Wind Meets Gas 2019 – Northern Netherlands to be first European hydrogen region
At the conclusion of the two-day Wind Meets Gas conference, it was established on Friday that the Northern Netherlands region may not be the only hydrogen region in Europe in the future, but it will, as it now seems, become the first European hydrogen region. Both Minister of Economic and Climate Affairs Eric Wiebes and Bart Biebuyck of the European FCH-JU referred in their speeches to the successful pitch of the HEAVENN project with which the Northern Netherlands region has achieved its leading position. The fact that the City of Groningen’s mayor Koen Schuiling concluded the official opening in the church venue of Martinikerk with a live performance –by a professional organ player, not by the mayor himself- of the Groningen national anthem on the churches’ Schnittger organ was therefore more than fitting. Wind Meets Gas 2019 was dominated by the energy developments in the North Sea and the role played by hydrogen, particularly in the Northern Netherlands. During the conference it became clear that to achieve a successful energy transition, a shared vision and a close public-private partnership will be vital.
Dutch Minister Eric Wiebes referred in his speech to the developments in the Northern Netherlands region as a result of the phasing out of gas production in the coming years – the exploitation of Groningen’s natural gas field of Slochteren is nearing its end. In order to fulfill the nation’s future energy needs Wiebes sees a hydrogen economy in the northern Netherlands as part of the solution. The region has everything it needs, including infrastructure (gas pipelines, deep-sea port), the space and the knowledge to make the transition to a hydrogen economy a reality. ‘If they can’t make it here, they can’t make it anywhere!’
Bart Biebuyck, Executive Director of Fuel Cells & Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH-JU), emphasised in his keynote the importance of European regions and cities in the development of hydrogen. At present, all planned developments in 22 countries in the European Union lead to more than 1.85 billion euros in investments in hydrogen. FCH-JU itself has already invested 1 billion euros, and more will follow in 2020, with the aim of reducing CO2, creating new markets and employment. Biebuyck sees a future with several hydrogen valleys in Europe, but indicated that it looks like the Northern Netherlands will be the first European hydrogen valley.
The first day was concluded by ‘hydrogen ambassador’ Professor Ad van Wijk: ‘Hydrogen has become increasingly important in recent years. Billions of euros are being invested in hydrogen, but regulation and good incentive mechanisms are now needed.’
The fact that developments in the North Sea have long since ceased to be merely a national issue was demonstrated by the presence of more than 30 representatives from the Scandinavian embassies and industry, who follow developments in the northern energy region with great interest.
The road to Paris is via Groningen
The King’s Commissioner in Groningen, René Paas kicked off the second day: ‘The road to Paris runs via Groningen. In order to meet the climate targets set in Paris, we need Groningen and its infrastructure to convert all wind energy into hydrogen.’
The Scandinavian perspective was underlined by Christian Schneller of TenneTTSO, among others, who insisted on a change of view and on moving from a national to an integrated offshore wind planning in the North Sea, including the option of energy islands. The need for cooperation – between policy makers and industry, and between industrial partners themselves – was mentioned repeatedly in various panel discussions. It received unanimous approval in both the panels and the audience.
HyDelta, a new applied research programme, was also launched on Friday. This programme focuses on an integrated approach to improve and accelerate the development of the hydrogen economy. The University of Groningen, the Province of Groningen, TKI Nieuw Gas, KIWA, Gasunie, TNO, ERIG, Hanze UAS and the New Energy Coalition all signed the Letter of Intent kickstarting the new programme.
Noé van Hulst, Hydrogen Envoy for the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate, concluded the two-day conference with an appeal to the participants: ‘During this conference edition we had a broader view of the subject with a Nordic and the pentalateral perspective. I call upon the Northern Netherlands region to be the pioneer of hydrogen for the rest of Europe. There is still a lot of work to be done and there are risks to be taken. Just do it!