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JRC helps local authorities of the Northern Netherlands in the energy transition

Image of windmills and old Dutch mill in Groningen
Jun 12 2020

The JRC provided scientific support to develop a concrete action plan that prepares the economy and labour market of the region of the Northern Netherlands for the upcoming energy transition.

As a result of the governmental decision to stop extracting natural gas from the Groningen field (planned for 2022), the region of Northern Netherlands will face considerable economic- and human capital-related challenges. To tackle the negative impacts of these challenges, the four biggest cities in the Northern Netherlands – Groningen, Leeuwarden, Assen and Emmen - have teamed up to propose concrete activities to keep the regional economy and the labour market vivid.

JRC scientists assessed the characteristics of the business that grew during the years around the activity of the gas field, the involved companies and labour force. By looking at the regional and provincial energy policies and by estimating the technological potentials of the territory, they tried to identify the development possibilities of other sectors, the consequent job creation and the need of new expertise. The results of this work helped the local authorities of the Northern Netherlands in defining a road map for the industrial and economic transition required to adapt to a situation in which no natural gas will be extracted.

The JRC research gave some useful insights into the energy transition process.

First, the pre-requisite of a successful transition is that all the parties affected by the process should participate in the design of a medium and long-term energy strategy. A crucial role is played by the public support, which needs to be involved across the three levels of governance – local, regional and national - to set, in coordination, the right policy mix. The local authorities have the possibility to interact directly with the businesses sector, to map and monitor the development, and facilitate the industrial transformation.

Second, the role of the technological change is an integral part of the energy transition. Big industrial gas users will have to invest in the adaptation of their production process to a production fuelled by alternative energy sources. Other companies operating in the middle and end-user segment of the gas value chain will need to evaluate possibilities of diversification of their business. Specialization, knowledge sharing and innovation are key factors in this process.

Finally, the energy strategy should include the planning of new investments in key sectors and reskilling and relocation of labour force that is not absorbed by the alternative plans of the national and local authorities and by the voluntary industry’s initiatives. In support of the new investment plan, educational programs should be put in place to form new expertise in line with the renewed needs of the energy sector.

Background

The study focuses on a epochal change in the Dutch energy sector represented by the closure by 2022 of the Groningen gas field, discovered in 1959 by the Dutch Petroleum Company (Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij- NAM) and operated since 1963 with more than 75% of the gas been already produced. This gas field, the biggest in Europe and one of the biggest in the world, has played a central role in the Dutch economy and welfare allowing around 93% of the Dutch population - but also large parts of the German, Belgian and Northern-France population - to utilize this gas for their stoves and boilers, substituting the burning of coal for domestic use.