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There is a future for climate-neutral greenhouse horticulture in the Netherlands

The greenhouse horticulture sector in the Netherlands does indeed have a future. Technically, there are ample opportunities to resolve pain points such as labor and energy. This is the conclusion of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) after analyzing the feasibility of climate-neutral operations across a range of sectors, including agriculture, horticulture, and greenhouse horticulture.

The PBL is aware of the discussions about the future of the sector, but does not directly advocate for the sector's shrinkage. "Practice shows that for many products, there are opportunities for competitive cultivation with greenhouse horticulture in the Netherlands." In general, the researchers call for not ruling out any possibilities, even those that are 'controversial' such as CO2 capture and storage.

Greenhouse horticulture occupies a special place in the report. This is because the sector might become climate-neutral earlier than 2050. The sector's unique position in the report diverges from other studies, such as the annual Climate and Energy Exploration, which tends to lump the sector together with agriculture and horticulture under the 'agriculture' label.

Area remains the same
The PBL assumes the area of greenhouse horticulture in the Netherlands will remain approximately the same. The possibility of competitive cultivation of many products in the Netherlands, according to the researchers, is due to many competing countries facing other bottlenecks, such as limited access to water and advanced technology. Labor is much cheaper in several competing countries, and the labor intensity in greenhouse horticulture is very high. Automation then offers the possibility to remain competitive, the report states.

Space usage
The researchers do not believe in massively adopting crops that use less space, such as vertical farming. "For now, the application possibilities seem limited." Therefore, for the PBL, highly optimized conventional greenhouses form the basis for the future vision. However, various forms of energy saving and sustainability of the heat supply are possible.

Energy saving
The PBL emphasizes the importance of energy saving with LED lighting, screening, and possibly also extra insulating glass. However, there remains a need for further energy saving through simply lower usage. In the long term, no role is seen for CHP gas engines. "Although it is possible to make these sustainable with renewable fuels such as biogas or hydrogen, these fuels are scarce."

The expected source of heat for growers will be a 'mix of techniques' such as geothermal energy, (large-scale) heat networks on (residual) heat from various (industrial) sources, electrification through heat pumps with various technical configurations (especially with heat-cold storage) and possibly e-boilers, lists the PBL.

Furthermore, CO2 is crucial. If growers no longer generate it themselves, it must come from external sources. In this regard, capturing it from the air could have a lot of potential. A recently opened demo center on this is a first step. The PBL sees scenarios in which CO2 remains in other sectors that greenhouse horticulture can make good use of at relatively limited costs.

Where CO2 emissions in many sectors also drop sharply and there is no longer a surplus, Direct Air Capture, as investigated in the demo center, can be an alternative. However, the PBL points out that this is associated with high costs. According to the researchers, it makes sense to first aim to increase the CO2 utilization rate and reduce the current loss of 95 percent in a greenhouse. "This can also give an extra boost to heat-cold storage compared to geothermal energy, because it offers possibilities to cool the greenhouse with less ventilation."

No options excluded
Calculating a total of more than thirty techno-economic trajectories towards a climate-neutral Netherlands with a similar economic structure as today, the PBL points out that delaying or ruling out options beforehand almost or even entirely makes achieving climate neutrality in the Netherlands by 2050 impossible. It's not a matter of either-or, but of both-and. Given the uncertain availability of energy sources and technologies, all building blocks are useful and necessary, including more controversial options such as the use of bio-based materials, CO2 capture and storage (CCS), and adjustments in agriculture and rural areas.

Source: PBL

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