IEA Netherlands energy review focuses on renewables and hydrogen

24 September 2020

The International Energy Agency (IEA), in its Netherlands 2020 Energy Policy Review said The Netherlands “is aiming for a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy and has placed ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets at the centre of energy and climate policy.”

In his Foreword to the 257-page report, IEA Executive director Dr Fatih Birol said “The Netherlands has made notable progress in its transition to a carbon-neutral economy. Thanks to increasing energy efficiency, energy demand shows signs of decoupling from economic growth. The share of energy from renewable sources doubled from 2008 to 2019, with especially strong growth in recent years in offshore wind and rooftop solar.”

However, he adds that the Netherlands remains heavily reliant on fossil fuels and has a concentration of energy- and emission-intensive industries that will not be easy to decarbonise. Noting that it is “important transit and trade hub for natural gas, oil and electricity – and has a large oil refining and chemical industry”, he said the Netherlands aims to maintain this position “while transitioning to a carbon-neutral economy by exporting renewable electricity and supporting the development of a robust market for low-carbon hydrogen.”

The report made six key general recommendations, none of which mentioned nuclear. They were that the Netherlands should:

  • Monitor potential security of supply issues resulting from the mid-2022 closure of the Groningen gas field and growing dependence on natural gas imports, with a focus on reducing demand, decarbonising the gas supply and repurposing gas infrastructure.
  • Ensure that energy policy supports strong deployment of digitalisation in all sectors and develop clear regulations on energy sector data, supporting transparency and easy access, while also addressing issues of privacy and cybersecurity.
  • Ensure that the 2019 Climate Agreement GHG emissions reduction measures support cost-effective achievement of EU requirements, including targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
  • Support early-stage deployment of emerging technologies that have the potential for cost-effective emissions reductions, to stimulate mobilisation of private funds.
  • Revise the regulatory framework for electricity markets to provide room for innovation and facilitate proactive development of an electricity system that can safely integrate increasing shares of variable renewable generation and support smart grid solutions.
  • Drive commercial scale low-carbon hydrogen development in the near term by facilitating investment decisions and creating an adequate support scheme for scaling up electrolysis, carbon capture utilisation and storage, and supporting infrastructure.

The 11-page section on nuclear power notes that the Netherlands has “a small but diverse nuclear programme” with only one nuclear reactor – the 482MWe Borssele facility – as well as two operational research reactors, hot cell facilities, radiological laboratories, an enrichment plant and a central national radioactive waste storage facility.

It says the Netherlands has successfully followed up on the recommendation given in the IEA 2014 Energy Policy Review to create a new regulatory body for nuclear safety and ensure adequate financial provisions for long-term storage and final disposal of spent fuel and radioactive waste, and for dismantling of Borssele. It notes that a new research reactor, PALLAS, is under consideration to replace the current High Flux Reactor (HFR) in Petten with pre-licensing activities ongoing.

On Borssele, which is required to shut down at the end of 2033 after 60 years of operation, IEA said a lifetime extension "could prove of great benefit to maintain the low-carbon generation from the plant and the know-how of the Dutch nuclear sector, especially in terms of operating a power reactor.”

This would require a change to the current law and a safety review. However, the licence renewal process of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission “defines an enhanced safety review for extending reactor lifetimes up to 80 years and could serve as a template when examining the option of a lifetime extension for the Borssele plant”.

IEA said the Dutch government “acknowledges the role nuclear energy can play in the transition to a carbon-neutral energy system” and that three sites have supporting government clearances and zoning in place to allow for the construction of new nuclear plants. However, there is no government funding for new nuclear and any decision to invest would be based primarily on the ability to earn the desired return on investment through competition in the electricity market.

IEA makes three specific recommendations for nuclear. The government should:

  • Consider facilitating a lifetime extension of the Borssele nuclear power plant beyond 2033 to maintain the plant’s contribution of low-carbon electricity and Dutch knowledge of nuclear power.
  • Examine how the energy security and emissions reduction benefits of nuclear power can be better valued in the electricity market and establish a level playing field with other low-carbon energy sources.
  • Ensure timely authorisations in the development of the PALLAS research reactor project in order to carry on with the radioisotope production programme.

Photo: Borssele nuclear power plant

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