Targeted innovation policy can reduce the cost of the energy transition
The cost of new technologies such as those used to make green hydrogen can quickly be reduced if the government applies a stable and targeted innovation policy. This is according to Paulien Herder, professor of Energy Systems and Dean of the Faculty of Applied Sciences. She is also a Topteam member in the Energy Top Sector. As the Captain of Science she represents knowledge institutions. Herder was also closely involved in the GroenvermogenNL proposal for green hydrogen and green chemistry that was accepted by the National Growth Fund.
“The Top Sectors were established by government around ten years ago to encourage innovation in areas in which the Netherlands excels. In the Energy Topteam, we explore strategies for encouraging innovation in energy policy in a sensible way. Our focus is wide – from offshore wind to the urban environment. We face some incredibly difficult issues and decisions, but are achieving great results.
“Often costs are where the issues lie, and with our policy and our subsidies, we are able to mitigate the front-end costs of new technologies, enabling companies to start investing in them. There have been some excellent examples of what we can achieve. The cost of offshore wind has fallen dramatically thanks to a stable government policy. The consortium of companies, knowledge institutions and industry working on this in the Top Sector was able to innovate across the whole system for years, as a result of which the technology plummeted in price.
“A similar system approach will probably also help to rapidly reduce the cost of green hydrogen. I’m expecting a lot from GroenvermogenNL in that respect. The aim of this programme is to enable the accelerated application of green hydrogen in such areas as chemistry, transport and heavy industry through innovation and reduced costs. The total Growth Fund contribution is up to €338 million.
“Since this is such a wide-ranging innovation programme, three top sectors are involved in it: Energy, Chemistry and HTSM. If we are to introduce green hydrogen successfully in the Netherlands, we will need to adopt a wide-ranging approach to encouraging innovation, involving as many parties as possible. That means R&D at all technology readiness levels (from fundamental research to market-ready products and services), immediately implementing and upscaling new innovations, establishing pilots at companies and immediately incorporating the results within new innovation programmes.
“In all of this, it is important not to lose sight of the human capital. That means training and re-skilling! We face massive staff shortages when it comes to achieving the energy transition, so we will also need to invest in that.
“As far as I’m concerned, GroenvermogenNL is a textbook example of how we innovate in the Netherlands. It’s all about system integration, which is something we’re good at. I’m also pleased to see that the Top Teams have made the shift towards mission-driven innovation, enabling us to set an ambitious long-term target. – the large-scale generation of renewable energy onshore and offshore, for example – and it doesn’t matter how you get there or which technology you use.
“It’s hardly surprising that I support this, because we also adopt a mission-driven approach in Delft, with our themes like Climate Action and the way we’ve brought our teaching, research and innovation under the umbrella of the Delft Energy Initiative. Ultimately, it’s not about the technology, but the impact you want to make with it.”