EDGaR Gas Research
EDGaR – Energy Delta Gas Research – has started a research finding the ideal mix of gas and renewable energy.
How can the Netherlands grow towards a sustainable energy mix from its current strong natural gas position?
This was the core question and focus of the activities of Energy Delta Gas Research (EDGaR) from 2010 – 2015.
EDGaR research TU Delft
In its quest for answers, this Dutch consortium will be developing knowledge and technology using a strategic research program, with which Prof. Margot Weijnen (chairholder of process and energy systems engineering) and Dr. Rolf Künneke (associate professor of the economy of infrastructures) are closely involved on behalf of TU Delft.
Prof. Weijnen is a member of the Executive Board, and Dr. Künneke is on the Programme Board.
For more than fifty years, natural gas has been the primary source of energy in the Netherlands, for industry, the service sector and households.
More than 60% of the country’s domestic electricity production is based on natural gas, while almost every home and every business is connected to the gas network.
Market penetration on this scale is unparalleled anywhere in the world. Moreover, the Netherlands is a major gas exporter in Europe and is keen to profile itself as north-west Europe’s gas hub.
Weijnen explains, “When it comes to developing technology and markets, our country is right at the forefront – a position that offers tremendous opportunities now that Europe is on the verge of making the transition from conventional to sustainable energy.
In the next few decades, gas will play an important role in this. After all, it is a relatively clean conventional fuel and is a flexible addition to renewable energy sources that are not available on a continuous basis.”
The aim of EDGaR is to safeguard the country’s leading knowledge position in relation to gas and, looking at the future, to make a smart link between gas and the transition to sustainable energy provision.
This involves three main themes:
- ‘from monogas to multigas’
- ‘long-term energy systems’
- ‘changing gas markets’
Künneke: “To start with the first theme: in the next few years, the Netherlands will see an increasing stream of ‘new’ gases, such as ‘green’ gases, hydrogen and syngas.
Also, gas from other countries will be imported to an ever-greater degree via the extensive natural gas network, or in tanker ships in the form of liquid gas (LNG).
The composition of this ‘new gas’ is different from the natural gas from Groningen that has been traditionally distributed in the Netherlands, which has a very unique quality. The current natural gas network is not set up for this, and neither is the equipment used by end-users.
These different gases cannot simply be mixed. It could also lead to very dangerous situations for end-users if gas with divergent qualities is burned in heating boilers or gas ovens.
There therefore has to be a transition from the traditional mono-gas world to a multi-gas world. The EDGaR programme is examining the relevant and important technical, policy, economic and legal aspects of this. At present, twelve research projects are underway.”
For the ‘future-proof energy systems’ theme, the key question is the role of gas in future energy provision. Gas and electricity systems have traditionally developed and been made more sustainable separately.
EDGaR is now looking at ways of bringing the two together in order to make the energy system as a whole more efficient.
This is also intended to lead to better use of sustainable forms of energy that provide power at unpredictable intervals, such as the sun and wind. For end-users, gas and electricity are competing energy sources, but at the same time the networks are linked and dependent upon each other.
One of the eight approved research projects concerns ‘innovative smart grid solutions’, and is focused on the interaction between gas and electricity networks. Modeling the integrated gas and electricity system is a real challenge, but it is something you need to do to be able to coordinate supply and demand in the energy system in an intelligent manner and, for example, to use decentralized production units for heat and power more smartly.”
The area of focus of the third main theme, ‘changing gas markets’, is internationalization. The need for this is highlighted by the fact that the character of the international gas market has changed rapidly in the last ten years, due to:
- the introduction of liquefied natural gas (LNG)
- the related need for different transport systems
- and the quickly increasing role of shale gas.
Other factors are:
- the greater international dependence on the supply of traditional natural gas from a limited number of countries
- greening as a result of the introduction of new gases
- other quality specifications.
Moreover, EDGaR would like to put the development of innovation in the Netherlands in an international context, with a view to new export opportunities, among other things.
One of the six research projects is entitled, ‘Up stream – down stream: securing gas supply and the governance of the gas value chain’.
The project further highlights the various policy aspects of certainty of supply.
For TPM and TU Delft, participation in EDGaR was a logical step. Weijnen says, “Through Next Generation Infrastructures, TPM and other faculties and universities have already put interdisciplinary infrastructure system research firmly on the map. It is now a matter of extending that further, and EDGaR is the ideal vehicle for that purpose.”
In addition, gas is high on the agenda of the Topsector Energie (the energy sector is one of nine designated by Dutch government as a ‘leading’ sector, based on the country’s leading position in the sectors worldwide).
We are happy to play our part – in fact, we are now right in the thick of it. The Netherlands is small on the world map, but our knowledge of gas is considerable.
Intellectually innovative platform
The challenge now is to be intellectually innovative, for which EDGaR is an ideal platform. What I am also very pleased about is that EDGaR was launched at an almost astronomical speed! It had to be, of course, because the Ministry of Economic Affairs wanted to carry out an evaluation after just one year. The speed has not been at the expense of quality and we came through the evaluation with flying colors.
Another aspect linking TPM and EDGaR is that of the multidisciplinary approach, as Künneke explains.
“As at TPM, resources are pooled very effectively in EDGaR. As an engineer or economist, for example, you will not get very far working on your own.
- You really need each other in order to fully understand the nature of the problems
- You can no longer regard the technical aspects of energy infrastructure as separate from the economic organisation, legislation or policy – and vice versa, of course.
It is also good to see that EDGaR has attracted interest in other TU Delft faculties – 3ME (Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering), Applied Sciences and EEMCS (Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science), for example, have started to consider gas technology from their own perspectives.
There is also greater collaboration between PhD students from various research organizations and industrial partners, and the new knowledge is finding its way into scientific journals and is being taught to students. We very much cherish all these forms of collaboration, whether in or outside the faculty.
The end of Dutch supplies of natural gas is in sight, but we cannot manage without gas. All kinds of new types of gas exist, or are in the pipeline, as it were.
- How can we manage these developments so that they fit in the gas infrastructure?
- What investments are we going to make in the next 50 years?
- Are we going to move from gas and strengthen our electricity infrastructure?
- Or are we going to stay with gas, in all its forms, and with the possibilities our outstanding and intricate natural gas infrastructure offers?
- And are we going to use our existing gas infrastructure as a vehicle for renewable energy?”
Smart organization will be another requirement. How will we organise the complicated array of new gases? Will it be on a smaller scale?
- As an economist, I wonder how in that case you can safeguard such aspects as reliability and affordability.
- And in a general sense, how do you regulate innovation? Because if you have a decentralized system, how do you organise it?
Hydrogen economy in 2050
The PhD thesis by Daniël Scholten is a case in point. He talks about the development of a hydrogen economy in 2050, but as well as the technical side, he looks at the organizational requirements. You can no longer consider these aspects separately.”
Much can be learned from the past. Infrastructure-based services in Europe all came about through local private initiatives. Even now, you see many private parties and local authorities involved in initiatives for developing green gas and smart grids, for example.
In Germany, there are already many self-sufficient communities. What does this mean for regulatory structures of the future?
- Are we going to organise energy provision via energy communities?
- Will there be big differences in the quality of energy supplies to the better and less well off?
We think self-governance and self-regulation can work very well, but not in every circumstance. We have to look for appropriate technical and institutional solutions, based on public values.
These questions are very much in keeping with the research tradition at TPM. What is clear is that a great deal of research is needed, in which technology, economics and policy are looked at together. EDGaR provides the room to do that.
As far as Weijnen and Künneke are concerned, the collaboration in EDGaR is unique: “We work with many different parties, from network companies and industrial partners to scientists, and consider the problems together. As a result, we complement each other very well. The perspective of one party may not always be clear to another, but EDGaR is useful in bridging that kind of gap.
What we are all actually doing is working on one huge puzzle, and everyone understands that their contribution is just part of the bigger picture. Everything comes together, all our resources are pooled, and that is absolutely the great thing about EDGaR.”
The Energy Delta Gas Research (EDGaR) national consortium is conducting the largest-scale research programme in Europe in field of gas and sustainability. Under the leadership of the Energy Delta Research Centre of the University of Groningen, EDGaR is pooling Dutch gas-related knowledge and skills with the aim of creating a sustainable energy future.
The partners are Gasunie, Kiwa Gastec, network companies Enexis, Liander and Stedin, GasTerra, the University of Groningen, TU Delft, ECN and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen. The Executive Board is chaired by Roelf Venhuizen, the former director of the NAM.
2010 – 2015
EDGaR has a total budget of 44 million euros at its disposal.
- Half of this comes from grants from the Northern Netherlands Provinces (10 million euros), the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation (2 x 5 million euros) and the Province of Groningen (2 million euros).
- The remaining 22 million euros comes from the EDGaR partners. Of the 44 million, 42 million euros is intended for research and technology development, and 2 million for management and disseminating knowledge.
- In addition, the University of Groningen has provided 0.4 million euros for manpower. At present, the program is set to run until 2015.
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