Sustainability and energy: What is actually the issue?

Undeniably, the energy issues are part of the sustainability discussion on a global level. Our societies increasingly have a need of energy. This energy needs to be produced by something, somewhere. These are our energy resources. Our energy sources are a vital part of our economies and societies and are therefor also part of our politics.

An interesting situation is currently emerging in The Netherlands. As energy resources are important, for decades The Netherlands is producing gas out of a large gas bubble in the northern part of the country. A huge gas network is spread across the country to supply every household with gas for heating and cooking. But also industries use gas for their production activities.

The Netherlands also produces oil in the North Sea. Notwithstanding, the oil company Shell is partly Dutch, partly British and one of the largest oil companies in the world. The seaport of Rotterdam is a large port for oil, but the port of Amsterdam is one of the largest ports in the world for (crude) oil.

Earthquakes caused by gas winning

Since a couple of years, earthquakes are appearing in the northern part of the country. As for decades gas has been won from the underground gas reserves, the enormous gas bubble is shrinking. This causes earthquakes now and then. As the gas production is continuing, the earthquakes are getting more intense. As a result, buildings and houses are increasingly damages by the earthquakes. More and more, old heritage houses are actually collapsing, caused by the regular earthquakes. Many houses need continue support to prevent them from collapsing. The people who live in these houses do not only see their capital value (as in their property) decreasing, but are also under a lot of stress and insecurity because of the increasing damaging of their homes.

Should the gas winning in this area be stopped? A simple answer is: yes. A more difficult answer point out our collective dependence on energy resources. We don’t want to be dependent on other countries for our energy, especially not on Russia, keeping in mind the current political situation.

Change towards green energy

Also: should we not change our energy resources towards more sustainable energy, like energy from windmills or solar panels? The simple answer is: yes. Of course we should make changes towards more sustainable energy resources. The problem is, however, the NIMBY effect. NIMBY means ‘Not In My Back Yard’. Dutch people, as it seems, like to complain about everything. Although they prefer green energy resources, the absolutely do not want a windmill near to their house. First because of the noise it produces and secondly because of horizon pollution.

The issue concerning the horizon pollution of these huge windmills structures is an evident one in The Netherlands, as it is one of the most dense country in the world. People live all over the country. A windmill will always be within hearing distance from at least 1 home.

However, as we move across the border into Germany, windmills and solar energy seem to be a way more usual solution. Nevertheless, the individual investment in solar energy (on a household level) in The Netherlands is being paid back within a reasonable amount of time. It should be an attractive investment in The Netherlands, but it doesn’t happen as widespread as it should. How come?

In The Netherlands a high population density level means high housing prices. Therefore there is less money available for investments. Also, as many people live in apartment buildings, the juridical power of individuals is small in a collective group of house owners in a building. These arguments limit the willingness of Dutch homeowners to invest in clean energy.

The Netherlands is of course trying to think of possible solutions or possibilities. Solutions are found in the part of the country where there is still some space: in the North Sea. Currently, as one is about to land with an airplane on Schiphol Amsterdam Airport and is nearing the Dutch shore from the west, he or she is passing a huge windmill parks in the North Sea in front of the Dutch shore. These windmill parks are suppose to provide clean energy for the country, as windmills in the country itself are difficult to develop.

Industries and green energy

Will windmills solve the problem of energy resources? Probably not. The biggest energy users are not individual households, but rather industries. They use huge amounts of energy and are only willing to pay the lowest price, which mostly is not green energy. They don’t seem to care much about sustainability or climate change, but tend to have financial arguments.

Even more so, the energy supplying companies play a game of demand and supply within the government law. They sell energy to households and industries. If a household desires green energy, they buy green energy from for example Norway, which produces a huge amount of green energy. The energy supplying companies own power plants where they produce energy. These power plants are huge polluters. They are old and some of them even run on coal. By law they should be 25% green, or sustainable. To get to this number, they burn 25% wood into their ovens. This wood is bought in the US and is ‘green’ wood. It has a sustainability mark as it is probably produced in a sustainable way.

This wood is burned in the ovens, producing even more pollution than coal. The power plants still get a check at sustainable production.

Exchange green energy resources on international level

What could be a solution for this energy issue on a global scale? I would like to propose one possible solution.

A possible solution could be found in an international system of exchanging green energy. When we currently look at the case of The Netherlands, a simple solution could be to buy green energy from Norway. Norway produces a vast amount of green energy, which is largely being produced by water power. Norway, also, is a huge country with a low population density level. There is a lot of space for things like producing green energy. Why will The Netherlands not cover most of their internal energy demand with green energy from Norway?

Then The Netherlands won’t have these problems with trying to produce energy. Then they can close the gas production in the North and prevent further damage by earthquakes. Then they can close the polluting power plants and weird non-sustainable schemes to provide unreal ‘clean’ energy.

As Norway has an oversupply of green energy, this would be an easy solution.

What do you think?

Do you guys have other examples of these sustainable energy issues around the world? I would love to hear from you.