The Speed of the Energy Transition
July 22, 1959. Natural gas discovered on the land of boer Boon, near Slochteren, the Netherlands.
The European Union is the major political force in the world with the most ambitious climate and renewable energy goals, for which they should be commended. Their goal is to get rid of most fossil fuel consumption by 2050. Is this realistic?
We say it is, even overly conservative. Let’s have a look at a radical energy transition in the relative recent past, the transition to natural gas in the Netherlands in the sixties.
On July 22, 1959, the NAM (Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij) discovered natural gas at a depth of 2500m on the land of boer Boon (“farmer Bean”). It took a while until scientists realized the enormous size of the gas stock, but eventually they did and in 1963 the Dutch government decided to build a nation-wide pipeline network and ten years later 75% of the Dutch households were connected.
Boer Boon received less than 1000 euro for a gas find to the tune of 267 billion euro.
The difference between the natural gas development of the sixites in the Netherlands and the European renewable energy ambitions is that in the latter case, the network already exists as it is possible to use old oil and gas network for renewable produced hydrogen.
For sure, adaptions will be necessary, new major power lines constructed, sub-sea cables to Norway laid for storage purposes, but not the most costly “last miles”.
In Europe the situation is somewhat comparable with that in the Netherlands of the early 60s. We “discovered” a “new” source of energy, wind and solar, that is present in abundance and meanwhile prices have come down to a level where they are competitive with fossil sources of energy. Additionally there is the climate and depletion aspect that makes these renewable sources of energy extra attractive, if not unavoidable if we want to meet out climate goals as laid down in the Paris Accords.
With the speed of the transition realized in the sixties in mind, we do not deem it impossible that a large part of the intended energy transition could be realized before 2030.