New Energy in ImpactCity The Hague || “Dutch energy can become next big thing after Dutch agri-food”

The Hague, traditionally the number one location for energy businesses in the Netherlands, is also rapidly transforming itself into a hotspot for the energy transition. As ImpactCity, the municipality of The Hague is committed to developing the sustainable energy sector in line with the economic vision of The Hague +2030. In the form of a series of interviews with key players and innovators from the impact ecosystem of ImpactCity, a number of activities taking place in and around The Hague in de area of new energy, are showcased. New energy and innovation that contribute to a better world.

What do innovators in the field think of The Hague as a working and living location and city for energy innovation? Read a new story every week for the coming period. This week: Iman Brinkman, a top energy lawyer at Pels Rijcken, who is convinced that the Netherlands could become as successful in the sustainable energy sector as in agri-food. And that the Hague will be at the centre of this development.

The Netherlands could become as successful in the sustainable energy sector as in agri-food, according to Iman Brinkman, a top energy lawyer at Pels Rijcken, one of the most prestigious law firms in the Netherlands. And The Hague will be at the centre of this exciting development, notes Brinkman. “Many of the key energy stakeholders are concentrated here. Often I can just jump on my bike if I have a conference.”

“Ten years ago we mostly did cases about conventional energy, such as big gas contracts. Today, 70% of our work is related to sustainable energy. The energy transition is predominantly what my work is about.”

Iman Brinkman, who has specialised in energy law for almost 20 years, since he graduated from the University of Leiden, is a man who is clearly happy with his job. Brinkman heads the energy team at Pels Rijcken, a venerable law firm of which the predecessors for several centuries have acted as “state advocate”, i.e. the official attorney of the Dutch government. In his law practice, he works not just for the government but for clients across the energy sector, from oil and gas companies to electricity producers, large energy users and local governments.

Brinkman is unreservedly enthusiastic about the rapid changes he sees taking place in the energy sector, and the increasing impact of the energy transition on the entire economy. “The energy transition requires action from all of us. Big companies, small companies, the central government, provincial and municipal authorities, consumers. Everyone is working on this. And there still is a lot of work to do.”

Tremendous innovation

Brinkman is optimistic about our abilities to turn the energy system around. “There is tremendous innovation taking place. If I see the innovations going on around me – in energy storage, trading platforms, electric mobility, energy efficiency. Quite amazing. Home heating is another area that will see radical change as we move from natural gas to alternatives such as heat and cold storage and district heating.”

He is convinced the Netherlands will play a key role in making the energy transition work. “We are very good at innovation in this country. We have great knowledge institutions, a dynamic business environment, a very open society which is not afraid to embrace change. We sometimes underestimate how important these qualities are. And we have no alternatives anyway: we don’t have great natural resources that we can fall back on – other than gas, of course.”

With the national climate accord adopted by the government in June 2019, and a new legislative energy package being prepared in Parliament, Brinkman believes a stable investment climate for the future is guaranteed. “All of this offers tremendous investment opportunities in the energy field. Not just within the Netherlands. The transition is a challenge for the whole world, so what is developed here can be exported to the rest of the world.”

There are few cities in the Netherlands that are better positioned to make use of these opportunities than The Hague, Brinkman adds. “All the big oil and gas companies are based here, including Shell of course, as well as the big engineering companies. What I see and hear from them is that they are all eager to play a role in the new energy technologies, in offshore wind for example, but also in hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, electric mobility. In addition, the policymakers, regulators and industry associations are all in The Hague as well as two of the leading R&D institutions in energy – Delft University of Technology and TNO.

“Often I can just jump on my bike if I have a conference,” Brinkman says. Sometimes he does not even have to do that: TNO, the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research, a top energy institute, is housed in the same office building as Pels Rijcken. “If I want to know more about certain technological or economic issues, I can talk to experts from TNO over lunch.”

New Babylon

One might think that a firm like Pels Rijcken would be housed in some stately historic building in The Hague, but that is not the case. The firm operates from the efficient modern New Babylon office building right next to The Hague Central Station.

Brinkman is content with this location. “It feels good to be in a modern office environment. The work we do has a great tradition, but that does not mean we should live in the past. Actually, in addition to energy, digitalisation is one of our specialties, so we need to be fully up to speed with what is going on in the world. Energy and digitalisation are intimately connected, by the way. I cooperate a lot with my colleagues on issues of data exchange, metering, and smart energy systems. There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed in this space.”

Brinkman says that it makes sense to be all in one place. “It makes communication so much easier. And for foreign visitors it does not make much difference whether they turn left or right when they land at Schiphol Airport. Our visitors are always surprised how quickly they can get to The Hague Central. And then they can just walk over to our building without getting wet.”

For Brinkman one thing is certain: the future looks sustainable. “I can see every day in my practice that this is where the money is going.” The energy transition is actually part of a broader trend towards sustainable development, observes Brinkman. “I have a colleague who specialises in international human rights agreements in economic sectors, for example in the clothing industry. These initiatives are also closely connected to how energy is produced and used.”

Anyone who does not get on board the transition train will soon start to look conspicuous, Brinkman says. “You used to be an exception if you drove an electric car. In a few years you will be an exception if you still drive a petrol car.”

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