Netherlands - Offshore wind farms to become just as popular as the old-fashioned windmills?

"Now we go offshore, and then we come into familiar ground for the Dutch, because we are very famous for building bridges, building dikes in the water. So we must be able to build wind farms"

In the Netherlands, 11 of the 19 world-famous windmills on the Kinderdijk are due to be restored in the next few years.

This country is proud of its pre-industrial engineering works - which used to help drain the land and stop it from flooding - but in spite of this strong tradition, the development of new wind turbines in the Netherlands has found it difficult to get off the ground.

Chris Westra is a wind energy expert for the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN). Since 1972, he has been involved in the development of wind energy in the Netherlands:

"The tradition of our old windmills and its development stopped because we became lazy. Lazy because we had coal and we had natural gas. So that means there was no reason to develop wind energy. The Danish, they have no coal, so they have to. So... the Danish were very keen to develop wind energy. We as Dutch, we didn't do it".

From a dyke on the IJsselmeer lake (the former Zuyder Zee), Mr Westra demonstrates the development of new wind-energy technology, which began in the 1980s. In the distance is the Netherlands' first 1-MegaWatt wind turbine. A little further away, you can see the first wind turbines located on the lake, and the first wind farm belonging to a farmers' collective. Just past that is the ECN's own wind farm, where huge offshore wind turbines are being tested.

Mr Westra thinks offshore wind energy has a future and that its something which will give the Netherlands the opportunity to breathe new life into the old tradition on an international level. All of a sudden the development of offshore wind energy is moving rapidly, because businesses are starting to see that there is money to be made from sustainable energy sources.

Profit making
The first offshore Dutch wind farm was built by oil giant Shell and energy company Nuon. Many more will be built if it is up to these two companies. A sea change according to Mr Westra, because up to now energy companies have tried to prevent the development of wind energy.

Take the village of Camperduin. Twenty years ago Chris Westra built a self-sufficient wind energy system. Two wind turbines provided electricity for 28 homes. Local resident Theo Voogt remembers well how the system worked:

"So, this is where the light was. When it lit up, we knew there was enough wind energy to use the electricity. Then we would switch on the washing machine, which uses a lot of power. It is very windy in Camperduin, so we had lots of cheap electricity. Yes, we used to be very happy with the system."

But the experiment ended because the energy company, which is responsible for the cables and turbines, said it was too expensive to maintain. A proposal by the local residents to buy the cables and turbines was rejected.

The slow development of wind energy has meant the Netherlands has been left behind. Countries like Germany and Denmark have won the battle for the wind energy market. But Mr Westra thinks the Netherlands could still play an important role in offshore wind energy:

"Now we go offshore, and then we come into familiar ground for the Dutch, because we are very famous for building bridges, building dikes in the water. So we must be able to build wind farms - electricity power generation plants in the water. It will be done by the Dutch". Maybe one day the offshore wind turbines will become just as popular as the old-fashioned windmills on the Kinderdijk
Online editorial www.windfair.net
Edited by Trevor Sievert, Online Editorial Journalist
wind energy, wind farm, renewable energy, wind power, wind turbine, rotorblade, offshore, onshore

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