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A large-scale project aimed at producing and transporting green hydrogen at sea, H2opZee, will not be receiving a grant from the National Growth Fund after the second round of review by the commission. The consortium, which includes RWE and Neptune Energy, applied for a grant of 462 million euros, but to no avail.

“You never know if you’ll get the grant, but this is obviously a real shame,” says Adriaan van der Maarel of RWE. “We are going to see, together with Neptune Energy and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, what our next step is.”

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The purpose of the hydrogen project is to enable the development of a new offshore wind farm with a production capacity of 300-500 MW of electricity. Using electrolysis, hydrogen can be produced at sea. A pipeline then transports the hydrogen to land, which should make it possible to transport hydrogen on a large scale in future.

Points of criticism from the National Growth Fund

The National Growth Fund commission cited several points of criticism about the hydrogen project in its report. For instance, the project plan would not adequately clarify how the project fits into the government’s broader vision for the production, storage and transportation of energy on the North Sea. 

One other criticism of the commission is that a similar initiative is being set up in Germany. Therefore there are doubts around setting up a separate Dutch initiative. “But we have to look at what we can do in different countries, including the Netherlands,” van der Maarel believes. “Because we also have opportunities here to take on hydrogen projects. We have to become globally active. The energy transition is underway all over the place.”

Although the consortium is now missing out on the grant, Van der Maarel still thinks that it is a good initiative. “The combination of wind energy far out at sea and making use of existing assets, e.g., existing pipelines in the North Sea, is what makes the project really solid. Those pipelines are everywhere and we can make good use of them.” The aim of the first phase of the project is therefore to explore the possibilities of exploiting the pipelines.

Broad interest in hydrogen

The National Growth Fund as such does have a broad interest in hydrogen, Van der Maarel notes. “I’m happy about that. And I also see it in the rest of society. For example, look at the initiative of D66 and VVD in the Dutch House of Representatives this week.” If it were up to the two governing parties, the Netherlands would need to put much more effort into the production of green hydrogen. These parties are calling on the government to more than double its targets.

‘The Netherlands cannot lag behind’

Likewise, Kornelis Blok, professor of Energy Systems Analysis at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), sees that there is an interest in green hydrogen within society. “I am pleased with the proposal of the government parties, because the energy transition cannot go quickly enough. Building offshore wind farms takes five years and we already need to take steps in the near future to implement these construction plans.”

It is also absolutely crucial that hydrogen projects are set up in the Netherlands, the professor contends. “That offshore hydrogen is bound to become more important is obvious. It’s great that large initiatives around green hydrogen are also being set up in neighboring Germany, but the Netherlands cannot lag behind.” By starting projects and research in the Netherlands, plenty of innovation is taking place, and that is sorely needed at the moment. “For instance, we are going to need floating wind turbines to be able to harvest energy further out, where the North Sea is deeper. And work needs to be done to integrate hydrogen production into those turbines.”

It is precisely the Netherlands that is well suited to producing offshore wind energy, Blok points out. “There is much more room for this here than in Germany. Moreover, we can actually make good use of the existing gas pipelines, which, after modification, also turn out to be compatible with hydrogen,” stresses the professor, who concurs with Van der Maarel.

All conditions are in place

The Netherlands has the technical know-how and industriousness to make a start with hydrogen. Above all, it is time for the government to step up its role in the rollout of hydrogen projects, says Block. “It’s great that government parties have grand ambitions. But what matters most is that it becomes clear in the short term exactly which steps need to be taken. We are dealing with a fairly complicated logistical issue. What is the best way to adapt the production of hydrogen to the infrastructure? And how do you encourage consumers to use hydrogen? Do boilers need to be converted? The government can play a major role in this respect.”

So there is work to be done. Still, it should be possible to make great strides toward a clean future if the production, infrastructure and coordination of hydrogen in the Netherlands is handled properly, the professor emphasizes in closing. “But the energy transition remains hard work and will never happen on its own accord. We all need to be well aware of that.”