Are The Dutch Fans of Windmills?

In 2006, the Netherlands built 36 sea-based turbines with hopes of a better future for the environment. Each year, these turbines produce enough electricity to ensure the survival of more than 100,000 households. However, there has been a turn of events for years, with locals growing increasingly tired of seeing large and cumbersome land-based models. Furthermore, it turns out that sea-based turbines are expensive and high maintenance. Is there a better alternative solution for sustainable energy in the Netherlands? Or can the current turbines be improved and rendered even more environmentally-friendly?

Wind energy is a source of clean and non-polluting electricity. Windmill farms emit no air pollutants or greenhouse gases, as opposed to traditional power plants. The technology requires a higher initial investment compared to fossil-fuelled generators. Approximately 80% of the cost is allocated to machinery. However, wind costs are much more competitive with other generating technologies due to a non-reliance on fuel and a minimal need for manpower.

Residents usually complain about noise produced by the rotor blades, windmills’ aesthetic, as well as birds and bats that get sliced by the blades mid-air. Wind is also intermittent and unreliable, it cannot be stored and cannot always meet the electricity demands.

According to Reuters, in 2011, the Dutch government acknowledged the high cost of offshore wind power. 18 cents per kilowatt hour could no longer be subsidised... Which amounts to approximately 4.5 billion euros per year. The solution was to shift the financial expenses to households and industrial consumers, as well as to draw in private sector investment. It began billing consumers and companies in 2013. Additionally, a system was launched in which investors could apply to take part in renewable energy projects.

Offshore wind farms produce more electricity but cost twice as much as onshore wind power due to materials and more expensive drilling methods and maintenance. Drilling the sea bed coupled with the additional expense of connecting them to the grid present a constant dilemma as locals do not like the sight of onshore wind farms either.

Onshore, wind turbines face further resistance from locals. In 1994, farmers from Urk got together and decided to construct the country’s biggest onshore wind farm with 86 wind turbines. Maxime Verhagen, then minister for economy, innovation and agriculture, assured everyone that this would be adequate to cater to 900,000 residents.

The project has since been changed due to new legislation. 20 years after it was launched, construction was finally supposed to begin in 2011 and completed in 2014. Another obstacle presented itself at that point as a lawsuit was filed by local residents. They lamented that the 30-meter-high wind turbines would ruin their beautiful view.

Jaap Kroon, the mayor of Urk, stated “If we have wind turbines here this old picture will be destroyed. We are also concerned about the safety and noise.” (Reuters, 2011). Progress was painfully slow due to this disagreement. However, upon completion in 2017, it was the biggest wind farm in the Netherlands, and as of 2019 it is still one of the largest.

As reported by the Wind Power Monthly, in 2013, the government and 40 additional stakeholders signed an “Energy Deal”. It contained targets for renewable energy production (14% by 2020 and 16% by 2023). They believed that the growing wind power production would accomplish these goals. This same deal also projected the reduction of offshore wind power production costs by 40%. Vattenfall received the licence to construct the project without government help at the tender for the 700MW Hollandse Kust Zuid site.

How can wind turbines be improved? As stated in Digital Trends; Google and its A.I. subsidiary DeepMind have found an innovative way to combine artificial intelligence with wind power to increase the usefulness of its green energy. The company has been focusing on solving the unpredictability of wind energy. Despite its pros, wind power is less useful to the power grid compared to other reliable power sources due to this reason. By using A.I to predict wind output, Google and DeepMind have produced a neural network that accurately predicts wind power output 36 hours ahead of the power’s actual generation.

According to the Netherlands’ official government website, “The European Union (EU) is committed to achieving 14% renewable energy by 2020. In the Netherlands, wind energy is a key source of renewable energy, which the country depends on to achieve this goal. So central government has decided to build more onshore wind turbines.”

The Energy Agreement for Sustainable Growth demonstrated that it is imperative that by 2020 the Netherlands has an onshore wind capacity of 6,000 MW. Therefore, capacity must be increased by over 3,000 MW. The country needs approximately 1,000 to 1,500 new onshore wind turbines.

There is bound to be a future for windmills in the Netherlands with a few creative tweaks. They are a symbol of the amazing combination of the past and the future. The windmill is such a historic part of the Dutch landscape, and it is beautiful that it can be such a good contribution to our environment’s future. Once a year, the Netherlands holds “National Mill Day”. It is such an incredible cultural and environmental Dutch symbol therefore it deserves a fighting chance in our changing world.

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