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: Campus@Sea, an overarching program aimed at bringing together organizations that want to be involved in the development in the North Sea.
The North Sea is set to be transformed over the coming decades as it will increasingly be used for the production of energy and other purposes. To make optimal use of the new opportunities offered by this revolutionary development, The Hague and the province of South Holland have launched Campus@Sea, a program that will serve as the overarching framework connecting initiatives in and around the North Sea. “For any company that wants to play a leading role in offshore activities, the North Sea is the place to be,” says program manager Arno Segeren. “And The Hague the ideal location to set up shop.”
“The North Sea is about to be transformed. It will become more and more an extension of the land, with a new economy and a new ecology.” Arno Segeren, who works for the city as program manager for coastal activities, is one of the few people who has a good overview of all that is happening in and around the North Sea in the region of The Hague. His task: to initiate and promote new uses of the North Sea and to facilitate companies and institutions that are interested in becoming active there.
“The Hague is the only major city in the Netherlands that’s on the coast,” he notes. “That’s a challenge in some ways, for example when everyone wants to go to the beach at the same time, but we are also in a unique position to benefit from the opportunities the North Sea has to offer.”
Most people probably know that the Dutch part of the North Sea will become one of the largest centers of offshore wind production in the world in the coming decades. This could have a major impact on the local economy, attracting head offices and innovative startups. The port area will also offer opportunities for maintenance activities. Offshore wind generation is not just putting up a few turbines that can be left to spin on their own. It involves a complex industrial value chain that includes construction, transport, installation, operations, control, monitoring and maintenance activities, and requires highly advanced and innovative technologies.
But what not many people may realize is that the economic transformation of the North Sea will not stop there. As offshore wind farms are rising up from the waves, a wave of other activities will be descending on the sea. And while some projects are still speculative, such as the idea of building houses or even an airport in the sea, others have already started or are in the advanced planning stages.
The city of The Hague is eager to facilitate new projects in the North Sea, says Segeren – innovations that lead to a safer, better and more equitable world. In fact, the municipal government has already initiated or supported a number of pioneering initiatives.
It has designated a 10 by 10 mile area as a “testing area”, in which companies or institutions can undertake pilot studies and experiments. In this project the city cooperates with the Technical University of Delft, telecommunications company KPN, the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), the Sailing Innovation Centre, Svašek Hydraulics and the Dutch Sailing Association. “We believe there is great potential here to develop smart technological solutions and innovative data-driven products and services that make use of the unique characteristics of this environment,” says Segeren. “We want to make this part of the North Sea the smartest piece of sea anywhere.”
Early in 2020 the city helped to launch a data buoy into the sea within the North Sea Testing Area, which will collect data on currents, winds, and so on. These will be made freely available to interested parties, says Segeren. In addition, work is being done to ensure good connectivity in the area, which is not always a given at sea.
A pilot project that was already set up in 2016 is North Sea Farmers (formerly called the North Sea Farm or “Noordzeeboerderij” in Dutch). This is aimed at the offshore cultivation of seaweed, a product that has become increasingly popular and can be used in a variety of ways.
Another potentially pathbreaking project is Oceans of Energy, a consortium of six partners, based at Valkenburg Airport near The Hague, which aims to build the world’s first offshore floating solar farm off the coast of The Hague. The system has already been tested in a sheltered part of the North Sea elsewhere in the Netherlands.
In July 2019, gas production company Neptune Energy announced that it will be pioneering yet another innovation: a hydrogen production facility on its Q13A platform, located within the North Sea Testing Area. In this pilot, commissioned by NexStep, the Dutch Association for Decommissioning and Re-Use, and TNO, both located in The Hague, offshore wind power will be used to make hydrogen in a 1 MW electrolyser situated on the oil platform. The advantage of converting wind power to hydrogen is that it becomes easier and cheaper to transport to shore. NexStep will also look for other uses of oil and gas platforms that are to be decommissioned in the coming years.
A somewhat different kettle of fish is the Sailing Innovation Centre, also in the port of Scheveningen. Here Olympic water sports athletes make use of innovations that are the result of cooperation between athletes and coaches on the one hand and knowledge institutes, companies and governmental institutions on the other. In addition, the Sailing Innovation Centre functions as a source of knowledge for innovations in sailing. The goal is to win more medals but also to generate new business. ,
These efforts are already producing results with new maritime startups, companies like Elemental Water Makers and Shore Monitoring & Research, settling in the port area. Elemental Water Makers, an award-winning startup in The Hague, has introduced an innovative desalination method which it says is ideal for countries that have a lack of fresh water but abundant green electricity. Shore Monitoring & Research, a spinoff from the Technical University of Delft, is an internationally operating company focused on the surveying of coasts, deltas and rivers.
These are just some examples of projects in the North Sea. Many others will follow, large and small. To provide some coordination to all these initiatives the city of The Hague and the province of South Holland in 2019 launched Campus@Sea. “Campus@Sea is an overarching program aimed at bringing together organizations that want to be involved in the development in the North Sea,” explains Segeren, who is one of the initiators with Ton Jonker of South Holland province
By bringing various initiatives together, The Hague hopes to create more synergies among them, says Segeren. “What we have noticed is that there is not always enough communication between sectors. The offshore wind industry, for example, has its own network, but they don’t talk to companies engaged in other segments, such as food production or carbon capture and storage. This leads to missed opportunities. That’s what we want to change with Campus@Sea. You can see this as a network of networks.”
But Campus@Sea also has a physical location, in the port of Scheveningen, where startup companies related to the sea can find office space. Over the next three years, The Hague wants to expand this office space into a full-fledged startup hub, says Segeren. “We welcome and will facilitate innovative businesses that want to come to Scheveningen.”
Segeren admits that the new activities involve challenges and threats to the North Sea environment, which should be addressed. But he believes these can be overcome. He feels there should be more focus on the tremendous opportunities offered by the transformation of the North Sea and the possible benefits both to the economy and the environment. Companies that want to be part of The Hague’s North Sea hub and the Campus@Sea initiative, he says, are welcome. “For any company that wants to play a leading role in offshore activities, the North Sea is the place to be. And The Hague the ideal location to set up shop. Now is the time to join.”