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What it takes to be making geothermal energy a success in the Netherlands, DAGO

Greenhouse operations, Netherlands (source: flickr/ Jeroen van Luin, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 26 Oct 2020

In an interview with Heat Source Utrech, Martin van der Hout the previous Secretary General of Dutch geothermal operator association DAGO, shares his view on how entrepreneurship, environment, political and social commitment and the common intention to make something a success is crucial to push geothermal energy in the Netherlands.

In a series of interviews, Heat source Utrech/ Warmtebron, looks at organisations and their roles in the development of geothermal energy in the Netherlands. In this interview with Martin van der Hout, Secretary General and Director of DAGO, the Dutch Geothermal Operator Association, shared his few on safe and responsible entrepreneurship, the difference between the greenhouse and the built environment, political and social commitment and the common intention to make something a success. [Martin van der Hout has left DAGO after this interview and is no longer with the organisation]

Where geothermal energy in the Netherlands has been developed from greenhouse horticulture, this sustainable energy source is also fully in the picture for homes in the built environment due to the energy transition. Martin van der Hout: “Our association has 100 percent coverage of all geothermal energy initiatives in the Netherlands. This concerns parties that have an exploration license or a production license. The Netherlands currently has 24 doublets or geothermal sources and two are currently being drilled. ”

In practice

As a knowledge holder, DAGO is closely involved in the development of enforceable laws and regulations. Martin: “After all, our members are the parties that have to work with this in practice. In this way, together we can ensure that the rules are appropriate in practice and therefore enforceable. ” DAGO has eight working groups that are active in different domains. Think of: technology, operations, environment, finances and laws and regulations. In 2018, DAGO drew up the Geothermal Energy Master Plan in collaboration with EBN, the Geothermal Platform Foundation and the Heat Network Foundation .

Strengthen and accelerate

At the end of May, Minister Wiebes of Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK) presented his vision for the future of the progress of geothermal energy development in the built environment in a letter to the Lower House.Martin: “Based on the ambition to strengthen and accelerate the development of geothermal energy, we as the sector are working on industry standards. In it, you translate the legal frameworks into a feasible practical approach to guarantee a safe and efficient application of geothermal energy, ”says Martin. “New members are only admitted to our association if they accept those standards. In this way we anchor the quality level within our association. For the energy transition, we need good and robust geothermal energy companies to develop and manage geothermal energy installations. Investments must be made in this in order to ultimately achieve returns in all areas. ”

‘By questioning each other, everyone becomes wiser. If you answer those questions in a good way, then you work on a solid factual basis for trust ‘

Different markets, the same goal

The technology for detecting and extracting geothermal energy is comparable for greenhouse horticulture and the built environment. Only the application differs. Martin: “You can heat five large greenhouses with one geothermal source, which means there are relatively few but large customers. In the built environment, this involves a lot of smaller customers and you soon need the heat demand of about 10,000 homes. The markets are completely different and have completely different dimensions. They are two different worlds, but with a common goal, namely the safe and responsible use of geothermal energy as a sustainable heat source. ” According to Martin, the use of geothermal energy in a greenhouse is the ultimate example of participation. “The participants are often also shareholders and literally live on top of their geothermal energy source.

Dialogue with society

As a sector engaged in mining activities, you have to be accountable to society, according to Martin. “Our members are well aware of this. As a sector you have to earn your right to exist. You have to accept that social responsibility and work with it in a good and active way. We understand that people are concerned about the risks. That is why the dialogue about this must be organized in such a way that you invite people to look and ask questions with an open mind, instead of immediately falling into opinions and prejudices. Everyone becomes wiser by questioning each other. If you answer those questions in a good way, then you work on a solid factual basis for trust. ”

‘In addition to the pioneers of the first hour, our association now also includes large multinationals. The great thing is that both can learn a lot from each other ‘

Relieving citizens

“We can safely call the experiences in Groningen a national trauma”, continues Martin. “That’s why we are all rightly critical of activities in the subsurface. With the State of the Geothermal sector, the State Supervision of Mines made quite a few recommendations to the sector in 2017. Against this background, we have made a tremendous progress in recent years. This involves collective knowledge development, technical improvements, but also awareness of the participation and involvement of the environment. It is precisely because of the State of the Sector that we have become active as the weedeweerga. Nonetheless, we are mining and so you are dealing with an audience that is rightly critical. In his letter, the minister talks about unburdening citizens. That is why it is important that parties such as EZK and SSM to make efforts to land trust in society. You shouldn’t just place that on the market parties. The energy transition is also a social transition and requires change and commitment from everything and everyone involved in it. ”

Investing in knowledge and experience

Large parties such as ENGIE, Shell and Vattenfall have now also turned to geothermal energy as they want to use this technique to make their companies more sustainable. Martin: “Besides the pioneers of the first hour, our association now also includes large multinationals. The great thing is that both can learn a lot from each other. This has accelerated enormously in recent years. This is reflected, for example, in the arrival of large suppliers in the Netherlands, but also with governments. For example, huge investments have been made at both the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy and SSM to attract people with knowledge of geothermal energy.

‘It is important that we realize projects for this technology in the Netherlands with which we can prove both the technology and ourselves as a sector’, so Martin van der Hout, Secretary General/ Director of DAGO

Creating comfort

“Geothermal energy is not visible like solar energy or wind”, Martin continues. “No plug & play. You have to drill for a few months before you can connect an installation to a heat network. That makes geothermal energy a lot more abstract. In addition, it involves regional and local customization. That is completely different from gas or electricity that you can transport over long distances. That is why it is important to include the environment as well as possible. The discussion about usefulness and necessity is just as important as zooming in on themes such as safety and risks. This is a role for us as a sector, but also for governments such as municipalities, provinces and EZK. Together we must create the comfort from which we can further put geothermal energy on the map for the Dutch situation. ”

Prove technology

The tricky part is that we do not yet have reference projects for the built environment in the Netherlands. If we look a little further from home, large cities such as Paris and Munich prove that geothermal energy is a safe and proven technology with which many thousands of households have been heated sustainably for decades without any problems. It is important that we realize projects for this technology in the Netherlands with which we can prove both the technology and ourselves as a sector. Until then, I would like to invite everyone – who would like to know more about this interesting and comprehensive subject – to ask us and all other partners in the geothermal energy chain to give their all. ”

(NB Shortly before the time of publication, we received a message that Martin has left DAGO.)

Source: Warmtebron/ Heat Source Utrecht