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Transitioning to renewable energy: TNO sees The Hague as the perfect hotspot

TNO, the largest energy technology and innovation center in the Netherlands chose The Hague as the location for its head office for good reasons, says René Peters, TNO’s energy transition Business Director. “Here is where almost all the big energy companies are. And the policymakers.”

TNO, founded in 1932 by the Dutch government “to help solve social problems”, is a household name in the Netherlands. The organisation describes itself as an “innovation booster”, bringing together public and private parties to initiate activities that would not get off the ground if they were left to the public or private sector alone.

Six years ago, TNO decided to move most of its Energy activities (it is active in ten sectors, including Defense, Life Sciences and Artificial Intelligence) from nearby Delft to its head office in the New Babylon building right next to The Hague Central Station. The move was made quite deliberately, says René Peters. “Delft with its university is the place for academic research. Our clients – policymakers, permitting agencies, industry associations, and of course the energy companies – are all in The Hague. When you say The Hague you don’t immediately think of an energy hub, but all the big energy companies are here! And we are here of course: the biggest energy innovation center in the Netherlands.”

For TNO contacts with other parties in the energy value chain are of key importance, says Peters. “We specialize in innovation. That means we are focused on realizing concrete projects. Together with our industrial partners, we translate ideas from academic institutions or startups into reality.”

In the region of The Hague, TNO is participating in a number of pathbreaking projects that could have a key impact on the transition to renewable energy, even on a global scale. One is a unique pilot project from oil and gas operator Neptune Energy to produce green hydrogen from offshore wind power on a gas platform in the North Sea. The project is a spin-off from the North Sea Energy consortium, in which 30 research institutions and public and private parties cooperate. Its goal is to develop smart combinations of existing assets in the North Sea, such as platforms, pipelines, and empty gas and oil fields, with the new assets that are being built for the energy transition, such as offshore wind farms and electricity cables.

According to Peters, the traditional oil and gas companies, like Shell and Total, as well as the large offshore engineering companies, which are all clustered in The Hague, have a great interest in “new energy” projects. “In the past, these companies used to come to us for help in maximizing oil and gas production. Now they come to us asking us to help with the transition to renewable energy, in fields like carbon capture and storage (CCS), offshore wind, and hydrogen.”

He notes that Shell, for example, views the Netherlands as one of the leading regions in the world on the renewable energy transition. “This is why their New Energies division is headquartered in The Hague. And they are not the only ones.” The Netherlands is doing a lot to position itself as leading in the energy transition, says Peters, especially when it comes to the offshore sector. “The government has designated areas of the North Sea as testing grounds for new energy projects. The Netherlands is also leading the world in reducing the costs of offshore wind, thanks to government initiatives and commitments made by industry.” These initiatives are appreciated in the market, he adds. “I often hear from companies that this region is a perfect testing ground. They know if it works here, they can export it to the rest of the world.”