Looking into the future of our energy supply

2 August 2018 • 5 min reading time

Accelerate the introduction of sustainable energy, phase out fossil energy smoothly and, at the same time, save energy, while keeping energy supplies safe, available and affordable. With this ambition in mind, ECN and TNO decided to cluster their strengths. ECN part of TNO has eight innovation programmes. Five questions and answers about ‘Towards a broadly supported energy transition’.

In order to realise the Paris climate targets, it is necessary to speed up the energy transition. This requires technical, social and policy innovations. ECN part of TNO is taking up the challenge by implementing eight innovation programmes in the coming years, together with Dutch industry, research institutions and the government. Ruud van den Brink, programme manager of ‘Towards a broadly supported energy transition’ at ECN part of TNO, answers five questions about this programme.

1. What is the aim of the programme 'Towards a broad-based energy transition'?

“The agreement on making the energy system completely sustainable in 2050, with an intermediate step in 2030, has many implications. In this programme, we illustrate the non-technical aspects. We are building up knowledge about the future questions arising from this challenge. In this way, we can carry out scientifically based analyses of the possible future prospects of energy supply and use. In addition, we will identify dilemmas and the consequences of certain choices. Finally, we will ensure that the knowledge gained reaches, for example, the companies and municipalities that will have to carry out the transition.”

“With computer models of energy supply and demand, we predict how the energy system will develop in the future”

2. What are the non-technical aspects of the research?

“First of all, we are conducting research into economic aspects. With computer models of energy supply and demand, we predict how the energy system will develop in the future. Secondly, we give advice on policy. At the moment, the energy market is very much determined by the question: if there is a high demand, power stations will run faster and, if it is very cold, a gas storage facility will be opened. In the future, however, you cannot make wind turbines run faster when there is no wind. That's why we're thinking of policy models and market mechanisms for backup plants and energy storage. Thirdly, we are looking at behavioural aspects.”

3. Which behavioural aspects play a role in the energy transition?

“There are more than just economic reasons for citizens and businesses to drive an electric car or to switch to energy-saving processes. We are investigating this decision-making behaviour. Wind farms or solar meadows are also changing our landscape. Or take underground storage of CO₂. We describe good ways to inform the public about this and to engage in discussion. Finally, we investigate the behaviour of the individual consumer. If people use solar panels, they may be consuming more electricity because they will actually generate it themselves, whereas it would be better to save energy. We show the interaction between behaviour and energy and we indicate how you can influence that behaviour.”

“In the future, it will not be possible to run wind turbines faster if there is no wind. That is why we are devising policy models and market mechanisms for back-up power plants and energy storage”

4. What makes this programme so complicated?

“There are so many opportunities to supply energy, from sustainable sources to oil and gas. In addition, the function of energy sources is changing. Petrol powered cars are making way for electric transport, we are heating our house with geothermal energy or electricity instead of gas and houses are becoming better insulated. We are also making the transition from a centrally regulated energy system to a system in which consumers also generate and store their own energy. And then energy is also converted from one energy carrier to another. For example, we make hydrogen from electricity and liquid fuels from hydrogen. The models we build help us to carry out complex analyses.”

5. Who does the ECN part of TNO work with?

“The most important user of the knowledge we develop is the government. Examples are the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate, Policy the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. We are also working with energy companies on very concrete demonstration and living lab projects as well as  passing on our knowledge and insights to consultants, so that they can start working with the municipalities and provinces. In addition, we work closely with universities in the Netherlands and abroad. Over the past few months, we have spoken to professors in order to clarify which research questions are arising. Finally, we are in close contact with foreign research institutions that are working on the same topics.”

“Our insights are even reflected in the climate agreement, such as the idea of charging electric cars during off-peak hours and when there is a large supply of solar and wind energy”

Sufficient flexibility in the use of electricity

What happens if you have a lot of wind and sun in the electricity system? And how do you deal with the fact that the sun sometimes shines or doesn't shine, and the wind blows or doesn't blow? ECN part of TNO has built models that practically represent the demand for variability options in the system. Research has shown that it is crucial to ensure sufficient flexibility in the use of electricity, for example by electrifying hydrogen production in industry. The project was completed last year. The insights are even reflected in the climate agreement, such as the idea of charging electric cars during off-peak hours and when there is a great deal of supply of solar and wind energy, instead of at any time of the day.

Familiarize yourself with the other innovation programmes

How to build a more flexible energy system?

The subsurface has an important part to play in the energy transition

Towards CO2-neutral fuels and raw materials

Can we have too much solar energy?

Houses and offices will soon have energy to spare

Industry can also become CO2-neutral

Wind energy for 50 million households

This TNO project supports the following Sustainable Development Goals


Do you have any questions or are you interested in a collaboration? Please contact Ruud van den Brink.

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