Our country must have a climate-neutral energy system by 2050. The question is whether we can achieve that goal without radically reforming the economy or taking other sweeping measures. An energy supply without CO2 emissions is certainly conceivable, but clear choices are needed. TNO has developed two scenarios for identifying the consequences of different choices.

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This is an exploration of the major changes that await the Dutch energy system in the period after 2030, enabling policymakers, technology developers, companies, NGOs, investors and other parties involved in the energy transition to benefit while making the right choices.

In one scenario (ADAPT), we as a country build on our economic strength and maintain our current lifestyle. In the second scenario (TRANSFORM), behavioural changes and the deployment of new innovative technologies lead to a clean, energy-efficient economy.

TNO has combined expertise in the fields of energy, technology, economy, behavior, social innovation. The energy transition is so far-reaching that you have to approach it from different angles and bring disciplines together to be able to offer effective, integrated solutions.

What TNO presents with these scenarios are not blueprints. No one knows what the world will look like in so many years. But we outline relevant developments in these scenarios with the aim of stimulating thinking about this and facilitating the debate in a broad sense. And TNO provides scientifically validated insights for this. We don't make choices, that's up to politicians.

Lowering sustainable energy system costs

In both energy scenarios, the greenhouse gas reduction targets are realised. The costs of the future energy system are even lower than if it were not climate-neutral. This can be explained by the increasing electrification of industry, mobility and the built environment, which currently run mainly on fossil energy, and by the fact that renewable electricity is becoming increasingly cheap. Electricity is becoming significantly more important in almost all sectors. And by 2050, almost all electricity will come from the sun and wind, the costs of which will fall even further.

If there were no targets for CO2 reduction in the coming decades, our country would remain heavily dependent on fossil fuel and raw material imports, resulting in annual system costs that are more than ten billion euros higher than TNO’s ADAPT scenario. Compared to ADAPT, the costs in the TRANSFORM scenario will rise even more from 2030 onward as the demand for energy falls. In both scenarios, the costs of renewable energy technology will decrease. We have already seen this development in the case of solar panels, wind turbines and batteries.

Targeted innovation policy

Over time, it may become apparent that certain adjustments to the energy system are less easy to achieve or that technological solutions are less desirable for society. Even then, a climate-neutral energy system would remain feasible, although the limiting of sustainable options will lead to higher costs. Through a targeted innovation policy, the development of technologies can be accelerated, as a result of which the costs for the future energy system can be lowered significantly.

Multiplying the share of electricity

Both scenarios show that the share of electricity in the energy supply will double or even triple to over 70% by 2050. Sectors that now rely mainly on fossil fuels (such as industry, transport and the built environment) will use much more electricity. By that year, almost all electricity will also come from the sun and wind (99%).

Another sustainable source that will play an important role in 2050 is geothermal energy for the heating of homes and buildings. Biomass, meanwhile, is particularly important for industry and for making fuel for transport. The built environment and the agricultural sector make use of residual heat from industry, among other things. Hydrogen is mainly used in industry and for transport.

identifying Uncertainties

The scenarios raise uncertainties, such as whether we can meet the demand for hydrogen ourselves and export part of our production or whether we will have to import it. International trade prices will prove decisive, especially when it comes to the use of hydrogen for heavy transport. Whether or not CO2 will be stored during the production of blue hydrogen from natural gas will also have an influence. Without this capture and storage, the production of green hydrogen with electrolysers will be necessary.

ADAPT: optimising the existing system

In the ADAPT scenario, TNO outlines a vision for the 2030-2050 period in which CO2 emissions fall by 95%. In this scenario, the Dutch choose to maintain employment and comfort. Sustainability is less important to them.

In order to still achieve the targets, the existing energy system will be optimised, with the government taking a strong steering role in the choices to be made by citizens and businesses. There are few societal objections to the substantial importation of biomass and the use of fossil fuels to capture and store CO2.

TRANSFORM: sustainability through behavioural changes

TRANSFORM is a vision of the future in which the Netherlands leads the way when it comes to climate and sustainability. Our knowledge institutes and innovative companies work together in the development of a clean and energy-efficient economy.

Citizens also contribute through environmentally-conscious behaviour and sustainable initiatives. The government stimulates all of this. As a result, the demand for energy from mobility, industry and the agricultural sector will decline. In this scenario, in which CO2 emissions also fall by 95% by 2050, there is no support for CO2 capture and storage and the importation of biomass is limited.

Starting points for implementing energy policy

In both scenarios, the development of population growth, GDP, fossil and renewable fuel costs and technology costs are kept the same. Each scenario has been calculated with differences in the development of energy demand and the availability of a number of technology options. This has resulted in projections for the years 2030, 2040 and 2050, expressed in technical and economic parameters.

By subsequently modifying the costs of specific technologies, the availability of technology options and the prices of renewable energy imports, insights are offered into the underlying mechanisms. These provide starting points for the implementation of energy policy.


Martin Scheepers, MSc

  • Energy Transition Studies