For many years, the northern Netherlands was known as the country’s natural gas region. Players in the three northern provinces are now joining forces in the switch to green hydrogen. ‘Infrastructure, knowledge, space: the conditions here are right for achieving our ambitions.’
The natural gas in Groningen, the chemical industry around Emmen, the focus on water in Friesland: as a region, the northern Netherlands has all the ingredients for successful investment in the hydrogen economy. This is especially the case when you consider that 40% of all Dutch electricity is generated in Eemshaven and the wind energy generated from the North Sea is landed in this region.
€9 billion by 2030
‘The transition from natural gas to hydrogen will be essential for us,’ says regional liaison officer Jan-jaap Aué. ‘We don’t want to see the around 25,000 jobs disappear. That’s why our region has set up a robust investment plan: € 9 billion will be needed by 2030 to make the transition possible.’
Businesses, education and knowledge institutions and government authorities have already started making efforts to get the hydrogen economy off the ground in the northern Netherlands. And these efforts have paid off. The region is a trailblazer in Europe as an innovative Hydrogen Valley. Higher professional education (HBO), secondary vocational education (MBO) and businesses are joining forces to share knowledge, educate new professionals and offer refresher training for current professionals.
HCA Safari Day
The Human Capital Agenda (HCA) Safari Day on Monday, 20 March made it clear how high on the agenda hydrogen is in the northern Netherlands. ‘Various companies gave presentations on the subject of mobility and high-pressure hydrogen systems,’ says project manager Arjen van der Meer. ‘We showcased projects relating to our learning communities and highlighted what’s happening in higher professional (HBO) and secondary vocational (MBO) education in terms of hydrogen.’
On the lookout for 1,000 specialists
The Safari Day clearly demonstrated the innovative powers of SMEs. Yet the shortage of professionals is proving a bottleneck for further growth. ‘The amazing story of Resato is a case in point,’ says Aué. ‘They started out as a small company in Roden and developed to become a supplier to the oil and gas industry. They’re now using their expertise in high-pressure technology to build hydrogen fuel stations. They’re pioneers in the field, but aim to secure a position in Europe, which will mean rapid growth from 150 members of staff to 1,000 specialists.’
Great conditions for business
The main HCA challenge in the northern Netherlands is all about ensuring existing professionals are retained and upskilled for the region and attracting new professionals. ‘We have the infrastructure, knowledge and space: the conditions are right for achieving our ambitions,’ says Van der Meer.
Because so much is happening in the northern Netherlands in terms of hydrogen, the region decided that rather than continuing with just one regional officer working on the HCA issue, it would establish an entire liaison team. Aué: ‘The idea is to link up each team member with a specific sector,’ says Aué. ‘That will enable us to have more in-depth discussions, for example with companies’ HR advisers, on the needs that we’ll have to meet.’
Van der Meer: ‘These are the gaps that we want to identify for the roadmap. A roadmap focusing on the entire hydrogen supply chain and all areas of application, with the priority being infrastructure and chemistry. Many of the questions still involve general issues, such as what competencies hydrogen professionals will need to have.’
‘We’re talking about professions of the future that we don’t yet fully understand,’ adds Aué. ‘The good news is that this education and training issue really isn’t as overwhelming as we might think. It will certainly involve working safely, which professionals are already capable of doing. We just need to translate this to new and changing working situations.’