Our country must have a climate-neutral energy system by 2050. The question is whether we can achieve this goal without radical reform of the economy or other drastic measures. Both the European Commission and the national government have now tightened up the targets for 2030.

Greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by at least 55% by 2030 and the energy transition will have to be accelerated. Moreover, nuclear power is back on the political agenda. This is reason for TNO to update the previously drafted future scenarios. One conclusion remains unchanged: a scenario with higher ambitions does not lead to higher costs.

New exploration shows limits of possibilities

Read the white paper ‘Scenarios: A climate-neutral energy system for the Netherlands’

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Energy policy recommendations

The white paper contains a series of concrete recommendations for energy and climate policy in the Netherlands, providing new insights and tools for parties involved in the energy transition, such as policymakers for the national government and other public authorities, energy companies, industry, trade associations, and technology developers. Both scenarios were calculated at the lowest social cost to keep the energy system affordable for all customers.

Energy supply scenarios

Two scenarios sketch future scenarios for energy supply in the Netherlands after 2030 and provide insight into the consequences of the more stringent targets. They show how a climate-neutral energy system can be achieved with various sustainability ambitions. The starting point is the pursuit of an energy system at the lowest cost to society.

In one scenario (ADAPT), we build on our economic strength as a country and maintain our current lifestyle. In the second scenario (TRANSFORM), behavioural change and the deployment of new innovative technologies lead to a clean, energy-efficient economy. TNO has combined expertise in the field of energy, technology, economics, behaviour, and social innovation. The energy transition is so far-reaching that it must be approached from different angles and disciplines must be brought 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 be like in that many years. But in these scenarios, we outline relevant developments with the aim of stimulating thinking about them and facilitating the debate in a broad sense. And to that end, TNO provides scientifically validated insights. We don't make choices, that is up to politicians.

Transform more ambitious than adapt

In the TRANSFORM scenario, which is more ambitious than ADAPT in terms of sustainability, entirely new industrial processes are used for production of chemicals and fuels; in ADAPT, industry changes are more limited. Because of behavioural change and further energy saving, energy demand in the TRANSFORM scenario is lower than in ADAPT. For TRANSFORM, it is assumed that international aviation and shipping, the emissions of which fall outside the national climate target, take far-reaching reduction measures.

Furthermore, in this scenario, a sustainability target applies to hydrocarbons used in the production of chemicals and plastics. This raises the bar for the TRANSFORM scenario compared to the 2020 scenario analysis. The ADAPT scenario is less ambitious than TRANSFORM: fossil fuels can still be used as raw materials and emissions for international aviation and shipping are reduced by only 50%. In ADAPT, the Netherlands does meet the European targets, but its contribution to meeting the Paris climate target is more limited than in TRANSFORM.

Self-suggicient in energy demand

In the future, energy and raw materials will continue to be imported. Switching to renewables reduces dependence on coal, oil, and natural gas in the scenarios by approximately 26% and natural gas by 33% to 46% by 2030. While ADAPT still uses fossil fuels in 2050, TRANSFORM deliberately assumes that our country can meet the vast majority of its energy demand with renewable energy sources. The partial import of bio-resources and exchange of electricity with foreign countries will remain necessary.

In TRANSFORM, the limits of what is possible were identified and calculated. Hydrogen plays a crucial role in this and is needed in large quantities for the production of green chemicals, plastics, and synthetic fuels. In order to produce the hydrogen entirely domestically, the use of solar and wind energy must be maximised by 2050. If it proves insufficient, nuclear power as an additional source is inevitable.

Additional nuclear power

We will have to strive to maximise the use of solar and wind for our energy supply and make heavy industry more sustainable. Nuclear power may be a necessary and carbon-free addition to this but should not overshadow the ambitions for solar and wind. Indeed, in the scenarios we reason on the basis of the most cost-effective solution for our society. Giving nuclear power a greater role than solar and wind does not fit in with this. Energy demand, in particular due to electrification of industry, is heading toward 300 terawatt-hours (TWh); even more than 500 TWh – 1 TWh equals one billion kWh – cannot be ruled out. In the latter case, solar and wind are no longer sufficient.

Cost of sustainable energy system lower

In both energy scenarios, greenhouse gas reduction targets are met. The cost of the future energy system is even lower than if it was not climate neutral. And a more ambitious climate policy need not lead to higher costs. Due to rising fossil fuel prices, the cost of the energy system will increase if fossil fuels remain a substantial part of the energy mix. Switching to renewable energy that is becoming increasingly cheap leads to lower costs.

Negative emissions

A major difference between the two scenarios relates to CO2. Whereas ADAPT involves the capture of CO2 from fossil sources that is stored in empty gas fields under the North Sea, in TRANSFORM most of the CO2 is biogenic and is reused. Incidentally, in this scenario it will still be necessary to store a limited amount of this CO2 underground to offset other hard-to-reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as methane and nitrous oxide. These are so-called negative emissions that can be achieved with biogenic CO2 storage and CO2 extracted from the air using special techniques.

Sustainable production of chemicals and transport fuels

In the new scenario study, the production of chemicals and transport fuels by Dutch industry has received special attention. In the petrochemical industry, the production processes for these different products are highly intertwined. This will remain true even if these processes are made more sustainable and use renewable energy and raw materials.

For the TRANSFORM scenario, the new study assumes that, by 2050, 90% of the high value chemicals produced are made from renewable carbon, meaning carbon derived from biomass or CO2 from the air. In addition, recycled plastics are used as a circular option. This is in line with the Coalition Agreement that talks about an ambitious climate goal for the circular economy.

Do you want more information about our research?

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  • Energy Transition Studies