If you’re looking for global leaders in renewable energy to fight against climate change, don’t look to the Netherlands. The Dutch are the most dependent on fossil fuels of any country in Western Europe, with 91.77% of their energy needs being met by these environmentally destructive fuels. At the rate we’re going, the Netherlands is not likely to meet its Paris Climate Agreement targets.
The anemic Dutch energy policy states that, by 2050, the Dutch government wants to “switch to sustainable, low-carbon energy supplies.” However, in the very next sentence they define this as supporting “a mix of energy from renewables (like wind and solar) and traditional sources, such as oil, gas and coal.” In what way is any use of oil, gas and coal considered a “switch” to low-carbon energy? By 2050, the use of fossil fuels should be a fading memory.
The government’s best aim for wind and solar is to have it provide a measly 16% of all energy requirements by 2023. Their reasons for maintaining this continued dependence on fossil fuels are both unacceptable and inaccurate: “energy from fossil fuels is cheap” (no surprise there, given the Dutch penchant for, let’s just say, “thriftiness”); and “fossil fuels are needed to ensure a reliable energy supply, since energy from renewable sources (like solar and wind) is often dependent on the weather and therefore unpredictable,” which is not a problem if they manage their renewables correctly.
By developing multiple forms of renewable energy, combined with the constant improvement of energy storage technologies, such as Tesla’s Powerwall, the government’s fear of not being able to meet their energy needs on a cloudy, windless day should be unfounded. And recent statistics show that solar energy production is now cheaper than that of fossil fuels.
There is no reason the Netherlands cannot completely rely on combined wind, solar, and geothermal sources for almost all its energy needs, given the technology that now exists. What it requires is government investment, which is where the problem lies.
The oil and gas cash cow
The government makes a great deal of money from its involvement in the fossil fuel industry. According to EBN, an oil and gas company owned by the Dutch government, “The profits from oil and gas directly benefit the treasury of the Dutch State. In recent years, this has amounted to around 7 billion Euros per year.” It’s no wonder, then, that the government is not as interested in developing renewable energy.
Once the infrastructure for renewables like wind and solar are installed, they cost nearly nothing to maintain. And therein lies the problem. They are not long-term moneymakers. It is a question of greed over what is good for the planet. Add to this the general Dutch mentality that nature exists to be tamed for our benefit and you have a recipe for ecological disaster.
The downside of Dutch agriculture
It is highly likely that those gorgeous flowers gracing your dining table were grown in one of the thousands of commercial greenhouses that dot the Dutch landscape. The Netherlands is the number one exporter of flowers to the rest of the world and is the second-leading exporter of fresh vegetables. Flowers harvested on Monday morning in the Netherlands show up later the same day on the streets of New York. Overall, the Netherlands is the second-largest agricultural exporter in the world, after the US. When you consider the minuscule size of the country, one wonders how it is possible. Greenhouses, of course. The energy used to keep these greenhouses warm and lit is considerable; however, Dutch growers could be a world leader in sustainable agriculture if they make just a few important changes.
If current lighting is replaced by LEDs, and heating is provided by geothermal (the fastest-growing renewable in the Netherlands), greenhouse-grown fruits and vegetables could be more environmentally friendly than those conventionally-grown. Greenhouses use less water, and pest and disease control is easier. Growers can use bees and beneficial insects for pollination and pest control, reducing the need for dangerous insecticides.
For example, it takes only 15 liters of water to grow a kilo of tomatoes in a Dutch greenhouse, whereas it takes 50 liters per kilo to grow tomatoes conventionally in the Mediterranean area. The intelligent use of LEDs can reduce greenhouse energy use by as much as 50%.
Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those doing it
Perhaps Dutch oil giant Shell should adopt the view of the Danish company, DONG Energy, which over the past 8 years has been transitioning from oil and gas into one of the largest renewable energy companies in the world. DONG CEO, Henrik Poulsen, says of his company, “We want to contribute to creating a world with 100% independent, green energy.” And with a 26% share of global wind capacity, they are well on their way to doing just that.
According to an article in the Financial Times, DONG is not investing in any new oil and gas projects; rather, they are using most of the profits from their current oil and gas division to invest in their wind power projects. A smart move for any oil company, which must adapt or die in a world in which more governments are enacting laws to curb carbon emissions due to the immediate threat of climate change.
Wind currently supplies Denmark with over 40% of its electricity needs, and their goal is to reach 100% by 2035. With similar wind power to Denmark in the north Sea, the Netherlands could also invest in large-scale wind farms to provide for much of its electricity needs.
Shell has created a “New Energies” division that is dedicated to developing renewables, but thus far it comprises less than 1% of Shell’s investments in oil and gas.
Toward a more fossil-free, renewable energy future
There are a number of innovative Dutch companies that are among the world leaders in developing sustainable technologies, but many of these technologies remain to be implemented.
The dedication of the Dutch government to promote renewable energy resources will depend somewhat on the results of the March 2017 elections. Climate change skeptic and PVV leader Geert Wilders would seek to eliminate fiscal initiatives for green energy; he supports nuclear and coal-generated energies, and he wants to remove the carbon tax. We can only hope the majority of the Dutch electorate is sane enough to elect more environmentally friendly candidates.
From 2020, the Dutch government will require all new greenhouses to be carbon-neutral, and the sale of gas-powered vehicles will be banned from 2025, when approximately 1 million electric vehicles are expected to be on Dutch roads.
Energy efficiency is also being stressed. All new buildings from 2020 will need to be carbon-neutral, and there is currently a government program that provides low-interest loans to homeowners to increase energy efficiency, such as for installing double-paned glass and floor insulation. They used to provide grants for installing solar panels in private homes, but that program has unfortunately ended.
Ultimately, if they are serious about mitigating climate change, the Dutch government must work not only with Dutch businesses and industry, but also with private individuals to enact more ambitious goals for reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.