The Netherlands is undergoing a paradigm shift from the finite to the infinite. As nations struggle to meet responsible environmental standards while refusing to compromise their economic growth, European nations - most prominently Germany - are embracing the potential of modern technology to harness natural sources of energy. The Netherlands stands on both sides of this shift: accepting the risk of man-made earthquakes in the province of Groningen in order to extract a massive natural gas reserve, yet lining its coasts with wind turbines and solar panels becoming a common sight on red-tiled Dutch roofs. “Energy of Groningen” depicts this Dutch dichotomy by showing the consequences of the earthquakes on the residents of the province of Groningen and highlighting the ways the Dutch are looking to the future. These photos are representative of the sources and side effects of energy here in the province which, through its natural wealth of a non-renewable resource, is transforming itself into a hub for renewable technology. These photos were commissioned for the Nacht van Kunst en Wetenschap in Groningen, and are therefore on display for one night only - Saturday, June 1 - at the Universiteits Bibliotheek. All of the photos are also available for purchase on Photoshelter.
A young tree appears in the midst of a complex system of pipes and filters at a natural gas refinery in Zuidbroek. In 1959, the Groningen gas field, with an estimated 2.9 trillion cubic meters of high-quality natural gas, one of the largest in the world, was discovered. The Dutch market consumes low calorific gas, due to this being the quality of the gas in the Groningen field, but high calorific gas is in demand throughout the rest of the European Union. Groningen has become a hub for refining gas from nations like Norway and Russia and then exporting it outside of the Netherlands. Extraction of the gas field has been underway since 1963, and projections based on current technology forecast that 97% of the gas can be extracted by 2059. Hans Overdiep, manager of the energy transition department of GasTerra, posits that 30,000 wind turbines with a 5 megawatt capacity would have to come online in order generate the same amount of energy that can be derived from the entire gas field. However, that is based on all-time energy potential. Shell and ExxonMobil both own 50% of NAM as shareholders, and NAM employs 1,800 people, but the well and refineries across Groningen are largely unmanned, and most of the jobs related to the technology and refinement of these resources lie at NAM’s headquarters in Assen, in the province of Drenthe.
A long, jagged crack runs through the brick walls and wooden moulding of a home built in 1871 at Onderdendamsterweg 13 in Toornwerd, one kilometer away from Middelstum, in the northeast of Groningen. While generous amounts of GasTerra’s €36 million in profits are reinvested in research and development for sustainable energy, thousands of residents of the province have been forced to question the costs of this operation on Groningen. Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschapij, NAM, is the company responsible for exploring and producing oil and gas in the Netherlands, and they have publicly acknowledged that increasingly strong earthquakes in Groningen are being caused by the gas extraction process. The gas primarily lies at a depth of three kilometers underground, and the layer above is porous sandstone. The open fields, lack of building density and trees around many of the small towns of northern Groningen mean that the instability created by gas extraction causes a broad concentric wave that moves rapidly and unmitigated by obstacles, causing damage across a wide area. While smaller earthquakes have been occurring since 1986, in the past several years, the frequency and severity of the earthquakes has dramatically increased. According to Daniëlla Blanken, secretary of the Groninger Bodem Beweging organization, up to 30,000 residents of the province have had moderate to severe damage to their homes, and find themselves in a sort of limbo: selling a home in this region has become nearly impossible due to the strong likelihood that the earthquakes will continue, but many of the residents of two of the most impacted towns - Loppersum and Middelstum – are reluctantly forced to consider moving as they see their hometowns becoming earthquake-prone through man-made causes. Blanken said that thousands of people are living with a level of paranoia and fear that bears resemblance to PTSD – even normal sounds like a car door slamming or a distant helicopter cause people to briefly panic, wondering if it is another quake.
Two nearly identical business men consult with each other in one of many meeting spaces inside the recently opened GasTerra building on the Stationweg in Groningen. GasTerra handles the selling and shipping of natural gas refined in the Netherlands, and is owned by three parties: 25% by Royal Dutch Shell, 25% by ExxonMobil, and 50% by the Dutch government. Until 2005, GasTerra was a part of GasUnie, which now handles infrastructure and transportation, and the companies became two separate entities as part of a European Union-wide initiative to encourage competition in the electricity and gas markets. While natural gas is not a renewable resource, GasTerra has made it a priority to reinvest some of the profits from its sales into research and development of sustainable technologies - notably the EnTranCe and European Energy Academy facilities at Zernike. Additionally, according to Areke van der Sluis, communications advisor for GasTerra, the company takes seriously its investment as a “stadjer” or city-dweller of Groningen by sponsoring sports teams, such as GasTerra Flames basketball, and donating annually to the Groninger Museum. The new location of GasTerra near the Centraal Station of Groningen is itself an extremely energy-efficient building which, through renovation, was brought up to an A+ energy label status and utilizes renewable energy sources. The architecture of the building deliberately focused on the theme of energy, with bright yellow, M.C. Escher-esque staircases and an open central cavity reminiscent of a bee hive full of buzzing drones.
Grass grows long on one of the four sloping roof sections of the Linnaeusborg building on the Zernike campus, along with a series of solar panels. Insulation is the greatest energy-saving benefit of a grass roof, which on average reduces energy consumption for heating by 23% - based on average Dutch energy costs, that reduction translates into approximately €415 savings over a year. Another notable example of grass roofing in Groningen can be found on the office building at Paterswoldseweg 811, and a series of vacation homes in Zuurdijk also incorporate this energy solution into their architecture and the landscape. The Netherlands is undertaking more grass roof projects and city governments are providing grants for their development. Using grass roofs in urban environments reduces carbon dioxide levels as well as mitigating the “heat island” effect which can occur in cities during the summer because of an overabundance of asphalt. Many of the innovations in the field of sustainable energy are centered at Zernike, and the Linnaeusborg building is a flagship component of the self-sufficient Zernike initiative. Henk Jan Falkena, founder of Falkena Milieu, authored a report about the feasibility of Zernike’s implementation of sustainable energy in order to power the campus, and discovered that the combined facilities of the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen account for 5% of the energy use of the city. While the project is ongoing, and the Netherlands overall is still warming to the idea of grass roofing, the increasing visibility and incorporation of this technology into architectural projects helps to normalize a natural method for energy efficiency.
Four different models of wind turbines spin on a rainy day at the renewable energy testing facility, EnTranCe, on the Zernike campus of the Hanzehogeschool in Groningen. For centuries, windmills have been an icon synonymous with the Netherlands. Modern wind turbines now cover large swaths of the Dutch coastline and landscape, converting the ever-present wind (kinetic energy) into mechanical energy. The largest wind farm in the Netherlands is located at Eemshaven. According to Noe van Hulst, director of the Energy Academy Europe, the combination of resources and facilities in the province of Groningen - offshore wind turbines, the power station at Eemshaven and natural gas refinement - will eventually provide the majority of electricity for the entire Netherlands. Edwin Smeerdijk, sales support coordinator for Vestas, shared that there are approximately 2,000 wind turbines in use in the Netherlands, and they provide for 4% of annual Dutch energy use. The Dutch government has set a goal of producing 16% sustainable energy by the year 2020. For perspective, a 3.3 megawatt onshore wind turbine such as those produced by Vestas (with an average of 25% efficiency) running non-stop could produce 7.227.000 kilowatt hours of energy a year. An average Dutch household with two inhabitants consumes 3.500 kilowatt hours of energy annually, which means that each wind turbine could meet the average energy needs of 2000 households. To provide energy for the Netherlands purely from wind power for one year, 8,000 of these top-of-the-line machines would need to be activated and constantly running.
On the roof of a home in Hoogkerk, a suburb of the city of Groningen, employees of De Mol and Awizon begin mounting frames on the front of a home to install more solar panels in collaboration with Grunneger Power energy cooperative. The owner of the home had previously installed an array of eight panels on the southeast side of the roof, which provided nearly half of his home’s energy needs for a year, and decided to install more panels on the front, along with persuading his neighbor to do the same after seeing such positive results. Solar panels are one of the most efficient sustainable energy alternatives on the market, to the extent that households that install them are able to harness enough surplus energy to be resold to other electricity suppliers on the grid. Solar panels provide a level of independence that consumers are finding increasingly appealing: in 2008, 4 megawatts of electricity were provided by solar panels, whereas by 2012, 130 megawatts were in use. 130 megawatts can produce 1.138.800.000 kilowatt hours, meeting the average energy needs of 325.371 two-person homes, approximately 2% of the Dutch population. While solar panels and wind energy are widely considered the two most popular sustainable energy sources, even in the Netherlands where initiatives and subsidies have been put in place to encourage consumers to pursue energy independence, only 6% of the Netherland’s annual energy requirements are met by both sources combined.