Within 25 years, the energy supply in the North of the Netherlands could be 50% sustainable. At least, if the right measures are taken. These are the words of Henk Moll, associate professor of Natural Resources at the University of Groningen. According to him, we have to move towards a wide range of alternative energy sources, such as heat exchangers, wind energy and biomass. This should happen as soon as possible. ‘It’s like a supertanker – if you want to enter the port of Rotterdam, you have to begin changing direction in the Channel.’
Moll bases his view on extensive scenario studies that he has helped develop. The aim was to ascertain what exactly needed to happen to make the Northern Dutch energy supply 50% sustainable within 25 years, while at the same time maintaining economic growth. ‘It’s just not realistic to think that you can achieve 100% sustainability in 25 years. The energy supply in the future will thus be a hybrid – on the one hand there will be a large-scale robust electricity supply and on the other many local applications of renewable energy sources and sustainable technologies.’ Moll admits that 25 years seems to be a long time. ‘On the other hand, a lot of things are fixed, because in 25 years we can’t knock down all the houses and replace them by homes that are much more energy efficient.’
So what do the scenario studies say has to happen? Moll: ‘New residential areas and industrial estates must be made sustainable.’ Among other things, this means that they must not be connected to the gas mains. ‘What’s the point of connecting a house to an energy resource that will be virtually finished in 25 years time?’ Instead, it would be much better to equip houses with a heat exchanger installation, whereby heat is pumped into the ground during the summer and used during the winter to heat the house. ‘That is sustainable, robust, and you also solve the cooling problems that are going to be caused by climate change.’
In addition, centralized electricity would continue to be produced. ‘That’s possible with wind energy. And with the surplus electricity from wind turbines you can generate hydrogen for cars.’ Material and energy from biomass also play an important role in Moll’s scenario studies. ‘The North of the Netherlands can to a certain extent grow plants itself that can be used as biomass immediately. The rest will have to be imported – as far as possible – from other countries in the European Union, for example from the Baltic States. This biomass must then be incinerated in so-called multi-fuel power stations. These are power stations that can if necessary also process coal and natural gas. ‘And the CO2 that these power stations produce can be stored underground.’ Large-scale use in the North of the Netherlands of biomass from developing countries is not responsible behaviour, in Moll’s opinion. ‘You should not be blind to the social and ecological consequences and the effects on the food supply of large-scale biomass plantations in developing countries.’
According to Moll, we have to change to sustainable energy supplies as quickly as possible. ‘Something has to happen now. The effects of climate change are much more dramatic than was previously thought.’ Luckily, Moll has at last detected a feeling of urgency in policymakers and politicians. ‘But that was mainly because the price of oil rose to USD 140.’ The credit crisis has resulted in the price of oil dropping again, but the feeling that something has to change is still there. ‘The only problem is that politicians don’t understand the system properly, and have no idea about how to guide such complicated processes. It’s a bit like a supertanker – if you want to sail into Rotterdam harbour, you already have to start changing direction in the Channel. Politicians are basically genuine – they really want to do something about sustainability. But they have no idea how much time these processes of change need.’ Nevertheless, Moll remains optimistic about the future. ‘I compare it with a student who has to pass an exam. Just before the exam he starts to study hard, and just passes. However, things could easily go the wrong way, of course.’
Henk Moll (1952) studied physics in Groningen. From 1981-1984 and 1987-1991 he was a researcher associated with the Centre for Energy and Environmental Studies (IVEM) of the University of Groningen. In 1992 he became a university lecturer and gained his PhD a year later. In 2004 he was appointed associate professor of Natural Resources in relation to sustainable production at the IVEM. Moll conducts a great deal of practical environmental research, nationally as well as internationally, and in cooperation with other disciplines such as psychology and public administration.
Prof. H.C. Moll. Tel.: 050 - 363 4607/4609 (work).
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