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The Dutch government has great ambitions for hydrogen. The National Hydrogen Program demonstrates that the government wants to go all-out for hydrogen as the energy system of the future. But how is our hydrogen society and economy faring? In the summer series ‘The Netherlands, Hydrogen Land’, we discuss the current state of affairs with technicians and scientists on the basis of themes from the National Hydrogen Programme. In this closing piece: why should we make the switch? Or should?

No alternative

All scientists and technicians seem to agree: there is no alternative to green hydrogen for heavy industry. Biomass or fuel which capture CO2 emissions come closest, but even those options are controversial, according to Kornelis Blok, professor of Energy Systems Analysis at TU Delft. This is less true in the case of green hydrogen.

Dutch industry emits 55.1 megatonnes of CO2 annually. By 2030, industry must cut down on another 14.3 Megatonnes of CO2 on top of the amounts in existing policies in order to meet the agreements in the Climate Accord, as Aafke Eppinga wrote in her first article of this summer series. According to Ad van Wijk, professor of Future Energy Systems at TU Delft and a sustainable energy entrepreneur, industry wants to help pay for and work on making factories that run on green hydrogen. “But the industry is asking the national government to bridge the gap: An investment of 2.5 billion euros over the next five years.”

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    Michelle Prins, program leader for sustainable industry at Natuur & Milieu (a Dutch Nature & Environment agency), also sees green hydrogen primarily as a solution for making industry more sustainable. “Because that’s where the CO2 emissions are the highest and where there are no alternatives.” Prins increasingly sees hydrogen being put forward as the solution to all sustainability issues. “That’s not how we see it,” he states.

    One of the solutions within other sectors

    Opinions vary as to whether green hydrogen is a solution in sectors other than heavy industry. What is clear, however, is that if it does offer a solution for the transport, shipping, the agricultural sectors or even the heating of houses, for example, steps need to be taken now. Otherwise the Netherlands risks being left behind, say Adwin Martens, director of HydrogenNet and Marjon Castelijns, manager of business development at Future Proof Shippings (FPS).

    Dream position

    For one thing, Martens sees the Netherlands presenting itself as a pioneer in Europe on every possible platform. The Netherlands therefore has a dream position: expertise in gas extraction, the port of Rotterdam, the option of offshore wind energy. “Lots of advantages, but in terms of the realization I think – at least in the field of mobility and transport – it is still pretty limited.”

    According to Martens, green hydrogen offers a solution for cars that are used intensively, e.g.: taxis or shared cars. For passenger cars, Martens expects a 70-30 division in terms of electricity and hydrogen, but for trucks he anticipates the opposite. “Trucks travel long distances and therefore need to be able to refuel quickly and frequently. That’s when hydrogen really comes into its own.”

    The Netherlands is a shipping nation, Castelijns contends. She warns that the Netherlands must take action now to keep that key position. “We have the chance to be at the forefront where hydrogen is concerned, but companies are moving faster than the government.” The sector is in the starting blocks, yet there is a yawning gap between the drive of the sector and the government accommodating vision, policy and support. Castelijns hopes that the NWP can close the gap, so that companies are not held back but are given a helping hand instead.

    Green hydrogen also presents a solution for the agricultural sector. Jacob-Jan Dogterom, co-owner of an agricultural and flower bulb company, can use hydrogen to make all processes in his company sustainable. “It can provide fuel for my fleet of vehicles, heat for drying my flower bulbs and controlling my machine processes.” Dogterom, however, is being stymied rather than helped by the municipal government.

    Eneco, as a major natural gas supplier, is in favor of offering hydrogen as an alternative to natural gas in all of those old or monumental properties. “People often say that you should first use green hydrogen as a feedstock for industry, agriculture, shipping and aviation,” said Silvan de Boer, Business developer New Energy Development at Eneco. ” We see it differently. Often you have no other choice in making a lot of the existing neighborhoods more sustainable.”

    Imports

    “If we are talking about achieving climate neutrality by the year 2050, we believe that there is no avoiding also doing something with hydrogen in the built-up environment,” asserts Arnoud van der Zee, program manager for Energy Transition at The Green Village. “It won’t be the most important thing, but it is abundantly clear that we are going to do something with it.” According to van der Zee, all sources of renewable energy will be needed in order to become climate neutral. “And even then, we won’t have enough energy and will still have to import from Africa or Spain, for instance.”

    The Netherlands does not have to be the forerunner in the production of green hydrogen. Ad van Wijk argues that it is mainly “our old way of thinking” as to why we prefer to control energy supplies ourselves as much as we can. “The upshot of this is that we would start producing it at too high a price, when we don’t have enough scope to meet the demand.”

    Why not make use of green hydrogen?

    Green hydrogen is still too expensive at the moment. This is reflected in all of the discussions with scientists and experts. An investment is needed. If that doesn’t happen, then it looks as if the Netherlands will miss the boat for green hydrogen. What then follows is a chicken-and-egg story. Because it is expensive, there is no demand for it, and because there is no demand, then there no investment will be forthcoming. If we continue to find it too expensive, is that a good reason to say: ‘we are not going to invest in this?’

    Besides that, green hydrogen is particularly inefficient, says Ronnie Belmans, professor of electrical energy at KU Leuven (Belgium), among other things, an advisor to EnergyVille’s Board of Directors. “It is very inefficient to use it for passenger transport or freight transport. That is much more feasible with batteries. Also, for heating houses and buildings, it is inefficient compared to heat pumps.”

    Step on the gas

    If the Netherlands wants to go for hydrogen, it has to make choices. First of all, the decision has to be made that it is worthwhile going for it. With the NWP, that choice seems to have been made, but it also requires investments and a government that is willing to cooperate with the changeover. Not work against it. The government should not stick to its current plans, but show the way by amending the rules and paving the way towards a climate-neutral society in which green hydrogen plays a major role. These choices should not be put off for too long. We have to step on the gas now, otherwise the Netherlands will be left by the wayside.

    Would you like to read more about hydrogen? Read the complete series here.

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