The NAM has spent over 40 years pumping wealth (literally) from under our feet, but spin-off transporter company Gasunie may be able to re-use existing equipment for a greener future
Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe were once the least modern economic region in the Netherlands, despite providing the country with huge supplies of oil and gas (and indeed tax revenue). As successive Dutch governments ‘forgot’ to invest in the North, local industries thrived. From biotech to green energy, the North is now one of the more forward-looking regions in the Netherlands. Now, though, the North could be on the cusp of becoming incredibly economically productive thanks to a fledgling hydrogen industry.
Ulco Vermeulen, a member of the governing board of the GasUnie (which is owned by the Dutch state) and also its director of business development thinks that lots of the existing infrastructure in the North could prove helpful in this new hydrogen-powered world. “The development of hydrogen as an energy carrier represents a gigantic opportunity for Groningen. Thanks to hydrogen, the city and province, and the rest of the northern Netherlands, can not only emerge from the economic middle bracket, but can also lead the way: in the Netherlands and internationally”, he says in an interview with the GROC.
Gasunie is a network company (transporter) for energy: set up to help the Netherlands further exploit its natural resources in the 1960’s. Until 2005 it existed as one company along with GasTerra, which trades natural gas and is owned by the typically evil-sounding triumvirate of the Dutch state, Exxon Mobil, and Shell. But now that the extraction of Groningen gas has ended, GasTerra will finally close in three years.
However, Gasunie will continue to exist and will focus on, among other things, the management and maintenance of the infrastructure for the transport and storage of gas, says the GIC.
At the end of October, northern companies and governments presented an unprecedented investment plan for the further development of hydrogen, amounting to nine billion euros. The plans can preserve 66,000 existing jobs and 25,000 new jobs, thanks in part to 50 large-scale projects.
“Yes: it may all sound ambitious and impressive. But we are now just at a tipping point in the transition to a sustainable economy. And we happen to be in a very favorable position in Groningen to play a central role in that development ”, argues Vermeulen.
Vermeulen has been working at Gasunie for thirty years now, currently in the business development division. In addition to gas transport, Gasunie is also involved in CO2 storage, the transport of large industrial residual heat and the development of green gas. Gasunie has also been involved in the development of knowledge about hydrogen for ten years.
“Hydrogen is the most promising of all these activities. From an international point of view, there is also an enormous acceleration. And in that worldwide game we occupy a unique position in Groningen, because a few things just happen to come together very nicely. For example, we are close to the production of green energy: the windmills in the North Sea. And we are the only part in the world with an enormous number of gas pipes, a number of which we can easily convert from gas transport to hydrogen transport. Furthermore, we are not far away from large industrial areas that can use hydrogen: Rotterdam, Antwerp and the Rühr area, ”says Vemeulen.
“If we can get everything together, we will soon be a gigantic pivot point in the European hydrogen sector in the Northern Netherlands.” Vermeulen’s enthusiasm is contagious, but it all seems a bit too good to be true. “The fact remains that we are working on an energy transition in the Netherlands. And we have also left a magnificent network of pipelines for the gas industry. It is now up to us to take up all the opportunities that arise from this ”, Vermeulen argues.
Incidentally, Gasunie only sees itself as a link between a combination of parties to realise its ambitions. “What I really like is that there is excellent cooperation here between industry, governments and education. I have also worked elsewhere in the Netherlands, but the collaboration here is truly unique. You can’t get any better!”