It will remain so, if it is up to director Hendrik van der Ploeg. “Here, 2,500 people work directly for the companies on the park. Almost the same number works for companies in the region that have customers at GPE: from florists and bakers to installers and construction companies. We want to keep these jobs in South-East Drenthe.”
That is why GPE does everything it can to ensure that companies are satisfied and continue to invest in their establishment on GPE. It is one of the reasons why attention was paid to keeping energy affordable 25 years ago, starting with energy efficiency. After all, energy is now one of the biggest cost items for an industrial company.
Van der Ploeg, who himself is a specialist in high-voltage technology, likes to take the lead in the ‘energy revolution’, as he calls it. “We aim to provide such a good service in all areas to the companies on this park that they will spend every euro invested on expansion and renewal on this park.” For this, it is also necessary that the companies located at the park can anticipate the energy supply of the future. Electricity and hydrogen are becoming increasingly important. But there is another step before that: more efficient use provides a direct benefit.
Since its inception, the park has used ‘city heat’ to harness residual heat for heating applications. In the 1990s GPE (then still under the name Emmtec Services) was one of the first in the Netherlands to install an energy management system. The information from this system was made available to companies, giving them insight into their consumption and enabling them to save energy.
The reuse of return condensate (hot water, a residual product of steam) resulted in substantial savings. As a result, total natural gas consumption is, just like 25 years ago, around 100 million m3 per year, while production has increased by a factor of 4 or 5. Van der Ploeg: “This means the CO2 emissions per tonne of product from companies on GPE have also decreased by a factor of 4 or 5!”
A second line of sustainability is electrification. GPE owns two combined heat and power plants (CHP) of 30MW each. Over the past 15 years, the power grid has been constantly updated with new high-voltage substations, new transformers and new cables and security systems to ensure that companies will never have to be deprived of power. An impressive (underground) infrastructure has now been built, all to offer companies maximum flexibility in their electricity use. With an average consumption of 30MW, the maximum connection capacity of 2x90MW is far from ‘full.’ Companies that want to electrify have plenty of room to do so.
Within the total energy supply at the park, however, electricity accounts for only about 30%. The rest consists of thermal energy, currently generated with natural gas. This is more difficult to convert into green power, but it can be done. Tjisse Noordhuis, Manager of Park Services: “As GPE, we have anticipated hydrogen. We are taking part in the GZI next consortium, which was formed on the initiative of NAM (Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij, a joint venture of Shell and ExxonMobil, ed.), to develop an alternative to the gas desulphurisation plant in Emmen that has closed down.”
Together with various partners, the GZI is being further developed into a multifunctional energy hub. A solar park has been built and both a biogas plant and a hydrogen plant will be built on the site. “We have nestled ourselves in the hydrogen working group,” says Noordhuis. “As a consortium, we are working on an electrolyser and a hydrogen pipeline between the GZI site and our industrial park, four kilometres away. At the same time, we are building a high-calorific gas pipeline, because from 2022 onwards we will no longer be allowed to use natural gas from Groningen.”
The hydrogen plant will not be ready by then, but the burners of the gas turbines at GPE have already been replaced by types that are suitable for the admixture of up to one-fifth hydrogen. “We are also working on the development of a new type of burner that will run on 100% hydrogen. That will be ready around 2025, well in time for the switchover. Until then, we can continue to use natural gas as long as it is available and affordable.”
There is no question of betting on one horse. That is why GPE also invested heavily in green energy at the end of last year. A total of 21,000 solar panels have been installed on the roofs of the company premises; an investment of some € 6 million.
In the meantime, both Noordhuis and Van der Ploeg are keeping a close eye on developments. “As soon as a reliable heat pump will come on the market with which we can convert water of 30 degrees Celsius to steam of 180 degrees, we will be the first to buy it. Because there are many cooling towers on this park that cool water of about 30 degrees against the outside air. If we can collect that water and turn it into steam again, we will make a huge efficiency gain.”
By thinking about energy in this way and letting the companies at GPE benefit from it, it is possible that they will be more profitable than at another location. That is the goal.
Unfortunately, current legislation and the role played by speculators are less productive in this respect. Noordhuis: “The energy and CO2 markets have become the domain of financial parties. They buy gas, for example, with the sole purpose of driving up the price and then selling it again. This distorts the market and makes it unnecessarily expensive for companies that need gas for their production process. We should do something about this, because it is counterproductive and puts the brakes on sustainability.”
This article was produced in cooperation with Chemport Europe