Michèlle Prins

Program Leader sustainable energy for Natuur & Milieu

1. CE Delft has recently completed the report ‘Cost-Effective Alternatives to CCS’, commissioned by Natuur & Milieu. The report indicates that for the time being there are no feasible and affordable alternatives to CCS for the production of steel, fertilizer, and hydrogen. This looks like a deviation from your previous views. Is that right?

We have commissioned this study to find out where CO2 reduction will not be possible without the use of CCS for a long time. We also want to show that the discussion should focus on how and in which sector of the industry we can apply the various options and how subsidies involved can be divided sensibly. CCS is a feasible option. This is not a deviation from our previous view, since Natuur & Milieu has never been opposed to CCS as a matter of principle. Without CCS it will be very hard to reduce CO2 emissions in time. To us, CCS is a part of the package of measures to achieve the climate goals. We are concerned, though, that CCS may impede sustainability. There haWe have to keep strong incentives to  transition into solutions that no longer require the use of polluting fossil fuels. For this reason, conditions for subsidising CCS have been included in the Climate Agreement. CCS will only be subsidized where no alternatives are available yet to meet the 2030 reduction target. There is a maximum added as well so subsidy for structural sustainability development remains available as well. The study shows that especially in the iron and steel industry and in hydrogen and ammonia production there will not be enough preventive CO2-reducing alternatives available in the short term. Short-term CO2 storage will therefore be needed here to reduce CO2 emissions. But as part of a wider set of sustainability measures, so that the structural use of fossil fuels and the corresponding CO2 emissions can be phased out as soon as possible.

2. What do you think of the contact with the industry, and how do you expect to cooperate with the industry in the future?

My contacts with industry vary. During the negotiations for the Climate Agreement at the industry table, I had intensive contact with a part of the industry. Sometimes, we were completely opposed and could not agree, for instance on the CO2- levy. On the other hand, we got to know each other better in this process, and we got a better understanding of each other’s points of view. When you speak with people in the industry, you often find we want the same – a sustainable, liveable world – but we think differently about how to get there. By remaining in dialogue with the industry, we as environmental organisation see which bottlenecks or obstacles they are facing and which aspects we have to take into account to make further sustainability possible. We can use this in our lobby for a more effective and fair climate policy.

In the end it is about the targets: reducing CO2 emissions and phasing out fossil fuels and raw materials. This is an enormous task, which we have to fulfil together. Only small steps here and there will not suffice. We need a radical change towards sustainable production and products. This does not need to happen overnight, but we really have to get started. There is no time to lose. Unfortunately, the fossil industry in its current state cannot continue to exist. But I believe that through cooperation and  in good dialogue with each other, we can realize the sustainability transition in the Netherlands.

Michèlle Prins

3. The elections are coming up, and so coalitions are being formed. What do you think is important to include in the coalition agreement when it comes to hydrogen or the hydrogen economy?

Hydrogen is going to play a major part in making the Dutch industry and the energy system more sustainable. On the one hand as a sustainable replacement for fossil raw materials and fuels in the industry and on the other hand as a basis for climate-neutral controllable power for the electricity grid. Hydrogen is essential for making the industry more sustainable, but it is certainly not the solution for all sectors. For some sectors, sustainable and more efficient solutions for replacing fossil energy sources are already available. We have to make smart choices about how and where to use hydrogen. Natuur & Milieu has drawn up an assessment framework in the form of the Hydrogen Ladder. In the Netherlands, we already have a major grey hydrogen production. Blue hydrogen, capturing and storing CO2 that is released in current hydrogen production, can lead to rapid CO2 reduction. We will have to ensure, however, that the industry continues to have an incentive to phase out the use of fossil fuel.

In the climate-neutral industry of the future, we use hydrogen produced with sustainable electricity. In the short term, this green hydrogen will neither be available on a large scale nor be competitive with fossil hydrogen. Much still needs to be done to scale up green hydrogen. In our view, two things have priority and need to be included in the coalition agreement in this effort: more financial resources to make production, transport and demand for green hydrogen grow, and an increased generation of renewable electricity to produce it. In the Netherlands, we have high ambitions for hydrogen but not enough resources yet to realize them. In addition to money for production and infrastructure, we need more renewable electricity to generate green hydrogen. The current objective for renewable electricity, such as wind farms and solar farms, takes too little account of the expected growth of green hydrogen production. Therefore, it should be increased at least with the amount of green electricity that will be required for hydrogen production. For the social consensus on green hydrogen it is also crucial that additional renewable electricity becomes available rather than that green hydrogen makes too heavy a demand on the current ambitions for renewable electricity.