The future of fossil fuels

Burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide (CO2). This is bad for the climate. Fossil fuel reserves can also run out. That’s why central government wants the Netherlands to have a low-carbon economy by 2050. It’s providing incentives for businesses to make the transition to sustainable energy.

The transition to sustainable energy

By 2020 14% of all energy used in the Netherlands must be sustainable. And by 2050, almost all energy must be from sustainable sources. Companies who fail to make the transition will have no place in a low-carbon economy.

Stricter requirements for coal-fired power plants

90% of mined coal is used as fuel. Most of the Netherlands’ electricity is generated in coal-fired power plants. Burning coal releases CO2. In the Netherlands CO2 is stored in empty gas fields under the sea bed.

Coal is a cheap fossil fuel, but causes a lot of pollution. So coal-fired power plants have to meet strict standards. If a plant’s CO2 emissions are too high, the owner must make changes that reduce the emissions.

The new, tougher standards have an impact on most older, more polluting coal-fired power plants in the Netherlands, built in the 1980s. It will be harder to make them meet the new standards.

Five coal-fired power plants to close by 1 July 2017

The Netherlands has 10 coal-fired power plants. Five of them are scheduled to close by 1 July 2017. The other five will remain open because the Netherlands still needs them for the time being.

These five are the most modern coal power plants in Europe, and their CO2 emissions are low. This is partly because they are cofired with biomass. This causes less pollution.

Impact of coal mining on the subsurface

Coal was mined in the southern Dutch province of Limburg until the end of 1974. This may have current and future consequences for the region’s subsurface. That’s why the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy (EZK) commissioned a study of the effects of coal mining in Limburg. The findings showed that there are no direct risks to public safety and no danger of ground water pollution.

Tougher standards for natural gas production

98% of Dutch households use gas for cooking and to heat their homes. Safety is a prime concern in the Dutch gas industry. The Mining Act sets out rules, for example:

  • Companies must carry out extensive studies into possible risks before they can apply for a permit to extract gas.

A new Mining Act is currently being drafted. The amendments will tighten up the rules for gas extraction.

Natural gas extraction in Groningen

Most of the country’s natural gas is extracted from the Groninger field near Slochteren, in the north of the Netherlands. Gas extraction in Groningen has caused earthquakes, so the government has decided to extract less gas in this area. There are over 250 other gas fields in the Netherlands, both onshore and below the North Sea.

The Netherlands still depends on oil

The Netherlands still depends greatly on oil, especially for industry and transport. It is used as a fuel and as a raw material for producing plastics. Because the supply is not always guaranteed, the government keeps strategic reserves.

The Netherlands has also worked with other countries to develop an oil crisis policy, so government can restrict the use of oil in a crisis. For instance, it can temporarily lower the speed limit on motorways or introduce car-free Sundays.

Central government stimulates the use of alternative fuels like biodiesel and other biofuels.

Permits for mineral resource exploration and extraction

Businesses need a permit to explore for and extracting mineral resources like oil and gas. The Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy issues these permits. The State Supervision of Mines is the oversight body for minerals exploration and extraction.