forecasts.
Marieke Abbink-Pellenbarg, CEO of the New Energy Coalition, says exactly what is needed. 'We need to make a plan together with companies, education and government, an agenda. What task lies ahead of us, where do we want to go and how are we going to do it. Only then should we distribute the pots of grant money.' Does that sound logical? Sure, but in practice it does not always work that way. It can be exactly the difference between getting opportunities and cashing in on them.
Laws and regulations
To make serious strides and achieve goals, it is necessary to cooperate and get governments on board. Laws and regulations must be adjusted here and there so that more can be done more quickly. In infrastructure, for example. International Head of Grid Planning at TenneT Robert Kuik wants to adapt grids for the future: 'We know how to meet the challenges in energy transition, but the route of licensing, appeals and objections takes so long that valuable time is lost.' Dina Boonstra, director of NOM, sees the same problem. 'Entrepreneurs from existing companies and innovative start-ups are eager to make their contribution to the transition, but they still too often run up against outdated legislation.' One example: a provider of mobile charging stations is being held back by laws based on stationary variants. Action required.
Another bump to take in the process: how do we get everyone on board? Support is essential for the success of plans. The first observation here is that the enormous task of energy transition is still unknown to many people. Unloved as a result. The subsidized provision of hybrid heat pumps seems like a good idea. This would not only help the climate directly, but would also bring the urgency to the attention of more people.
Thinking a little further along that line, citizen participation is a great tool. Let people share in revenues from new technology for generating green energy. Or, something more rigorous: perhaps we should reverse procedures to create more support.
Groningen has everything it needs to remain the gas traffic circle of Europe, but a different type of gas: hydrogen. The infrastructure is already in the ground, the knowledge is still there. That knowledge must remain, or rather grow. And that is a serious challenge, perhaps the greatest in the entire plan for Groningen to remain or become the energy region. It has been calculated that the energy transition will create some 20,000 jobs in the North. But who is going to fill those vacancies?
There is already a significant shortage in technical occupations. And then numerous other specialists are needed. Sociologists, lawyers, psychologists, they are all needed. Good news: the number of students in Groningen has increased in recent years, which implies that more talent will enter the labor market in the coming years. They must stay "here," however.
Sustainable Energy Valley
But more needs to be done. For starters, students need to know what is happening and possible in the North. The times when they naturally sought careers elsewhere should be put behind us. In fact, massaging should start much earlier. More young people should be allowed to aspire to a technical education. Perhaps studies should be designed differently. Something broader for more appeal. What applies to laws and regulations may also apply to education. The energy transition is too big for the existing frameworks. Other assessment criteria could be applied to it. Anything to help solve the enormous task.
And furthermore, there is room for innovation in the Northern Netherlands. Literally and figuratively. To keep the 'sustainable engine' running for this, a Sustainable Industry Challenge is being organized again, with the final in 2023. Chemport Europe and the NOM have started preparations for this.
The Northern Netherlands has it, the Northern Netherlands can do it, if only we do what we do best: seek cooperation. Perhaps everyone involved in the energy transition (and there are a lot of them) should join forces and approach the challenge as a kind of cooperative. With opportunities for all and bumps smoothed out in concert. In 2035 the Northern Netherlands will be the sustainable Energy Valley, the place where accumulated knowledge, large and small companies and startups grow together to great heights, the place to be if you want to do something with sustainable energy.