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Geothermal is an essential heat source in the heat transition in the Netherlands

LOC 400 drilling rig by Huisman on location in The Hague, Netherlands (source: Huisman)
Alexander Richter 14 Sep 2020

The next three to four years will be an exciting time for geothermal energy in the Netherlands. The great opportunities represented by geothermal energy in the heat transition for the Netherlands also face some sensitivities for public acceptance.

EBN in the Netherlands has published a focus piece on the Netherlands’ heat transition and the essential role for geothermal in the country. The below is a translation of the article.

According to the Climate Agreement, the first 1.5 million households must be natural gas-free by 2030. However, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency concludes after a new analysis that this does not seem feasible due to the high costs. A tour of the experts shows where the problem is, but also offers perspectives.

Which districts will depart from natural gas before 2030? Municipalities determine this in the Heat Transition Vision that they must have ready by the end of 2021. Making districts free of natural gas stands and falls with making the demand for heat sustainable. The built environment is responsible for 28 percent of our energy consumption. 69 percent of that is for heat. Why are we still at the beginning of the heat transition while we are already so far with electricity?

“There is still a lot of emancipation to take place from heat as a focus for the energy transition,” says Bert den Ouden, Sector Leader Energy at Berenschot. “And that is sorely needed: If we want to become fully sustainable, we have to look at the entire energy supply. Heat is extremely important in this. ” According to Den Ouden, we have underestimated that heat is more complicated to make more sustainable than electricity: “We are electrifying, for example in transport, which increases electricity consumption. Then you can more easily use new sustainable options. Making the demand for heat more sustainable requires adjustments in existing situations. ”

Spoke in the wheel of the heat transition

New sustainable options for natural gas require an investment that does not seem to be easy to recoup at the moment. Everything is more expensive than the current gas supply. Affordability seems to be a major spanner in the works of the heat transition.

Lex Bosselaar, advisor at the Heat Expertise Center (ECW): “There are a number of basic strategies for the Heat Transition Vision. Municipalities are charged for this per district and must choose what is the best alternative to natural gas in a specific situation. In order to get everyone involved, it must become financially interesting, not only for the end user but also for the entrepreneur. Many questions from municipalities are about this and the answer is not yet complete. The subsidies and schemes that are further elaborated in the context of the Climate Agreement and the new Climate Act are decisive for the feasibility of the Heat Transition Visions. ” According to Bosselaar it will not be cost neutral: “Ultimately, as a country, we will have to pay for it. But: It generates a lot of work, so we also earn with it. At the moment, however, the investments are still too big for all parties. ”

Frank Schoof of Platform Geothermie cites the costs for the end user as the biggest problem. “At the moment sustainable heat cannot compete with gas without a subsidy. In fact, gas is too cheap. Nevertheless, our heat supply should ultimately not depend on subsidies. So we have to find a solution for this by reducing costs, but also by dealing with costs in a different way. ” According to him, a sense of necessity is also needed in decision-makers, companies and residents. “And the understanding that it is a lengthy process. Projects can always be cheaper and better, but you cannot force it to work tomorrow. It is trial and error. ”

Pluriform energy transition

It is evident that the heat transition must gain momentum quickly. “It has to be done now and gradually any solution is welcome,” says Den Ouden. “Now we are not getting any further, while the ice cap is melting in the meantime. That is sad.” Den Ouden believes that with current policy we strive too much for ideal and unambiguous solutions. “This makes it too expensive for homeowners and residents and ignores their interests.” Den Ouden advocates what he calls a multiform energy transition: “We have to be pragmatic and make use of the flexible solutions available. The actual solution is a little different everywhere. Start with the position of residents and homeowners. Question: What is best for your situation? Then a surprising amount can be done and surprisingly fast. ”

“All initiatives in the field of making the demand for heat more sustainable should be embraced,” says Joris Peijster of energy supplier and technical service provider ENGIE: “The Transition Visions for Heat and the Regional Energy Strategies make it clear how colossal the task is and how far-reaching in society. We cannot rule out a solution, technology or collaboration. We must all do this. ” According to Peijster, the new Heat Act leaves too little room for this: “It pre-sorts on an integrated approach to a heat demand in an area where you invest everything from A to Z with one party.” We should have started with this 10 years ago, according to Peijster: “Now we are simply not going to make it if we are not open to various forms of cooperation in which each party is responsible for a specific part.”

Crucial role for heat networks

Heating networks play a crucial role in making the heat supply of the built environment more sustainable. In many places in the Netherlands with concentrated buildings, a heat network can be used well. At the moment, four percent of the homes are connected to a heat network. This is expected to grow to 10 to 30 percent in the coming years.

Lex Bosselaar: “Many questions from municipalities are about heat networks. To begin with, a municipality must look at where a heat network can be installed and whether housing corporations and residents want to take that step. However, we have not yet done much to connect existing homes to a heat network, so that is quite exciting. ”

“The construction of a heat network is being considered in 75 districts in Overijssel”, say Milou Schrijver (project secretary for new energy) and Marleen Volkers (program leader energy infrastructure and heat) of the province of Overijssel: “We want to help municipalities quickly determine which ideas are really promising projects. ” Those promising projects must then become good and financeable projects. Lowering financial barriers is part of this. “But most projects don’t even get that far”, says Volkers, “they get stuck much earlier because the initiators lack the right expertise.” According to Schrijver and Volkers, it is therefore important to bring in companies that have the necessary knowledge in-house. “To this end, we are working with all kinds of parties to improve the development climate in Overijssel, so that it becomes attractive for heating companies to invest in our province.”

Geothermal energy is an essential heat source

The development of heat networks goes hand in hand with the development of geothermal energy in the built environment. Herman Exalto, Program Manager geo-energy at EBN: “Geothermal energy is an essential source of heat for making the demand for heat in the Netherlands more sustainable. More than twenty geothermal heat projects are currently under development in the built environment. They must provide geothermal energy as a sustainable source for the supply of heat networks. ”

“Geothermal energy can be found in a surprising number of places with concentrated construction and makes heat networks applicable in many more areas of the Netherlands,” says Den Ouden. According to him, this is very welcome: “Take flats, they are difficult to make more sustainable in any other way and a heat network is often the cheapest solution there. In many places, climate-neutral heat cannot be found above ground, so geothermal energy can still provide it. ” Geothermal energy also takes up little space and is continuously available. Den Ouden: “By adding geothermal energy to wind and sun, the total sustainable package is better balanced, with less space taken up and more security of supply.”

“Geothermal energy therefore has qualities that other sustainable sources do not have. For that reason, geothermal energy has been used in greenhouse horticulture for some time. “However, geothermal energy in greenhouse horticulture is not the same as in the built environment,” warns Schoof. “It’s the same on a technical level, but everything around it is different. You have to take that into account. The construction of a heat network in a residential area means something to that area. Residents must be helped to participate. They need to know what the environmental effects are and what the sources are that are connected to the heat network. ”

“The next three to four years will be exciting,” says Peijster. “How does society react to geothermal energy? With a project in the middle of a residential area, you have to take the environment very carefully. In Paris, geothermal energy has been supplied to the built environment for 40 years. So we know it is a very reliable and safe solution. In the Netherlands, horticulturalists have shown that geothermal energy is economically feasible. Now it is up to the larger market parties to prove the potential of geothermal energy in the built environment. ”

Source: EBN