New Energy in ImpactCity The Hague || Innovation driver TNO sees The Hague as perfect testing ground for the energy transition

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 innovation? Read a new story every week for the coming period. This week: innovation driver TNO.


In the region of The Hague several unique projects are taking place in offshore wind, hydrogen and geothermal energy that are of crucial importance to the success of the global energy transition. “Innovation booster” TNO, which has its headquarters in The Hague, is involved in all these projects as a key partner. Business Director René Peters: “I often hear from energy and offshore companies that the region The Hague and the North Sea are perfect testing grounds. If it works here, they can export it to the rest of the world.”

“For a foreign investor it is good to know that the headquarters of the most important energy technology and innovation centres in the Netherlands are located in The Hague!”

René Peters, responsible within TNO for developing public-private partnerships in the energy transition, has just come back from a meeting about a unique pilot from oil and gas company Neptune Energy, the PosHYdon project, which is going to produce hydrogen on a gas platform in the North Sea off the coast of The Hague. A world first in which TNO is involved. We talk to Peters at the modern New Babylon office building right next to The Hague Central Station where the organisation put up its tents five years ago.

The move from its previous location in Delft was made very deliberately, Peters explains. “Delft is the place for academic research. Our clients – policymakers, permitting agencies, industry associations, and of course the energy companies – are all In The Hague. When you say The Hague you don’t immediately think of an energy hub, but all the big energy companies, such as Shell, Orsted and Total, are here! And we are here of course: the biggest energy innovation centre in the Netherlands!”

The Hague’s excellent public transport connections also played a role. “The connections are a bit better than in Delft. We are very close here to Schiphol airport.”

For TNO contacts with other parties in the energy value chain are of key importance. TNO, says Peters, is not primarily a knowledge institution, but rather an innovation company. “Creating knowledge means to come up with new ideas. Innovation is applying new ideas. We are always focused on realising concrete projects. Together with our industrial partners we translate ideas from academic institutions or startups into reality. We are only successful when we can make something happen.”

TNO is a public organisation, Peters explains, but one that works very closely with private parties. “We were founded by the government to help solve social problems. But only a third of our funding comes directly from subsidies. The rest comes from projects that we do with partners. These are usually public-private partnerships. A lot of projects would never happen if we did not initiate or support them.”’

Orchestrating innovation

This is where the big challenge of the energy transition lies, according to Peters. “We need to build up new partnerships and value chains, in which each participant has a positive business case and risks are shared fairly.”

As an example he mentions the integration of offshore wind parks with the gas grid by way of hydrogen. “At this moment electricity from offshore wind is still fed into the power grid. But offshore wind is growing so fast that around 2030 the capacity of the power grid will be fully utilised. Then it becomes interesting to convert the electricity to hydrogen. The advantage of hydrogen is that it can be stored and that the existing gas grid can continue to be used. We believe that this will lead to a more cost-effective and robust energy system.””

To make this vision a reality, the North Sea Energy consortium was set up, in which 30 research institutions and public and private parties cooperate. The goal of the consortium, which is being led by Peters from The Hague, is to develop smart combinations of existing assets in the North Sea, such as platforms, pipelines and empty gas and oil fields, with the new assets that are being built for the energy transition, such as offshore wind farms and electricity cables – all in order to reduce costs.

The PosHYdon project from Neptune Energy, which Peters had a consultation about that morning, is one of the first spin-offs from North Sea Energy. “With this experiment, the first offshore production location of hydrogen in the world, we want to show that it is possible to connect offshore wind to the gas grid.”

The platform on which the experiment takes place has a unique feature: it is the first fully electrified drilling platform in the Netherlands. It runs completely on green electricity, currently supplied from the mainland. In future, says Peters, “the electricity will be supplied from nearby offshore wind farms. And that same electricity will be used to produce hydrogen in an electrolyser on the platform.”

Peters emphasises that no party could manage such a project on its own. Neither the government nor industry. “Public-private partnerships are essential. That includes public parties such as the gas and electricity transmission system operators, Gasunie and Tennet.”

TNO seems to have been created for this new world. The organisation is specialised in linking initiatives to each other. Peters: “We call this orchestrating innovation. We bring parties together in consortia – parties that in the past did not operate in the same value chain. Wind energy companies and oil companies were not the greatest pals until recently. Now they are increasingly cooperating.”

Foundations

The energy transition is a challenge for the traditional oil and gas companies, but it also offers new opportunities. According to Peters, whose own background is in oil and gas, companies like Shell and Total are fully committed to the energy transition. “In the past they used to come to us for help in maximising oil and gas production. That has changed completely in the last couple of years. Now they come to us asking us to help with the energy transition, in fields like carbon capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen.”

The big oil companies, which are almost all located in The Hague, are in a good position to play an important role in new energy fields such as hydrogen, offshore wind and, for example, geothermal energy, says Peters. “They know a lot about geology, about offshore production, and about the transport and storage of molecules. They are all looking at how they can use their knowledge, experience, assets and capital in these new areas.”

The same goes for the maritime sector. “Dredging and engineering companies, such as Heerema, Van Oord and Boskalis, are all experienced in the offshore sector. They get more and more of their revenue from offshore wind.” Peters notes that although turbines are mostly manufactured in other countries, such as Denmark, Dutch companies usually build the foundations and take care of installation and maintenance.

The Netherlands is also leading the world in reducing the costs of offshore wind, says Peters. “That is because of commitments made by industry to the government and the way the government has organised the tenders. In other European countries, but also in the U.S. and Asia they are very interested in how we managed to do this.” This process is still continuing. “In future tenders, additional demands will be made on operators. They will have to make clear how they will integrate their wind parks with the overall energy system, for example by making connections with existing production platforms or pipelines.”

There are also opportunities for industry in CCS. Peters: “CCS has not got off the ground yet, but in the climate accord – the government’s new climate policy – new targets have been set. This should lead to a new push for CCS. Various projects are getting closer to reality, such as Porthos in Rotterdam and Athos in Amsteradam.”

Leading-edge

Peters notes there is a lot of interest from energy companies to set up ‘new energy’ pilot projects in The Hague and in the North Sea, as well in other parts of the country. “Shell for example sees the Netherlands as leading-edge, which is why their New Energies division is headquartered in The Hague. And they are not the only ones. To give another example: as TNO we have just been involved in the installation of the biggest wind turbine in the world in Rotterdam, GE’s 12 MW Haliade X. We will be doing all the tests for the Haliade X in the coming period.”

The Netherlands is doing a lot to position itself as leading in the energy transition, says Peters, especially when it comes to projects involving water or the sea. “The government has designated various areas in the North Sea, such as Borssele 5, as experimental zones where pilots can take place. There also is the so-called ‘North Sea Farm’ off Scheveningen, where experiments are taking place with algae and floating solar panels, in which TNO is also involved.”

These initiatives are appreciated in the market, he adds. “I often hear from companies that the Netherlands and the North Sea are perfect testing grounds. If it works here, they can export it to the rest of the world.”

 

Want to know more about the opportunities for technology, innovation and new energy in The Hague? Get in touch with account manager Martin Hulsebosch.