During the past few months, several institutions have released rather optimistic numbers about the energy transition in the Netherlands. Although substantial wind power additions were realized, and solar growth is accelerating, overall performance is still amongst the worst in the European Union, with the Netherlands now lagging firmly behind its renewable energy targets.
Let’s start with the good news. Backed by a €14 billion annual subsidy budget for larger scale renewable energy projects and a net-metering scheme available to the residential market, renewables have skyrocketed in the past year. With 3 million newly installed solar panels during 2017, solar growth accelerated 60% over 2016, increasing total capacity to 2,902 MWp. Annual solar power sellers and installers achieved about €3 billion in turnover.
Meanwhile, wind power has been keeping up too, largely due to the Gemini offshore wind farm coming online. Generation shot up by 38%, increasing from 7.9 TWh in 2016 to 10.9 TWh in 2017. Because of this achievement, 10% of Dutch energy consumption in 2017 was generated by wind and solar. With more large wind farms in the pipeline for the North Sea, most likely to be built subsidy free amid dropping construction prices, strong growth is expected in the years to come.
These numbers are rightfully extolled, but their celebration should not divert attention away from some less flattering facts about the state of the energy transition in the Netherlands. Ultimately, the country is still among the least sustainable EU member states by renewable energy’s share in the overall energy mix, outperforming only Malta and Luxembourg. Wind and solar conquering a 10% share in the electricity mix is a great first step, but electricity is only one form of all the energy a country requires.
The contribution of renewable energy sources to the total energy supply has now at best attained a 6% share. This is alarmingly far away from the Dutch national target of 14% in 2020, which has in response been reformulated to a target of 16% renewables in the energy mix by 2023. In its current position, the Netherlands is unlikely to meet various targets set by the EU, such as reaching 100 PJ in energy savings by 2020, and will have a hard time complying with targets that have been set for the longer term — for example, increasing the share of renewables to at least 27% by 2030.
The energy transition is evolving at a rapid pace, and renewable energy generation is increasing at phenomenal rates. But as current installed capacity is rather modest, these high-growth figures in themselves might not yet warrant celebration. There is a long way to go to zero greenhouse gas emissions, requiring vast investments in renewables as well as energy savings. For a flat, coastal country, it is questionable whether the pace of current development matches future necessity.
For more on the good news regarding Dutch renewable energy growth and policy nuts & bolts, see CleanTechnica’s interviews on this topic from last March with two clean energy Dutch experts — Remco van der Horst, Founder of Greenproc, and Peter Segaar, Founder of Polder PV: