The Challenge of Selling Windmills to Holland

Windmill noise and aesthetics is what’s preventing Holland from developing its wind power but there may be a solution.
Published: Mon 07 Sep 2015

Wind energy has been used in Holland since the inception of the country. Windmills have harnessed the power of the wind to drain the wetlands, saw logs for building, grind grain for food, and many other industrial purposes. In the 17th-century, the Netherlands was one of the world’s biggest supporters of wind energy technology. In fact, the country boasted over 10,000 windmills at one stage.  

The country’s wind power potential is impressive. Onshore wind turbines in Holland, especially in the north, were generating almost 2,000MW in 2009. Offshore, two windfarms have been generating about 250MW. To compare, a typical coal power station can produce between 600 and 700MW.

Despite the country’s wind power potential, the Dutch fight  vehemently against windmills. Locals complain that the technology is ugly and noisy. One proposed wind park prompted a group calling itself the Don Quixote Foundation to block a drawbridge on the 32km dike connecting North Holland and Friesland.

The problem could be that the Netherlands is very densely populated and masts are perhaps too close for comfort.

Dutch protest ‘ugly and noisy’ windmills

The strong opposition has left the country in a fix as far as meeting the EU-wide mandate to generate 14% of energy from renewable sources is concerned. The country has five years in which to meet this ambitious target. However, renewable sources currently account for 4.2% of the total energy mix, putting the Netherlands 26th in the European Union.  

Wind turbines supplied just 5.2% of the Netherlands’ electricity in 2014, far behind Germany, Spain or Denmark.

The government realises that it must erect windmills but to avoid major protests it has turned to the sea. A national energy accord reached in 2013 calls for new wind parks in the North Sea that could generate 3,450MW, more than triple the country’s current offshore capacity.

Unfortunately, this has also been met with resistance. Protestors have a problem with the erection of two windmills which will be located about 18km from shore. These will be within sight of beach towns north of The Hague. The town governments are concerned that the 200-metre masts will ruin the view and drive away tourism. They want to push the parks back to an area midway between the Netherlands and Britain. The more distant site will cost an extra €45 million ($50 million) per year, in part due to longer cables.

Holland struggles to meet emissions target

Added to the challenge of developing wind power, the government was sued by a climate-action group which argued that the government’s target for reducing greenhouse gases is not ambitious enough.

Current policy would reduce emissions in 2020 to 17% below 1990 levels. But, the European court ruled that if the world’s governments cut 2020 emissions by anything less than 25%, it will ultimately put Dutch citizens in danger from rising sea levels. Since all governments should meet that 25% reduction, the court concluded that the Dutch government should be meeting this target too.

If the decision is upheld, the government will have to slash emissions even further within five years. However, many believe this is not possible. This includes Pieter Boot, an economist at the Dutch government’s environmental assessment agency. The agency estimates that if the government fulfills its promises under the 2013 energy accord—which it is not currently on track to do—that could generate half of the necessary reductions.

More renewable energy is needed to meet the emissions goal. However, new wind parks may not be part of the solution since it would take five years to develop them.

The solution? Solar may be the best option since it is cost-effective and faster to install and connect.  The Dutch are no strangers to solar development. In fact, the country recently opened the world’s first solar road. The 70 metre stretch of solar-powered roadway connects suburbs in Amsterdam.

Multi-purpose and innovative wind development

While solar may get the country to its emissions and renewable targets faster, the country hasn’t completely shelved the idea of wind power. In fact, developers have clearly taken into consideration locals’ contempt of wind generating technology and have created something that will give locals reason to be proud of. It’s called the Dutch Windmill. It seems to tick off all the right boxes-it’s not noisy and the impressive structure will most definitely attract tourists to the area.

The city of Rotterdam is planning to build a new windmill which will be 174-meters (571-foot) tall and bladeless. The structure, made of steel and glass, will be be encased by 30,000 square meters of space containing apartments, a restaurant and a hotel, all linked together via a series of rotating cabins.

Architect Duzan Doepel of Doepel Strijkers, the firm designing the project, the idea is to create an icon like the London Eye that will both attract tourists and showcase cutting-edge technology. He expects they may be able to finish the structure within five to six years, and estimates suggests it may attract up to 1.5 million visitors a year.

"What Rotterdam needs is a tourist attraction and the next-generation windmill," says Doepel. "This feeds into the imagination of living in a windmill, a big part of Dutch culture."The massive structure would generate power via EWICON (Electrostatic Wind Energy Converter) technology.

Within the interior of the massive ringed structure would be a set of steel tubes ringed with electrodes, sort of like a tennis racket. Sprayers would then emit charged water particles, and electricity would be generated when the wind pushes these particles past the electrodes. Doepel suggests the technology may only be 20% as efficient as standard wind power, but it would also be nearly silent.

Could this be one windmill that the Dutch won’t protest? Time will tell.