Elections and Selections: politics and the energy puzzle

The Dutch elections are coming near, which energy source will get your vote?

Jaap Brinkert
Professional Expert
Elections and Selections: politics and the energy puzzle

Introducing the candidates

With the elections coming soon, we compare the energy puzzle with the government puzzle. For parliament, there are many candidates to fill the 150 seats, organised in some 20 parties. For the energy demand, there are fewer candidates, in five parties. All ‘parties’ promise clear advantages. Let’s review them one by one.

  1. Fossil Fuels
We can deliver more than enough energy, we have a lot of experience in supplying your energy needs, we are reliable.

These slogans are true, and humanity has voted for this party for a long time. Critics would highlight the carbon emissions, perhaps the working conditions in Chinese coal mines, and the earth quakes in Groningen.

  1. Renewable biofuels
We are the oldest party, but we also have many young candidates. We are carbon neutral.

Indeed, fire wood is as old as humanity itself, and new renewables are being developed. Critics would question the potential of this party: can it supply enough energy? Perhaps also the harmful aerosols.

  1. Energy from the forces of nature
Let nature help you: free electricity.

This party is a fusion of wind energy, solar panels, wave/tidal energy and geothermal energy. Critics would point out that the electricity is free, but the investments to get it are expensive, especially if a storage solution is included. Also, this party is fast growing, but still fairly small.

  1. Nuclear energy
No carbon emission, plenty of energy available.

This slogan is not true or false without the numbers. Between 1945 and 2019, 3 million tons of uranium were mined, whereas the proven reserves are 3.8 million tons [1]. Critics mention the problem of nuclear waste, cost of decommissioning and safety in times of war or terrorism, especially for the micro plants underdevelopment.

[1] Uranium: voorraad, winning en marktprijs | Stichting Laka

  1. Future energy sources
We promise you the ultimate solution, quite soon.

The slogan refers to the theoretical possibilities. The king of this party is Nuclear Fusion. But there are other candidates. The Perpetual Motion machine was not admitted to the party. Critics may observe that the waiting time for nuclear fusion has been ten years for a very long time, with some very difficult problems remaining.

How would you vote? How do you rank the issues? Is your priority “sufficient energy supply” or “zero carbon emissions”? Do you want to wait for future energy sources? Are you prepared to use less energy (and your neighbour too)?

The energy supply to our country is a complex problem, and, just like in politics, we probably need a coalition to have enough. But which combinations of sources can deliver enough energy?

At Reden, we have developed our own Design Space Exploration package, Reves DSE. It is intended to be used to explore the many expected and unexpected solutions which satisfy a set of rules, experimental results and other data describing a technical product. The basic idea is a reversal of the normal design method: instead of selecting a value for all design parameters and calculating the performance, the performance is specified, and Reves DSE finds a great many sets of design parameters that lead to the required performance. After that, the user decides which design is the most appropriate with regard to the cost price, or other criteria. Reves DSE can also be used for the energy puzzle, and this was done by Niek Monchen, a student, at Reden.

Electricity and heat, production and consumption in three scenarios: a: full fossil, b: full hydrogen, c: full electric. Adapted from: Modelling the energy supply and demand in the Netherlands in Reves DSE, internship report by Niek Monchen, 2023.

His model can be used to visualise and quantify various scenarios on KPI’s like carbon emission, foot print, energy storage need in the future energy handling in the Netherlands. Scenario a is ‘full fossil’, in other words like it was a few decades ago. Scenario b is ‘full hydrogen’. It shows that a lot of electricity is needed if we move towards a hydrogen ecnonomy.  Details of the model are not given, as they are not final. We intend to improve the model and to keep it up to date. Results from updates will appear in future Reden Makes Sense publications.

Inspiration for the model was from the work of Prof. David JC MacKay, who wrote the book Sustainable Energy – without the hot air (2009). MacKay’s central theme is that it is impossible to compare elements of the energy consumption (of, in his case, the United Kingdom), or energy sources, without calculating the numbers. Whether a trip to Johannesburg, heating a house during one winter, producing a washing machine, running it, all actions, things, movements, represent energy use. David MacKay proposes to express all energy generation or consumption in the same unit, the kWh. [2]

The model by Niek Monchen contains a lot of information on the energy consumption and the energy sources, as well as a number of assumptions. Data are taken from solid sources, such as the Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek. This is different from the MacKay book, which demonstrates how good estimates can be made from physics, supplemented by typical efficiencies from engineering practice. There should be good agreement in the two approaches, and both are valid and can be used together.

[2] this is a familiar unit for anyone paying for electricity; in physics, a better unit is the Joule (J). 1 kWh= 3.6 MJ.   In basic SI-units, 1 J = 1 kg m2/s2.

How big is the energy transition challenge?

The size of the energy transition problem is huge, and this is often conveniently forgotten. Without the whole picture, some statements may appear over-optimistic. Just one example: on its website (Windpark Wieringermeer), Windpark Wieringermeer states that a) it is the largest land based wind turbine part in the Netherlands (99 turbines) and that b) the amount of green electricity it produces is sufficientfor 370,000 households. This sounds impressive. However, the households use natural gas as well. How much? The CBS provides all the required information to make the calculation. The electricity use per household (year 2021) is 2810 kWh per year, or 10.1 GJ. The natural gas use is 1280 m3  (or 1280*31.6 MJ = 40.4 GJ). The ‘electricity for 370,000 households’ is roughly 3.74 PJ, so this is what the turbines deliver. The total energy requirement (electricity and natural gas) per household is five times higher(40.4 +10.1 = 50.5), so in terms of energy, the windpark supplies enough for 74000 households. But we can go further. There are people in the household. They drive a car, or use a bus, and eat, and buy products. Their streets are lit, they work in heated offices or in energy consuming factories. What if we count all energy used in the country?  The total energy use in the Netherlands is 4556 PJ per year, or, for each of the 8.1 million households: 562.5 GJ. The energy output of the Windpark is now only enough for 6649 households (0.08 %).

In other words, the energy used in this country is equivalent to the output of 1200 windturbine parks of the size of Windpark Wieringermeer!

Much more must be done if we are to achieve our ambition to become CO­2 neutral,either in 2050 or at any time.

The outcome of the elections on 22 November will determine which coalitions can be formed to govern this country. Whichever parties form a government, let’s hope they understand the energy transition issue, and take the time to look beyond the slogans.

Energy balance; supply, conversion and consumption (cbs.nl)

Energy use by private homes, home types and regions (Statline)


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