Olaf van der Gaag

Director NVDE

1. The government opts for a ‘carrot and stick’ model where the ‘stick’ is an additional national CO2 tax and the ‘carrot’ the subsidies. Do you believe that this is the way to develop techniques such as blue hydrogen?

With a carrot and a stick you get most horses running. In principle, this also applies to people and companies. I do believe that they work best at different stages though – and that there is more.

Grants or subsidies work well to help solutions become 'mature'. Innovations and the step from 'pioneering' to mainstream requires upscaling. In most markets, upscaling = cost reduction. But with sustainability, we need the cash first to keep innovation going. The great thing about pricing is that it lets the market do its job. With subsidies you always have a lot of discussion about technical choices. The public sometimes expects almost perfect solutions and the role of the government becomes too big. Pricing gives all available techniques a fair chance – may the best one win. It also ensures that companies focus on the market rather than on subsidies. By the way, this also applies to norms and standards, such as for more fuel-efficient devices or zero-emission cars. In addition to ‘the carrot and the stick’, a horse of course also needs a smooth road, preferably straight and without holes.  The industry also needs a 'smooth road', with the right preconditions, such as an excellent energy infrastructure. And we need someone to indicate the route, like government tries to do with the climate law and climate agreement. And important and often forgotten: the horse also needs encouragement. We are sometimes very critical of each other in the Netherlands, with little empathy. We are all humans that do the work, so let us pay more attention to that human side of the energy transition.

2. There is currently a lot of discussion about both biomass co-firing and CO2 storage? Do you see similarities or parallels in those discussions?

I see plenty of parallels. I think many people underestimate how much it takes to reduce our CO2 emissions by even 1%. In my opinion, the energy transition is not a candy store where you can choose 1 or 2 solutions: we need all available solutions to achieve our goals. Because let us face it: we do not have perfect solutions with only advantages on offer yet. Every solution also has disadvantages and raises concerns and resistance: biomass, CCS and even windmills. In the energy transition we see enthusiasm growing on the one hand: 100,000 people are member of an energy cooperative; more than a million people have solar panels on their roof; more and more people want their next car to be electric; the industry is going further than ever. But on the other hand, any solution that gets 'larger scale' also attracts more resistance and protest. The most important thing is that we take these concerns very seriously and try to resolve them. But at the same time we cannot afford to wait, we have to take the good and the bad and continue to progress and innovate. As far as I am concerned, responsible politics also includes a 'coverage obligation', a kind of 'standard' for climate policy: those who are against something must come up with alternative and reasonable solution.

Olaf van der Gaag

3. You have successfully built up the NVDE in recent years. The NVDE is an important driver for making business more sustainable and successfully addresses major sustainability themes. What are you proud of and what do you still want to work on?

I am most proud of the great group of motivated colleagues I work with and the wonderful companies that have joined in recent years and make our work possible. It is also extremely motivating to see how quickly the Netherlands is moving in the right direction: the discussion is no longer about whether we have a climate problem – but about how and how quickly we can solve it. I think that the founders of the NVDE had exactly the right idea at the right time – and I am very happy that it was almost self-evident that we became an important player, with a very active role in the climate agreement for example. That was really our test case for me: could we help make that agreement a success? At the same time, I realize every day how long the road still is. Perhaps the biggest challenge is how we get from 'we have to ' to 'we want to': there are many reasons why the energy transition is a 'must'. There are also many reasons why it can be done, but do people and companies have enough reasons to really ‘want’ it? Does it make your life more enjoyable, does it make your business more successful? Willpower can get you far, but with only willpower it becomes difficult. I would like to do much more to make the transition attractive to more and more people and companies: from the smallest to the largest chimney in the Netherlands.

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