By Saif Malik
Dutch greenhouses provide about 10 percent of the country’s power.
While studying at Wageningen University The Netherlands in 2007-08, I got opportunity to visit Dutch greenhouses during various study tours, field trips and practical trainings. Being a resident of a developing country (Pakistan), I found many things new and extremely innovative happening there.
Things like Greenhouse structure design, automation, efficient use of modeling/simulations/LEDs for effective climate, water & crop management, mind-boggling yield/production rates, highly efficient insect & pest management, and sun & rain harvesting concept/method/technologies etc. practically seemed just mind blowing. Than all aforementioned, most amazing fact found there is “Dutch farmers generate electricity from their greenhouses” which adds heavily in the overall profits of these farmers and total power production of The Netherlands.
The Netherlands is a bio-based economy. It is the home of the biggest and most advanced greenhouses. The Netherlands has nearly 11 thousand hectares of growing space under glass, or about 40 square miles. But these greenhouses produce more than plants. They’re also a breeding ground for high-tech plant experiments and greener energy. At the Wageningen greenhouses, researchers can grow as many as 150 pounds of tomatoes in a square yard of space. And by using specially calibrated LED lights, they have managed to produce exotic new tomatoes with a whopping 50 percent more vitamin C than ordinary ones.
In the past decade innovative greenhouse design and new technologies have made it possible to move from energy using greenhouses to energy neutral greenhouse production. Dutch research and technology institutes are looking for ways to make the greenhouse farming sector a supplier of sustainable heat and electricity. However, not only new greenhouse design and high-tech greenhouse systems can improve energy efficiency, also small adjustments to existing greenhouses can reduce energy costs.
Image source: blog.maripositas.org
The greenhouse also uses an innovative energy system. Wind turbines provide electricity, but so do generators, which have the added bonus of producing extra carbon dioxide for the plants. It’s called cogeneration of heat and electricity. So what they do, they burn natural gas, run a generator with that. It generates electricity on the one hand, but also heat, and it also produces carbon dioxide. And these three components are used for operational control of the greenhouse. Or, if you don’t need the electricity at the same time, it’s brought into the national grid. Cogeneration at Dutch greenhouses like this one provide about 10 percent of the country’s power.
The Dutch government further aims to drastically reduce energy and gas consumption in the greenhouse horticulture sector. From 2020 all new greenhouses must be climate-neutral and produce no zero carbon dioxide. This can be achieved through innovative technologies such as:
• Use of solar energy;
• Light-saving measures (use of natural light and more efficient lamps);
• Energy-efficient growth strategies;
• Geothermal applications;
• Use of biofuels (the use of biogas (green gas) and (residue) wood offer great potential);
• Generation and use of (more) sustainable electricity.
The prime objective of this post is to divert the intent of farmers, researcher and government authorities from developing world towards abovementioned innovative idea which may help in alleviating darkness (worst energy crisis) and poverty from our unfortunate soils.
About author: Saif Malik is a Landscape horticulturist, well equipped with lot of professional exposure and experience. Along with landscaping/gardening work, he's founder, publisher & editor-in-chief of hortist.com.
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Copyright Hortist, 2013