Interview Remco Groenenberg

June 15, 2022


"The NSE atlas provides unique input for integrated policy decisions”

The North Sea Energy (NSE) program is a research program in which approximately 30 international partners conduct research on the potential of using the North sea in an integrated energy system. One of this program’s results is the North Sea Energy Atlas, a complete overview of activities on and in the North Sea. Wondering how and why this was developed? We have asked Remco Groenenberg, senior scientist at TNO, one of the developers of the atlas.

Why did you want to create this?
A lot is happening around the North Sea, one can think of fishery, transportation, and not to forget the generation of energy from natural gas, and electricity (wind farms). And it is a natural reserve, which is important to keep in mind during decision-making. We wanted to show all these different uses to the public and provide insight into what can be expected in the future since these activities will only increase. For example the expansion of the Dutch energy system, such as the expansion of wind energy and the production of hydrogen at sea. Consequently, all this newly generated energy has to be able to be brought to land. The NSE atlas shows all of this and sketches where activities can possibly combine efforts, where they can strengthen each other, and of course where spacial integration challenges would occur. In this way, we can use the North Sea most efficiently.

How is the NSE atlas developed?
The first NSE atlas came about in the 2nd year of NSE. In that version, we focused on the Dutch North Sea area. Mostly publicly available data was used, however with data from our partners (Element Nl, EBN, and NexStep) we’ve been able to create scenarios for the dismantling of oil and gas platforms. All of which can be found in the current version of the NSE atlas.

Why did you create a second version?
We can give two reasons for this, the first being that the North Sea is internationally owned. To truly understand the full scope of the North Sea, one has to look at the interconnectedness of the six neighboring countries. This is why we’ve added a lot of international data and activities. Another reason is that we now can incorporate results obtained from the NSE program about the use of energy hubs. We have created storylines on the future of energy hubs and which activities could be combined. Currently, there are three hubs (hub North, hub East, and hub West), and they will be in the new NSE atlas. We also provide insight into possibilities to combine logistics surrounding wind farms and platforms, to reduce emissions and/or costs.

One of my favorite additions in this version is that of data on the ecological value(s) of the North Sea. One example is that we collect data on which species reside in different areas throughout the year and seasonally. This makes it possible to take these environmental factors into consideration when new projects are developed.

Who else benefits from the NSE atlas?
The NSE atlas can be used by governmental institutions to make integrated policy decisions. It is also a great learning tool, for the broader public, to increase awareness of what activities are currently happening and what is possible in the North Sea. With the NSE atlas, we’ve tried to provide a clear and transparent image of the North Sea and the possibilities for the future energy system, such as hydrogen generation or carbon capture and storage.
The Atlas’ use can also be much more concrete. For Element NL, for example, we’ve talked about maps and data for the potential of electrification of platforms and the possibility of using electricity generated at sea.  

What is your wish for the NSE atlas?
My wish is that the NSE atlas will be used by vastly different audiences with a great variety of goals. We want to provide relevant, understandable, usable, and educational information to anyone interested. Simultaneously interesting for the broader public as well as experts. Right now we’re for example looking into the possibility to customize the maps, to offer more specific information on one's field of expertise.
Furthermore, I truly hope that we can keep the NSE atlas up-to-date. The developments in the North sea are going extremely fast, and it would be nice to have a sort of ‘’alive’’ atlas, that portrays the current image of the activities as well as the current plans for the future. Lastly, it would be amazing if the NSE atlas is going to be used as a reference, a preferred supplier, for information about the North Sea and not only for the Netherlands.

When can we expect the new NSE atlas?
At the beginning of November, the NSE program will present its final results, and then the new NSE atlas will also be publicly accessible via the NSE website.

Remco Groenenberg