In ECN (the Energy research Centre for the Netherlands), Noord-Holland has a world-renowned institute for sustainable energy within its borders. Just in the coast, in the dunes of Petten, lies ECN (the Energy research Centre for the Netherlands), the biggest knowledge institute for energy in the Netherlands. The institute can trace its roots to its nuclear reactor – which still produces more than 30% of the isotopes for medical research – but more than thirty years ago it began to focus on its role as a research and innovation centre for renewable energy sources, like solar and wind energy, biomass and (industrial) energy efficiency.
ECN, with branches in Amsterdam, Eindhoven, Brussels and China, bridges the fundamental research of universities and applications for business and industry, chief operational officer Robert Kleiburg explains. "Developments in energy demand not only major investment but also the requisite period of time before they can really get to market. This development horizon is simply too distant for many companies. In that process from idea to commercial application we play an important role."
To give an idea: in half of all the solar panels produced all over the world, there is a bit of ECN technology. In wind energy the institute and its partners are diligently searching for ways of reducing the cost of offshore production by 40%. "Wind at sea is still rather expensive, yet we have to be able to reach a competitive price by 2020. But it's not just the technology that is a factor, here. Policy plays a key role," says Kleiburg.
Another spearhead is biomass, which is essential in the sustainable energy mix since it can compensate for the volatility of the supply of wind and sun. And without biomass the CO2 targets for 2020 are almost not achievable. ECN has developed a breakthrough technology, known as Milena, to be able to quickly, and at an unprecedented yield, convert dry biomass – mainly wood pellets – into biogas, whose quality, after treatment, is comparable with that of natural gas. A demo plant near Alkmaar will get the technology ready for market.
According to Kleiburg, Noord-Holland Noord has everything going for it to become an energy development region of international standing. "Its situation, the institutes and companies as well as a government that sees the value in this. The establishment of a fund for a sustainable economy is likely to be a powerful incentive." And it's money well spent, Kleiburg is convinced. "The annual market for 'clean tech' is now 250 billion dollars but that will rise in the next few years to a thousand billion."