Living and working in China is something very special. It was my home from 2009 to 2015. Breathtaking scenery, great food, welcoming people and a dynamic business environment: these were the highlights of my years in Shanghai. But when it comes to the environment, the country certainly doesn’t pull any punches.
There’s the ever-present smog that is sometimes so thick that you can look directly at the sun without sunglasses. A thin yellow layer that coats everything reveals just how filthy the air is. You can taste the particulate matter on your tongue, and you know you’re breathing it into your lungs. A special app on my phone regularly indicates 500 µg/m3, which is ten times the maximum allowable limit in the Netherlands.
I am immensely pleased that I can do my part to encourage the energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables. To me, energy transition means cooperation. This transformation is so radical, complex and comprehensive that we have no choice but to bundle our strengths and talents. It is radical, because 20% of our revenue comes from activities related to fossil fuels. It is complex, because we need to make an existing fossil fuel system more sustainable without sacrificing reliability, all the while ensuring affordability. It is comprehensive, because it has to do with more than just technology. The socio-economic and regulatory contexts are equally important. The energy system of the future is not as easy to predict as trends in technology.
It is obvious to me that we at TNO can only successfully face up to this challenge if we are prepared to effectively combine our knowledge and expertise in the areas of fossil fuels and renewable energy, underground and above ground, and above and below the surface of the sea. Only then can we devise innovative and cost-effective solutions and can we achieve a sustainable, reliable and future-proof energy system.
If we can’t do it, no one can!
The energy transition could very well take a completely different course than we currently suspect. Change involves three central questions: may I change, can I change and do I want to change. It is crystal clear that we may change: COP 21, the Dutch Energy Agreement, Minister Henk Kamp’s heating plan, the German Energiewende, various international initiatives: there is plenty of scope for change. Then comes the question: can TNO make a real contribution to energy transition? The answer is no secret: if we can’t do it, no one can!
Do you have the courage to get on board? Cold turkey is not an option
Then the final question: do you want to change? Or rather, do you have the courage to change? I often ask my colleagues this very question. And not because it’s our job, but because we sincerely want to make a difference when it comes to making the energy transition work. That’s quite a challenge. Are we prepared to ask our clients whether they have the courage to effectuate the energy transition in their company or organization? We must continue to hold ourselves, our clients and other contacts to account when it comes to the energy transition, and by extension the viability of our society. We will need to make some deliberate choices to help us overcome our addiction to fossil fuels, but not everything has to happen all at once. Going cold turkey is simply not a option.