The Dutch energy transition

At the end of August, the Dutch government announced slightly different targets for renewables, and some interesting details are in the works. Nonetheless, the country still is not on course to meet its target for 2050. For that matter, neither is Germany, as Craig Morris points out.

Historically an early adopter of renewables (Photo by Kent Kanouse, CC BY NC 2.0)

Windmills, part of Dutch landscape and distant relatives of today’s wind turbines. (Photo by Kent Kanouse, CC BY-NC 2.0)

This spring, my colleague Rick Bosman of the Netherlands took a critical look at his home country’s admittedly ambitious target of “100% sustainable energy” by 2050. He pointed out that few details have been provided; for instance, what do Dutch politicians understand as “sustainable” – and is nuclear a part of the picture?

In recent weeks, some details have been made public. Over at Energy Post, a new website hereby highly recommended, Dutchman Karel Beckmann spoke about some of the slow progress being made this year in his own country, including the announcement of 200 fast-charging stations for electric vehicles – it would be the biggest such network in the world.

Beckmann also mentioned that the government might be adopting a new National Energy Accord for Sustainable Growth by the end of August. And judging from various press reports, that is exactly what is happening. The Dutch are moving from a target of 14% renewable energy (not just electricity) by 2020 to 16% by 2023 – or to 16% by 2020, depending on what source you cite. But as Beckmann points out, 14% by 2020 is what the government previously agreed with the EU. And there is little else to report aside from these targets.

In either case, the targets are unambitious. The country currently has just over 4% renewable energy, so it has another seven years to increase the share of renewables by just under 10% – equivalent to an increase of only just over a percentage point per year. At that rate, the country would be 100% renewable next century, not by 2050 – that target would require an annual increase closer to 3 percentage points. Even 16% by 2023 is only 12% in a decade, putting the Dutch at 100% renewable by 2090, not 2050.

But lest we point the finger at others, it is worth mentioning that Germany’s interim goals do not tally either. Like the Netherlands, Germany’s targets for 2030 are below the trajectory required for the targets in 2050. As German environmental non-profit DUH pointed out recently, Germany is almost standing still with its carbon emissions; both in terms of power and overall energy, emissions are above where they need to be (see the chart here). Likewise, while Germany is roughly on target for renewable electricity, it is not for renewable energy (which includes heat and motor fuel).

In other words, both Germany and the Netherlands have adopted nice-sounding targets for 2050, at which time our current decision-makers will no longer be in office to be held accountable. For now, we continue to be overly concerned about the economic impact of a switch to renewables; we therefore fail to take the steps needed today to reach those ambitious targets.

As a result of our lack of courage and failure to properly calculate economics, the people alive in 2050 will have less renewable energy, a higher concentration of carbon in the atmosphere, more nuclear waste, and, no doubt, less prosperity. What will they think of the timid decisions we made in 2013?

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of German Energy Transition. He directs Petite Planète and writes every workday for Renewables International.


Craig Morris (@PPchef) is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende.


  1. Alexander Fehr says

    Thank you for that aricle. In the long terms we need a European and a global Energy Transition to face the challanges of the Climate Change.

  2. Thomas Hewitt says

    Is it really fair to expect a linear transition curve? Most technological change follows an S shaped curve, initially exponential, then leveling off (usually around the 50% penetration level), then the rate of change levels off due to saturation effects. We are still in the early days with most renewables, and I expect the rate of change to increase for the next decade or two.

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