In order to phase out the use of fossil fuels and raw materials in the long term, households, services, industry and transport will have to largely or even completely switch to renewable electricity. This transition to sustainably generated electricity will require huge efforts and investments. In order to realise this in an affordable manner, TNO is developing technologies and concepts that drastically reduce the costs of generating renewable electricity from the sun and wind and increase the yield.
Offshore wind energy and solar energy are the most important sources or renewable electricity for the Netherlands. The number of offshore wind farms will increase sharply over the coming period and will need to generate some 800 petajoules of electricity by 2050. Onshore wind will then account for about 200 PJ and solar energy for another 600 PJ. These huge amounts of CO2-free electricity must always be available to end-users at the right time and at the lowest possible cost.
Bringing about substantial growth in solar energy
TNO conducts research in many areas and develops new methods for increasing the performance of solar cells and solar panels and reducing production costs. More than half of all solar panels worldwide contain technology developed by TNO. We are continuously expanding this unique knowledge position in order to significantly increase the use of solar energy. In recent years, we have succeeded in increasing the efficiency of various types of solar cells and the modules in which they are incorporated while reducing production costs. In collaboration with industry, we try to make what we develop in the lab industrially applicable and scalable as quickly as possible.
Stimulating industrial innovation in renewable electricity
In recent years, we have made enormous strides in the development of solar panels, which have been incorporated in a visually appealing manner into the facades of buildings, noise barriers along roads and railways, the road surface and even the roof and bonnet of the Netherlands' world-first solar-powered car Lightyear One. This not only means an increase in the total yield of solar energy but also stimulates industry to create innovative products that contribute to this. These integrated solar modules will be produced regionally, providing an excellent opportunity to develop the entire value chain in Europe. We must also use as much of the available surface area as possible to integrate solar cells: roads, roofs and facades but also ecologically responsible use of agricultural land, inland waterways and the sea. Multifaceted use of space is the starting point here. With the strong growth of solar PV, the high-quality recycling of solar panels is also becoming an important point of attention.
Next-generation wind turbines
In the field of wind energy, too, innovations follow one another in rapid succession. This is also desperately needed in order to meet the target of eleven gigawatts of installed offshore wind capacity by 2030, accounting for the electricity consumption of some seven million households. We are a global leader with knowledge and expertise in the development of wind turbines and wind farms. Again, this involves a combination of optimising energy yields and reducing production and maintenance costs. The current generation of wind turbines is rapidly being replaced by new ones that are much more efficient and generate a lot of electricity, even with less wind. Together with national and international partners, we are active in projects on improving aerodynamics and optimising wind farms, for instance. For General Electric (GE) Renewable Energy, we are carrying out an extensive test programme on the Haliade-X, the largest wind turbine in the world, which should demonstrate whether or not it meets all legal requirements. We use our own technology to calculate the ideal positioning of wind turbines in relation to one another in offshore wind farms.
The supply of electricity from wind and the sun fluctuates considerably. This calls for flexibility: using as much energy as possible when this is available. In addition to managing the demand for electricity, storage and conversion to other energy carriers such as hydrogen can play a role in this. On top of this, there is the question of how the large amount of sustainably generated energy can be transported using the current infrastructure. The partial conversion of electricity into hydrogen could be a solution to this problem. This flexibility enables energy companies to supply electricity where it yields the most and, at the same time, prevent congestion. TNO researches technologies to efficiently use sustainably generated energy and to balance supply and demand.