From acid rain to sustainable Ameland


Hans Overdiep, our Energy Transition Manager, is retiring on 1 July. But if you think he's going to rest on his laurels, you don’t know Hans. He might be retiring from an energy company, but he won't stop being energetic.

How did you end up in the world of energy?

,After secondary school, I studied vehicle technology at the Institute of Technology; anyone who knows me knows that I've got a thing for cars. My first job was at Groningen Provincial Public Works Department, where I specialised as a noise expert, and I started at Gasunie in 1982 in a similar role. Back then it was very common to rotate jobs every few years and go and do something different. So I arrived at Gasunie Research, the laboratory at Hoogkerk, where I became involved with natural gas combustion in boiler systems. At the end of the 1980s, several measures were implemented to combat acid rain and at that time we were asking ourselves: how can we make natural gas burn more cleanly to reduce the effect of acid rain?

What was your best work experience?

I was once responsible for an invention at Gasunie Research and we presented it to several boiler manufacturers. They told me that it wouldn’t work; it was no good. Guess what? A few years later it was incorporated into boilers that came onto the market. I found that marvellous!

No hard feelings? No, I was actually very proud; I was involved in my work and something good came out of it.

 What will be the greatest energy-related challenge in the Netherlands in the coming years?

This is still my pet subject – scaling back natural gas sensibly. It's not black and white. Ultimately, we can't carry on producing it, nor can we stop overnight. We need to keep relying on natural gas for as long as necessary, until the renewable solutions are properly on track. Give green gases (renewable gas and hydrogen) a chance to form part of the future. All-electric is far too one-sided; we need to keep all our options open.

You've been very involved in Sustainable Ameland, an island that is the epitome of the energy transition. Is there anything that you would still like to achieve there?

Ameland has been close to my heart since I was very young; I've just had another week's holiday there. We're well on the way to seeing Ameland 10 to 15 years ahead in the energy transition; but it's still hard to motivate people. They're already in a good place; they're enjoying a high level of affordable comfort in their homes and this makes it difficult to try new things. We will need to work harder to educate the public. There are a lot of preconceptions, it would be a good thing if the energy sector worked towards providing more reliable and thorough information for the public. 

What advice would you give today's young people?

Choose technology! And develop your practical skills in particular! There's a huge shortage of people with practical skills and it's about time that we start appreciating those who have those skills. Nowadays we all need to keep learning, but in the end it's in the technical arena that things will really happen! The energy transition is a mammoth task and I don't believe that we will have completed it by 2050. This will generate tens of thousands of new jobs over the coming decades.

As we look back over your career, what's Hans Overdiep's legacy?

Whew, now you're asking me. I've always tried to bring theory and practice together. The energy transition isn’t just about talking, it's also about doing; not just producing reports but also building things. The hybrid heat pump roll-out project on Ameland is a nice example of that. This gives us a wealth of information, not only from the technicians' data but also from the experiences of the users themselves. The first generation of heat pumps has not yet been built for Dutch housing; developments and improvements will undoubtedly follow. More insulation, hybrid heat pumps (at least 50% less gas), green electricity and green gas are all serious options for the Netherlands. Now let's show that this works by implementing different projects in the coming years. It would be fantastic if the whole village of Ballum could be converted; GasTerra has put this forward, who knows if that will succeed. We'll need a lot of people with practical skills for that!

Which energy projects are still on your agenda?

I've had a wonderful time at Gasunie and GasTerra – I was always given lots of scope to develop. I've experienced many opportunities and great strides in gas application technology: the emergence and gradual phase-out of natural gas in the Netherlands, the associated change in mentality and the progress which we're in the middle of right now. I was fortunate enough to work on finding technical solutions for using natural gas efficiently and I enjoyed that work very much. But you won't find me twiddling my thumbs – I'm more likely to be busy on my balcony where I've just installed two heat pumps. I'm already thinking about how to make improvements by using an air-to-air system instead of an air-to-water system as supplied by the hybrid heat pump. I'm making, or rather keeping, my own home a testing site!