The three northern Dutch ports – Groningen Seaports, Port of Den Helder and Port of Amsterdam – have the potential to develop into a major energy hub in Northwest Europe in the coming decades. This has been demonstrated in the ‘Havenschets’ (‘Port Sketch’) study by TNO, New Energy Coalition and the University of Groningen on the role of these ports in the energy transition.

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The three northern Dutch ports – Groningen Seaports, Port of Den Helder and Port of Amsterdam – have the potential to develop into a major energy hub in Northwest Europe in the coming decades. This has been demonstrated in the ‘Havenschets’ (‘Port Sketch’) study by TNO, New Energy Coalition and the University of Groningen on the role of these ports in the energy transition.

The study shows that close collaboration can lead to significant synergy benefits, with cost savings of up to €300 million per year for the Dutch energy system. The final report of the two-year TKI study was presented this week to the provincial executive deputies of Groningen and North Holland.

There is an urgent and enormous need for green forms of gas, particularly hydrogen for the industrial and mobility sectors. Besides being used as a raw material, part of Northwest Europe’s electricity will have to be converted into hydrogen, if only to avoid congestion problems in the electricity network

Hydrogen from offshore wind

In addition to imports, one’s own production of CO2-neutral hydrogen is expected to become very important for reasons of supply security and geopolitics. In particular, the large increase in electricity production from wind in the North Sea offers opportunities for partial conversion into hydrogen in a cost-effective manner. This requires substantial investments in technologies that enable the production, transport, storage and processing of hydrogen from offshore wind.

Among other things, the now-published study shows various scenarios in which the combined production of green hydrogen in the northern port areas could grow to as much as 300 PJ – comparable to the size of current natural gas usage in Dutch industry. A combination with blue hydrogen could further increase capacity by around 290 PJ.

Strategic position of the northern ports

The production and transport of hydrogen will typically be concentrated in port areas where (imported) hydrogen can be bunkered and which have strong infrastructure connections to new wind farms.

Given their specific strategic location in relation to the new offshore wind areas in the Dutch part of the North Sea and their connection to existing onshore and offshore strategic infrastructure, it is clear that the northern port regions of Amsterdam, Den Helder and Groningen will occupy a key position in the coming decades as an energy hub in the Northwest European energy system.

Eduard de Visser, Director Strategy & Innovation at the Port of Amsterdam: “Hydrogen will play a crucial role in making the Netherlands more sustainable. This energy carrier has many possible applications for the port, industry and region. It can be used as transport fuel, as an industrial raw material for industry and in households. The Port of Amsterdam wants to accelerate the hydrogen economy in the Netherlands and we are therefore developing all kinds of initiatives and partnerships to shape and grow this.”

This requires major investments as well as an awareness of the strategic position of these ports within the energy transition. It is therefore of great importance that not only the ports themselves but also the national government and the EU all recognise the strategic position of these northern ports for the development of a low-carbon economy, such as by explicitly linking them to the TEN-E and TEN-V networks.

Collaboration pays off

The diversity in the three port regions strengthens the wide range of energy services they can collectively provide and covers the entire hydrogen value chain:

  • Groningen Seaports: extensive chemical industry and proximity to large-scale storage facilities provides a favourable position as a production and transport location for green hydrogen.
  • Port of Den Helder: available offshore gas transport infrastructure and proximity to offshore wind locations provide a favourable position for blue and green hydrogen activities.
  • Port of Amsterdam: its status in the import of liquid bulk provides an optimal profile for development into a major import location for hydrogen, as well as a location for fuel conversion and the large-scale deployment of hydrogen and hydrogen products in the steel industry, aviation and bunkering.

“Den Helder is in an excellent position for the energy transition,” says Kees Turnhout, Deputy Director of the Port of Den Helder. “With its central location in the North Sea and connection to the existing gas infrastructure, our port can play an important role as a hydrogen production and entry point in the backbone to which the large industrial areas in the Netherlands and Northwest Europe will be connected.”

Robert van Tuinen, Manager Strategy & Business at Groningen Seaports: “The gas roundabout – which originated in Groningen – and the need for a combination of large-scale storage capacity with the rollout of offshore wind energy make us, as a port, an important hub in the Dutch and European energy systems. Through various consortia, Groningen Seaports is contributing to the development of a hydrogen economy – not only for sustainable economic growth at the port but also for employment opportunities in the region.”

Need for green molecules

Europe’s objective is to be (almost) completely CO2-neutral by 2050. In order to achieve this, the entire energy system must rapidly become greener. This means that all electricity will be generated using sustainable sources (wind, solar, hydropower, etc.), but also that all energy molecules (gases such as natural gas and hydrogen) will need to be CO2-neutral.

Europe is well on its way to the greening of electricity (currently around 20% of the final energy demand), but the greening of energy molecules (currently around 80% of the final energy demand) has been less successful: currently around 10% of gas sales are green, but this is not expected to increase significantly before 2030 unless there is a rapid switch to large-scale hydrogen deployment.

Heading towards 2050, the role of electricity in energy consumption is expected to increase, but energy molecules (such as hydrogen) will remain an important part of the energy supply due to their high energy density (temperature) and relatively low transport and storage costs.

Rene Peters, Director Gas Technology at TNO: “Various studies have shown a need in the Netherlands for both the production of hydrogen from offshore wind and the import of hydrogen from other countries in order to meet the demand from industry and mobility in the Netherlands and Germany. The northern ports have a strategic advantage when it comes to fulfilling these roles, such as through hydrogen imports in Amsterdam, the onshore production of hydrogen from offshore wind in Groningen and the landing of hydrogen produced at sea in Den Helder and Groningen due to the presence of the NOGAT, WGT and NGT pipelines.”

Northwest Europe’s energy hub

The role of northern ports as energy hubs in northwest Europe requires the further intensification of mutual collaboration, for which the foundations were laid in 2019 with Hydroports. Intensive collaboration can yield numerous synergy benefits, which depend mainly on the realisation of a hydrogen backbone connecting the three ports with each other and with the hinterland.

In order to fully exploit the potential of the three northern Dutch ports as energy hubs, a connecting backbone between all three ports is crucial. The Havenschets study shows that if this backbone connection is achieved, coordinated collaboration can yield annual system savings of some €100 - €300 million.


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Dr. ir. René Peters

  • Hydrogen
  • Gas
  • LNG
  • Transition
  • Offshore Energy