The situation in the south-western Netherlands is relatively straightforward. Parties in education and the professional world are well acquainted with each other and used to working together, partly thanks to the focus in the past on offshore wind energy. ‘Now it’s all about taking advantage of the existing networks in the transition towards green hydrogen.’
The south-western Netherlands is about more than just Zeeland. Thanks to the merger between the ports of Terneuzen and Ghent, collaboration reaches far into the Belgian hinterland. The region is characterised by its significant consumption of hydrogen in the chemical industry: amounting to 50% of the total in the Netherlands. The south-western Netherlands also has the potential to become an important production location for green hydrogen, since this is where offshore wind reaches land.
Safari Day in the port
On Wednesday, 15 March, the south-western Netherlands was the first region to launch the Human Capital Agenda (HCA) Safari Days. ‘The day included a visit to the port, where the construction of wind turbines served as a good demonstration of the almost surrealistic extent of the energy transition,’ says regional liaison officer Willem den Ouden.
‘The challenge will mainly involve ensuring that we have sufficient numbers of MBO qualified professionals for the production of green hydrogen,’ continues Den Ouden. ‘But having the chemical industry here means that we’re starting from a position of advantage. It’s a question of retaining the people working in it and supporting them in the energy transition that the companies will need to make. Based on their own professional skills, they need to learn to adapt in line with the future changes that will be ushered in by the hydrogen economy.’
To some extent, the region has already faced similar challenges in the past. ‘In around 2016, professional and vocational education and the business community responded to the arrival of offshore wind. There are large wind farms offshore: a key economic activity for which we needed to train the working population. We can now see new opportunities in green hydrogen. The provincial executive has set high ambitions in this regard. In other words, we’re determined to seize the economic opportunity. With the working population and physical space we have, that will certainly be possible.’
Tightly organised network
The south-western Netherlands is a relatively small region, which could be one of its greatest strengths. In the wake of everyone warmly embracing the opportunities of offshore wind, there is a tightly organised network in which education, business and industry and government authorities have a close and easy relationship. This includes Energy Port Zeeland, the collaborative platform for the offshore wind sector. Den Ouden: ‘Now it’s all about taking advantage of the existing networks in the transition towards green hydrogen.’
Short lines of communication
Even in education, the lines of communication are short. ROC Scalda and HZ University of Applied Sciences have a good working relationship. ‘They pledged to ensure that by the time the first electrolysers are delivered, sufficient numbers of professionals will have been educated and trained by integrating new knowledge around hydrogen within the existing technical and engineering programmes. Practice-based research groups (practoraten) and knowledge groups will join forces with companies to respond to the demand for knowledge in practice. This practice-oriented research will be the lifeblood for the continued development of hydrogen-related education.’
Researchers, lecturers, students and professionals will develop the knowledge in learning communities. ‘Although we never actually called it that in the past, we’ve been applying this concept in the south-western Netherlands for years,’ says Den Ouden.
Freshwater in short supply
One major point of concern is the important component of hydrogen: high-quality freshwater. ‘A shortage will develop, and we will need to make sure we find a solution for that. That could be by developing the technology to use saltwater, which is a better conductor. I would like our roadmap to focus attention on that and join forces with Friesland, where there is a lot of expertise in that field.’