Innovative Systems in the Horticultural Industry

“Using Combined Heat and Power will save 20-30% on energy bills”

Interview Erik van Berkum

Interview with Mr. Erik van Berkum, General Manager of Hoogendoorn America Inc.
Hoogendoorn is known as the most innovative supplier of process automation systems in the horticultural industry. For 40 years, the company has been striving towards the optimal greenhouse climate, increasing crop yields, and managing costs and risks in glasshouse horticulture.

Peppers Today talked to Mr. Erik van Berkum, General Manager of Hoogendoorn America Inc., a subsidiary of the Hoogendoorn Group in Holland, about the evolution of the company and the development of Combined Heat and Power (CHP). This is a method that enables growers—and pepper and tomato growers in particular—to cut costs by creating heat, electricity and CO2 for utilisation in an optimal environment for plants, helping these to photosynthesis.

Q. How has Hoogendoorn evolved since its beginnings?
A. Over the course of 40 years, we have learned to look at every project in a unique and individual way, regardless of its size. With innovation as our prime focus, and by integrating the latest techniques and insights into professional management, suddenly the most complex of processes appear to be surprisingly simple. We call this Growth Management. And it lies at the heart of all our services, people and products.

Q. What are the origins of Hoogendoorn America and what is your position in the company?
A. Hoogendoorn America is a subsidiary of the Hoogendoorn Group in Holland and it services the American and Asian markets. I am responsible for general management activities at Hoogendoorn America Inc. My professional career in the international horticulture industry spans more than 10 years. Within the international industry I have marketing and sales experience in more than 35 countries, enabling Hoogendoorn America Inc. to develop international market focus. Currently, I am vertically focused on market development and sales opportunities in Mexico and other parts of South America, with support activities in all business units of North America.

Q. Combined Heat and Power has been developed for many years in order to increase production profitability. How has CHP evolved recently?
A. The principles of Combined Heat and Power have not changed in recent years. Electricity is produced by burning natural gas, and the CO2 and heat can be put back into the greenhouse. The electricity can be used for lighting or it can be returned to the national grid. Using CHP will save 20-30% on energy bills.

Over the last few years CHP installations have become more efficient, and in the future we will probably see more CHP in combination with biofuels, thereby reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Q. What other projects or concepts focused on increasing sustainability in greenhouses already exist in the market at the moment?
A. Besides CHP, there are other concepts of more sustainable greenhouses including Semi-Closed Greenhouses, LED Lighting, Thermal Heating and Energy-Producing Greenhouses, such as ELKAS, the Greenhouse without Gas, ZoWa Greenhouse and Desert Greenhouse. The good thing about there being so many initiatives is that we will progress, and one of the concepts or a combination of concepts will probably be the new mainstream system in the future.

Q. What do you think are the main reasons for the success of CHP in the Netherlands?
A. The main reason for CHP’s success in the Netherlands is the fact that growers have been able to supply electricity to the grid and produce electricity much more efficiently than the big power plants. This has given them a significant additional income or a reduction in production costs, however you may wish to define it.

“CHP is used for growers’ own energy consumption in America”

Q. And how has CHP evolved in other parts of the globe?
A. In the rest of the world, governments and electricity companies are not opening up their power grids, so growers are unable to return electricity to the grid to create additional income.
Therefore, CHP is used for growers’ own energy consumption in America. The trend in North America is more towards burning other types of fuel, such as wood chips or waste pallets. These cheaper natural resources help growers to reduce their energy bill, and their production is also more environmentally friendly, if the total CO2 balance is considered.

Q. What are the advantages for growers and other players in the sector of introducing CHP into greenhouses and glasshouses?
A. Obviously, an advantage for growers is the reduction of their energy bill. Moreover, they acquire greater social responsibility as growers by using a production method that is more environmentally friendly.
They also become more progressive growers by looking for innovative ways to improve the sector as a whole. Consumers benefit from the fact that the cost price is lower thanks to the energy saving.

Q. What is the attitude of growers in America and Mexico towards this form of production?
A. Not all American growers have embraced CHP, due to the lack of a financial incentive; I see a bigger trend in America towards biofuels, waste fuels and thermal energy.
In the case of Mexican growers, their energy bill is relatively low due to the fact they have better climate conditions, so it is not such a high priority for them. It makes more sense for them to capture the heat during the day and release it during the night.

Q. How do you foresee the future market for your products?
A. As companies get bigger, processes become more complex and people have to be more productive. We at Hoogendoorn are convinced that the future of horticulture involves more automation. Internet will become an important factor in the future, since it takes away the responsibility of having onsite software, which is always more difficult to control than our own web servers. Using the internet also eliminates a lot of hardware problems, because the grower will have less hardware, while we will have more. The hardware that the growers have should become easier, and easier hardware means that we require fewer specialists travelling about to keep the systems running. At Hoogendoorn we always say that an electrician or a general IT technician should be able to plug and play and keep the systems in the greenhouse running.


Products and services supplied by Hoogendoorn America Inc.

Hoogendoorn America is a total solutions provider; together with its partners, the company supplies the entire infrastructure for a greenhouse. Hoogendoorn’s own product line is centred on the iSii climate computers, which automate energy management.

Energy management

The Hoogendoorn iSii climate computer makes it possible to control and monitor the energy services of a glasshouse operation, as well as to register and administer electricity purchases and sales. The Energy Management program ensures optimum coordination of heat and CO2 demand in the greenhouse and the supplies available from the boiler house or CHP installation.

Water management

Irrigation control is essential to crops. Sprinkler irrigation, ebb and flow installations and dripper systems can all be regulated using the Hoogendoorn iSii water management program. Hoogendoorn also has the solution for irrigating plants on movable systems in the greenhouse.

Plant monitoring with Letsgrow i4All

While the climate computer efficiently organises the climate, we still don’t know how the plants actually feel in the greenhouse. This is why Hoogendoorn has developed the i4All. The Letsgrow i4All is a mobile measuring frame, which comes with the following sensors installed: temperature meter, electronic RH and CO2 meter, PAR sensor and Plant Temperature Camera. The sensor measures how the plant is actually feeling in the greenhouse, and with this knowledge the climate in the greenhouse can be fine-tuned. For example, if the plant is stressed due to high temperatures or to high light intensity, the stomata close. When the stomata are closed, it does not make sense to give plants a lot of CO2, because there is no photosynthesis.

The same applies to fertiliser: if plants are stressed, they do not absorb fertiliser, so why make this investment? The Letsgrow i4All enables growers to make these decisions, because they know how the plants feel. A further advantage of the i4All is that it is mobile and therefore it can be sited anywhere in the greenhouse without cable problems. The i4All works wirelessly with Hoogendoorn’s web server via a GPRS connection, better known as mobile internet via a SIM card. A big plus of the Letsgrow website is that clients do not have to install software on their computer; it all runs from Hoogendoorn’s website, where the company can take care of maintenance, so this is a powerful and a very convenient solution.

Nomad human resources in the Greenhouse

Besides taking care of the plants, Hoogendoorn also takes care of people via Nomad, a unique recording system for wireless and paperless inputting, processing and presentation of all nursery data. With this recording system, growers can analyse yields, picking performance per employee, pests and diseases, fertiliser stocks, and gas and electricity consumption. This solution saves the grower a lot of time, and by analysing the Nomad data, it is possible to find areas where improvements can be made. If the Nomad systems are connected to Letsgrow, data can also be analysed with reference to the data of other production facilities, thereby enhancing the possibilities for making greater improvements and more extensive comparisons in the day-to-day management of a greenhouse.

Syngenta Seeds Vegetables Peppers Today – October 2009

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.”

[checklist icon=”” iconcolor=”” circle=”” circlecolor=”” size=”small” class=”” id=””]
[li_item icon=””]Energy Optimization in European Greenhouses, Greenergy 6th framework programme[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””][/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,[/li_item]

[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]

Syngenta Peppers Today Newsletter 16 – July 2009

Action plan for Climate Neutral Horticulture


The Dutch horticultural sector consists of over 10,000 hectares of ‘solar collectors’. In the future the Dutch greenhouses offer enormous opportunities to supply complete sustainable horticulture. The greenhouse sector may even become a supplier of sustainable heat and electricity. The principle “Greenhouse as Energy Source”.

Extensive use of solar heat and renewable electricity generation with a new generation of solar systems, combined with clustering of companies, are the main ingredients of a sustainable horticultural sector that is independent of third parties in its energy supply. This is the vision of Nature and Environment (Natuur en Milie) and LTO Glass Kracht which are promoting this theme jointly.  The transition to sustainable energy concepts must enable entrepreneurs to implement a 45% CO2 reduction in 2020.


For the production of flowers, vegetables and plants you need heat, cooling, light and CO2 in optimal proportions. To meet these demands a lot of natural gas and electricity used. The Dutch greenhouse industry is an energy-intensive sector. 3% of the electricity in the Netherlands is used as growth light for production and quality improvement and 10% of the gas in the Netherlands is used for heating greenhouses.

Technical developments and innovations in the horticultural sector for decades have lead to more energy efficiency; in 2005 efficiency increased by 46% over 1980. This is achieved by an increase in output per unit of energy. The absolute CO2 emissions from the sector in 2005 is limited and can be compared with 1990. The recent development of (semi-) closed greenhouses is a major breakthrough for sustainable energy supply to the greenhouse.

The transition for the horticultural industry to work towards sustainable energy is economically driven. Also for the future it`s important to continue to produce at a reasonable cost with a secure source of energy and in a way that the society accepts the production methods, by its energy conservation and conversion to renewable energy is therefor crucial.


CO2 reduction of 45% by 2020 compared to the CO2 output of 1990 futher on they want to have the CO2 reduced with 75% by 2030. This should be achieved by energy savings the following actions will be taken untill 2020:

(Semi-) closed greenhouses
Natural gas CHP;
Clustering of glasshouse;
Energy saving.

After 2020:
Climate Neutral (closed) cash;
Electricity supplier kas spectrum selective solar cells; see earlier article Elkas
Bio-CHP (only second generation biomass);
Clustering of glasshouse;
Energy saving.

Principles for achieving the goal are:
The horticultural sector which will be in transition for 10-15 years will economically not deteriorate and any alternative non-fossil fuels have no negative environmental effects.

In various parts of my web blog you can find more information about technologies used to achieve the ambitions set for the horticulture in the Netherlands, but it s also important for other countries. Because the world horticultural sector which is currently competing cost price wise on a combination of

1 Energy for heating and cooling
2 Energy for logistics
3 labor costs
4 Pesticides and fertilizers

will be completely different as the cost for Energy in relation to heating and cooling will disappear.

WKK or CHP stops innovation in Horticulture Holland

In the Netherlands in the last years greenhouses are heated and powered by WKK (warmte kracht koppeling) in English CHP which means Combined Heat and Power also known as co-generation. By installing a CHP system designed to meet the thermal and electrical base loads of a greenhouse, CHP greatly increases the greenhouse operational efficiency and decrease energy costs. How does a CHP work in a greenhouse, a plant in a greenhouse in the northern  hemisphere  need most of the time heat, light and CO2 to grow optimal.  A CHP is providing this by burning natural gas and giving electricity, heat and CO2 in return.

CHP Cogeration

If you look at today’s power plants which burns natural gas still 45% is turned into heat and not into electricity this is a waste of energy because most of the time the heat is unused and therefore dumped. A greenhouse grower is burning natural gas to make electricity, one part of the electricity he is using for his grow light another part he is using to heat his greenhouse with. The CO2 which the grower is producing he feeds to his plants so they are more productive. A greenhouse has an efficiency of 90% compared to a gas powered electricity plant of around 45%

In Holland the co-generation became very popular of the current 10,000 hectare of greenhouses 6,000 hectare is using the thermal and electricity power of an CHP. Those greenhouses are producing now around 2000 Mwe and in 2011 this will be around 3000 Mwe. Currently around 20% of the total electricity demand in the Netherlands is produced by greenhouse growers and this will further grow in the coming years.


The dutch government and some NGOs like LTO Glaskracht and the  Association Nature and Environment have the ambition for 2020, to have a climate neutral Dutch Greenhouse sector which is independent on high energy prices.

Down site to the success of the CHP in the Dutch horticultural sector is that it slows down  innovation which is so badly further needed. The CHP is still using environmental unfriendly fossil fuel and it’s giving the greenhouses grower an income for producing electricity which inflates the price of the horticultural product they are growing such as tomato, chrysanthemum, bell peppers or cucumbers (decrease cost price). So CHP is an economical solution to keep on competing with countries which have a better climate to grow vegetables or flowers.

At this moment of the 10.000 hectares of greenhouses, 6.000 is heated with a CHP installation, so what to do with the other 4.000 hectares. Geothermal heating? At this moment it’s very popular but according to calculations of the Product Board of Horticulture Geothermal heating will only be able to heat 1.000 hectares in Holland. Another option is to burn bio fuels in stead of natural gas. Or maybe we have shouldn’t think of conventional greenhouses but look at new greenhouse concepts? We still have some time before it’s 2020.

Please comment any Greenhouse concepts or Energy solutions you think are worth investigating.