Jacco Besuijen, energy manager at Prominent:

"Horticulture flexibility is crucial for sustainability"

Horticulture has, because of the flexibility that this sector can offer, a unique role in the transition to a sustainable energy supply; one of the priorities of Coalitie HOT. At the same time, the horticulture sector itself is well on its way when it comes to sustainability. But there are still necessary steps to take. According to Jacco Besuijen, energy manager with Prominent, geothermal energy plays a key role in this. “In addition, the availability of external CO₂ and residual heat is also crucial for making greenhouse horticulture fossil-free. Now it's the government's turn to act."

Energy is one of the central priorities of the Prominent producer organization; today with an acreage of 418 hectares of TOVs spread over 53 locations. "Around 25 percent of the cost price of tomato is determined by energy," says Jaco Besuijen. "Good energy management therefore strongly determines the efficiency of a horticultural company."

For years, the CHP had a key role to play in the energy field. Also within Prominent. "In 2003, all Prominent growers jointly invested in the first CHPs, at the Groeneweg I cultivation location in 's Gravenzande. This turned out to be positive, and CHPs are now running at all Prominent locations. At present, the CHP is still very economically viable; practically nothing can beat that. The CHP can even compete with geothermal heat supplemented with SDE subsidy."

Besuijen emphasizes that the CHP is also much more sustainable than is often thought. “Of course, you need gas to deploy a CHP. But this is used extremely efficiently, and you thereby meet both your heat, electricity and CO2 needs. That is why you cannot simply refer to the CHP as an 'energy guzzler', it deserves more appreciation."

"The horticulture sector in particular is already working very sustainably, through the use of CHPs, existing geothermal heat projects, and the energy savings that have been realized in recent years. Certainly in comparison with other sectors; we can be proud of that. Not to mention the countries around us: people are still busy with the transition from coal to gas. In that respect, the Netherlands is way ahead. "

"Horticulture flexibility is unique"
The energy manager also sees an important role for horticulture and in particular for the CHP, as the energy supply is becoming increasingly sustainable. The rise of, for example, wind and solar energy, which are not always available in the same quantities, make it a greater challenge to keep the electricity grid in balance. “That requires flexibility, something that horticulture can offer as one of just a few parties. After all, we can respond quickly to surpluses and deficits; thanks in part to the CHP and our lighting. There’s a reason that many horticultural companies are already active on the imbalance market or the emergency power market. And that role will only grow in the coming years. For this reason too, the CHP will certainly continue to play an important role in the coming ten years. In any case, horticulture is one of the few sectors that make optimum use of the opportunities that the liberalized energy market offers”.

‘Think about business model’
Of course, Prominent also focuses on the future and on the possibilities of fossil-free cultivation. “Despite the fact that the CHP is extremely efficient, there will come a time when we have to work without gas. We cannot ignore the social debate. Gas has a negative image that will not disappear anymore. As Prominent, we are already preparing by investing in renewable energy, such as geothermal and residual heat. Alternative heat is not necessarily cheaper at this moment, but it can result in more stable energy costs, at least in part.”

Within Prominent, sustainability is mainly shaped through geographically initiated collaborations. This usually concerns geothermal heat projects, and sometimes also biomass or wood burning installations. “Such projects are of such a size that most companies cannot bear this investment alone. And the realization of a geothermal heat project also requires so much expertise that you as an entrepreneur cannot realize it on your own.”

Besuijen is in favor of placing the investment in, for example, geothermal wells in part with external parties. “After all, this concerns activities unrelated to the sector, which entail many technical and financial risks and can easily ‘knock out’ a horticultural company. A horticultural enterprise should have a choice between a customer or shareholder model, where you as a shareholder of course can benefit from the return on investment. In the customer model you may pay a little more for the heat, but you do not run any risks. Nevertheless, it is also important to have some say in a customer model; it is a search for a balance between control and risk."

‘Government must take the lead in residual heat project’
Although, for example, geothermal heat can provide a certain basic load, the availability of residual heat can, according to Besuijen, help to take further steps in the area of sustainability. This is particularly an issue in Westland, where the Westland Heat System is being considered. This network is to connect the individual geothermal clusters in the area. “But such a network is only useful when there is a heat surplus. That is not the case now; the capacity of most geothermal heat sources is fully utilized. Residual heat can help to create a heat surplus and to limit and control the energy risks for greenhouse growers. In the unlikely event that a geothermal source stops, they still have sustainable heat at their disposal. Moreover, the importance of a good CO2 supply must not be forgotten; this is a crucial precondition for sustainability."

Besuijen calls it somewhat frustrating that the residual heat pipeline from the port of Rotterdam is still not realized. “This has been discussed for ten years or more, with no results. The government, and in particular the province must, in my opinion, take the lead and embrace residual heat. However, they believe that the business community should take up this challenge. But a project that is difficult to get profitable and that has an enormously long depreciation period, cannot simply be made the responsibility of the business community. The financial risks are too great for that. A possible solution could be to provide a type of SDE subsidy for the transport of residual heat; possibly this might make it attractive."

Besuijen emphasizes that also steps are needed in other areas to achieve fully fossil-free greenhouse horticulture in 2040. “In recent years we have made great progress by changing our cultivation methods, but there are no major savings to be expected in that area any more. That is why new energy-saving and sustainable technologies must be introduced. Think of a breakthrough in LED, new insulation techniques, et cetera. To achieve this, collaboration between suppliers and producers is a necessity."

Source: Coalitie HOT


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