Greenhouse systems built from 2020 will be energy-neutral

Elkas greenhouse

A very good article from Peppers today in which I collaborated.

With fossil fuels predicted to become scarcer and more expensive worldwide, energy costs are clearly an increasing concern for growers. This is particularly true for pepper growers in the Netherlands, since their greenhouses require energy to control the temperature, and if their peppers are to be of the highest quality, they must be cultivated under the right temperature conditions.

Production costs in greenhouses have been shown to represent around 78% of the total chain costs, and energy consumption is the main component of these costs, according to the Greenergy project, a Collective Research project funded by the European Commission.

Therefore, Dutch pepper growers have recognized a need for reliable, up-to-date information, as they become more and more involved in energy production.

The importance of greenhouses in Dutch agriculture
The role played by greenhouses in the agricultural scenario might appear to be relatively insignificant, insofar as they account for no more than 0.5% of the total area of agricultural land in the Netherlands. Their average size is also relatively small when compared with the average size of other farms (1.5 ha compared with 44 ha for the average dairy farm). However, greenhouses play a very important role in the economy and represent high sources of income.

Energy costs are especially relevant for Dutch pepper growers, since the area devoted to pepper crops in the Netherlands has increased considerably in the last few years. Whereas in the early 1990s peppers covered an area of just 700 hectares, today they have overtaken the tomato as the most important vegetable crop, reaching an area of 1,250 hectares in 2007, according to the US National Agricultural Statistics Service. Meanwhile, peppers in glasshouses accounted for 25% of the total horticultural area under glass in 2008, with 1,184.02 hectares.

Pepper surface under glass in the Netherlands 2008

Source: CBS, Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, Den Haag/Heerlen

Cogeneration: a Dutch success story
One of the solutions successfully adopted by farmers in the Netherlands to reduce costs in greenhouses is the Combined Heat and Power system (CHP, or WKK, from the Dutch warmte kracht koppeling). The implementation of CHP, also known as Cogeneration, can save the grower 20 to 30% on energy bills, according to Mr. Erik Van Berkum, General Manager of Hoogendoorn America Inc, a subsidiary of the Hoogendoorn Group in Holland, one of the most innovative suppliers of process automation systems in the horticultural industry.

Since CHP was first implemented in 1987 as a means of providing electricity for growing lights, the concept has changed little: electricity is produced by burning fuel, the greenhouse is fed with the CO2 and the heat, and the remaining electricity is used in the greenhouse itself for light or it is returned to the national grid.

Nico van Ruiten, Chairman of LTO Glaskracht, an organization representing greenhouse growers, made the following observations to the digital Made in Holland magazine, published by the bureau of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs: “In the 1980s, gas-fired combined heat and power installations were introduced, which produced not only electricity and heat, but also CO2, which plants need to grow. If you blow CO2 into the greenhouse, the crops will grow faster. All of these techniques have been developed further in the meantime, which is entirely logical, because energy is one of the major cost items for all growers in the Netherlands and abroad. Energy-saving measures are therefore not only beneficial for the environment, but also extremely important for growers’ profit margins.”

Key factors in the success of CHP in Dutch greenhouses
There are many key factors in the successful implementation of Combined Heat and Power by Dutch farmers over the last 20 years.

Heating while using energy.- No other industry can take such advantage of the energy generated by fuel while using the remaining heat to regulate the temperature of the agricultural and horticultural holding, exporting the energy surplus back to the grid or using it in the greenhouse itself.

Taking advantage of CO2 .- The advantages of using CO2 to increase profitability while reducing emissions make CHP a sustainable solution for minimizing the human impact on the environment.

Government role.- The system would not be sufficiently solid, if government agricultural policy were not focused on supporting the greenhouse sector, with the avowed objective of contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by saving energy, while producing energy at the same time. The “Green label” subsidy is also a fillip for greenhouses in the Netherlands, because by fulfilling certain requirements, the grower can gain access to certain incentives, such as the energy investment or Energy Tax (ET) deduction, or a reduction in the levy on energy consumption for glasshouse horticulture.

Electricity scenario.- The liberalization of electricity generation and gas supply, together with a favorable electricity and gas price ratio and a good infrastructure, are also key factors in the success of CHP in the Netherlands.

CHP usage has increased to reach about 90% of farms in the Netherlands in 2009, according to Mr. Rik Lootens from Syngenta Seeds Vegetables Company.

As for the future of CHP in Dutch greenhouses, Mr. Jan Korff, who is on the Netherlands Member Committee of the World Energy Council, predicted a “flourishing future for CHP in the Netherlands” in the presentation that he made entitled “CHP in The Netherlands – Opportunities and Threats” at Euroheat&Power, 6th Industry and Utility Forum, held in Slovenia in November 2007.

Among the threats to CHP, Korff highlighted the low level of transparency regarding the network capacity; the lack of a system of milestones and cancellation fees; the lack of pro-active behavior; and the need for a stable approach on the part of the government.

Elkas Greenhouse

Global energy saving programme for greenhouses in the Netherlands
With the aim of reducing energy costs in greenhouses while minimizing the impact on the environment, the Dutch government and the glasshouse industry in the Netherlands have set up some ambitious programme with a cluster of goals related with energy, crop protection and fertilization for the glasshouse industry.

One of these projects currently in progress is the Energy-Producing Greenhouse Transition Programme. Launched in 2006, the ultimate objective of this project is to reach the point where greenhouse systems built from 2020 are energy-neutral, i.e. they produce the same amount of energy as they consume.

In addition to the CHP system, the Dutch agricultural sector is focusing its energy-saving efforts on the use of other sources of energy:

– Solar energy.- Using greenhouses as “solar collectors” that can then supply energy to third parties or in combination with semi-closed greenhouses. This solar energy can be applied in greenhouses in two ways, according to the specific energy needs: by implementing a thermal solar installation as support for heating, or by installing a photovoltaic solar plant in order to produce electricity. One of the Dutch projects that uses solar energy is Elkas (“electricity-producing greenhouse” in Dutch). Elkas is the first electricity-producing greenhouse in the world based on solar energy alone, and the concept has a lot of potential, since the plans are that it will be economically profitable within the next 5 years.

– Biomass.- Using manure and farm waste as fuel for energy production yields a considerable advantage in terms of cost compared with fossil fuels. However, there is still an important disadvantage: the initial investment in this kind of boiler is higher, so this must be balanced against the annual saving in fuel.

– Geothermal heat.- Using the heat of the deep layers of the earth in greenhouses. This can be done by conducting natural hot water through the greenhouse in order to increase the temperature inside the facilities, or it is also possible to use the heat by means of a heat-conductor fluid, which is placed in a pipe system previously laid under the soil. Vleestomaat Company greenhouses are an example of this use of warm water from the ground to grow tomatoes; this method saves the growers 80% of the energy normally used, 5 million m3 of natural gas and more than 10,000 tons of C02 per year.

Moreover, Dutch growers in the horticultural industry are seeking to adapt production to the changing conditions. For instance, “they are considering the development of the floating greenhouse, an ingenious solution to the problems of a limited land surface area and the growing dependence on water in built-up areas,” the Made in Holland magazine reports.

Gerda Verburg, the Dutch Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, is also confident about the future of energy-producing greenhouses: “I can see opportunities for the energy-producing greenhouse in urban areas in particular, where homes and other properties have to be heated. In those areas, there is not only a major demand for intensive food production, but also good potential for bringing energy supply and energy demand into line with one another.”

With respect to the future of the sector, Mr. Dick Kramp, Marketing Program Manager for GE Energy’s Jenbacher gas engines, highlighted the increasing trend towards local production, optimising local resources and minimizing environmental impact:

“In my opinion, the future will involve growing vegetables locally to avoid transportation costs and C02 emission. Production close to the consumer will be the future trend. The establishment of green ports next to big cities. Dutch growers will found foreign establishments to be a part of this new development. The first example is the Thanet Earth project in Kent, where 3 Dutch growers grow peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers to serve the UK market. This green port will be a model of production, logistics and energy, drawing on state-of-the-art technologies from the Netherlands.”

Sources:
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[li_item icon=””]Energy Optimization in European Greenhouses, Greenergy 6th framework programme[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Agriholland.nl[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Facts and Figures on the Dutch Agri-Sector 2008, from the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Holland trade, EVD, Agency for International Business and Cooperation[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]The Dutch Outlook regarding the European Agricultural Policy 2020 (September 2008), Dutch Ministry of Agriculture[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Energy savings and efficiency in greenhouses, Spanish Ministry of Agriculture[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]CHP in the Netherlands, presentation by Jan Korff[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]CBS, Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, Den Haag/Heerlen 2-7-2009[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Dutch agriculture and horticulture with a glance at South Korea, Report 2009-039[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]The Netherlands, Energy Efficiency Action Plan 2007, Europe.eu[/li_item]
[/checklist]

Acknowledgments:
[checklist icon=”” iconcolor=”” circle=”” circlecolor=”” size=”small” class=”” id=””]
[li_item icon=””]Dick Kramp, Marketing Program Manager, GE Energy, Jenbacher gas engines, at the Greenergy summit, April 2009[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Erik Van Berkum, General Manager for Hoogendoorn America Inc.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Rik Lootens, Syngenta Seeds Vegetables[/li_item]
[/checklist]

Syngenta Peppers Today Newsletter 16 – July 2009