14 Micro Cogeneration in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is gearing up for mass market introduction of micro
cogeneration. There is significant demand from the market in general:
interest from the installation industry, requests from building societies and
demo projects with the energy utilities. The government has included
micro cogeneration in its energy transition program, and is looking for
micro cogeneration to help develop the path to a more renewable energy
future. Micro cogeneration developers – local and international - have
identified the merits of the Dutch situation and are actively engaging
government, energy companies and the boiler industry.
Before the end of 2005 the micro cogeneration market in the
Netherlands will have made a step forward to becoming a part of the
installation and heating services industry. By early 2008 the micro
cogeneration market should have already established itself firmly as
competition to the current high efficiency condensing boilers as the
products being brought out can directly replace the current stock of central
To determine the potential of micro cogeneration in the Netherlands, the
boundaries of technology use have to be defined. This includes the
generator type, the fuel choice and the capacity.
Micro cogeneration technology is very diverse: not only are different
technology types being developed, such as Stirling engines, gas motors,
steam cells and fuel cells (see Sect. 1.2), the basic fuel used to drive the
technology can differ from natural gas and hydrogen to wood chippings
and fuel oil. For the Netherlands, the most common heat fuel for homes
278 Michael Colijn
and light industrial premises is natural gas. For any mass market
application, Dutch micro cogeneration would use natural gas first, and
only for niche applications would other fuel types be considered.
The Netherlands has one of the highest penetrations of natural gas in the
world. For all practical purposes, virtually all buildings are connected to
the natural gas mains network. Of more than 7 million domestic and light
industrial sites, more than 95 % have a connection to the gas network. The
theoretical potential for micro cogeneration is thereby more than 6.65
million units, and this makes it an attractive potential market for micro
However, a more practical method for analyzing the market is to base it
on the number of central heating boilers that are placed each year. Each
year some 385,000 central heating boilers are placed in homes in the
Netherlands. Just fifty to eighty thousand of these are for new homes or
premises; the rest are replacements in existing homes. This means that
more than 300,000 boilers are replacements.
For micro cogeneration to be a mass market product it has to be able to
replace the existing heating technology of a home. Of the 300,000 or more
replacement boilers per year, the current micro cogeneration technology
available will not be suitable for all homes. There are two limiting factors
that drive the economics of micro cogeneration in the current regulatory
framework: the heat demand and the electricity demand. The electricity
demand has a winter peak in the Netherlands that mostly coincides with
the heat demand. The heating season is substantial, with six to seven
months of space heating required; the remaining thermal capacity required
for hot water throughout the year.
The average Dutch home require some 1600 m3 of natural gas per year
for hot water and heating purposes. The same home uses on average 3500
kWh of electricity. According to ECN, the instantaneous electricity
demand does not come above 1 kW for 95 % of the time over a given year.
Micro cogeneration technology should therefore aim to fit around this
average demand for natural gas and electricity. The most promising
technologies at present are those that can cover the maximum heat
demands of between 15 kW and 24 kW, and cover a substantial part of the
electricity requirement – though not more than the annual consumption.
When an average heating device runs for 2500 hours per year, a micro
cogeneration of 1 kW electricity generating capacity would produce an
equivalent number of kWh: 2500. This is equivalent to 2/3 of the annual
consumption. If more electricity is produced than is required, the
household is faced with electricity export to the grid, and at present there is
no adequate system for dealing with exports. This would then make the
micro cogeneration uneconomical, and not attractive to the end user.
14 Micro Cogeneration in the Netherlands 279
When taking these factors into consideration, the number of premises
suitable for micro cogeneration, given the current technology, drops down
to 150,000 per year.
A final requirement is comfort. The average boiler in the Netherlands is
light weight (40-60 kg), compact (it hangs on the wall in the attic / under
the roof) and silent – it produces less than 42 dBa. Moreover, on the
morning of a cold winter the average boiler is able to heat a home within
30 minutes. 85 % of all boilers sold are high efficiency condensing. And
over 65 % are combination boilers able to produce hot water and heat
directly from the device. Micro cogeneration has to match this level of
comfort, now accepted as standard by a population who have been exposed
to increasing sophistication and comfort of the central heating system over
the last 30 years.
Therefore, when the current micro cogeneration technology is compared
with the boilers on offer now, its still higher weight, above average noise
level and generally larger space requirements will further reduce the
potential uptake. Nonetheless, based on these conditions, micro
cogeneration can still directly replace the current boiler in some 50,000
homes per year.
This is a substantial number in a market that has been the most rapid in
uptake of new heating technology over the last two decades. When taken at
this growth potential, micro cogeneration would have become a significant
contributor to the electricity pool in over 5 % of all homes in just 10 years.
With further advancements in micro cogeneration technology to allow
direct replacements of existing boilers more easily, the potential will only
There are a number of micro cogeneration developers active on the Dutch
market at different stages of development
14.3.1 Micro Cogeneration Developers in the Market
The Dutch market has seen one player already active from some ten years:
this is the German manufacturer Senertec (see Sect. 1.2.1). In total
Senertec has sold and installed some 100 micro cogeneration units known
as the Dachs. The Dachs is a hand built gas motor micro cogeneration,
meeting all the strict requirements of heating devices in Germany.
However, the Dachs has an electrical output that far exceeds the demand of
280 Michael Colijn
an average home, and is therefore more suitable for higher demand
facilities such as small hotels and hospitals. Furthermore, the 500 kg
weight and large size of the Dachs limit its use to facilities with ample
space for installation.
The other player selling units commercially in the market is
WhisperTech of New Zealand (see Sect. 1.2.2). WhisperTech has brought
its Stirling based WhisperGen unit to the Netherlands, after first launching
in the UK. The current unit of WhisperTech is ideally suited to the Dutch
market in terms of outputs. It delivers 7 kWth and 1 kWel output – a
combination well suited to a well-insulated modern home with modest heat
demand. The drawbacks of the current model are weight (124 kg) and
noise (slightly above the 45 dBa), though both of these will significantly
improve in future models. It is floor standing, and only the size of a
washing machine, allowing it to be built into a kitchen, or a modest space
in the garage. WhisperTech are currently engaged in a 50 unit
demonstration project together with Gasunie and the 12 Dutch utilities.
When this project proves successful, the WhisperGen will become the first
mass market micro cogeneration in the Netherlands.
14.3.2 Micro Cogeneration Developers Trialling
Vaillant are engaged in a trial in the Netherlands with their fuel cell micro
cogeneration. The 12 units being tested are part of their wider European
trial that involves more than 30 units. The unit is very large, to allow for
easy access during the trial, and there is scope for making it more compact.
Vaillant have indicated that their current model is not going to appear in
the Dutch market commercially before 2010. This means that the end of
the current trial will led to a reduced level of activity with the fuel cell
activity in the Netherlands. Furthermore, the current unit also has outputs
that exceed the demands of an average home, thereby reducing the market
to light industrial applications, as for the Dachs.
ENATEC have trialed some 12 units in the Netherlands over the last
years. As a Dutch developer of a Stirling-based micro cogeneration, their
original plan to launch in 2003 did not pull through. The company is a
combination of research institute ECN, electricity utility ENECO and
boiler manufacturer ATAG. The outputs of the unit are similar to the
WhisperGen, and they would eventually compete in the same segment. In
2004 and 2005 ENATEC have been very quiet, with no further
announcements of developments, trials or manufacturing agreements.
14 Micro Cogeneration in the Netherlands 281
14.3.3 Other Developers
MicroGen have been actively engaging with installation and energy
companies for the last three years. They have participated in a government
feasibility study, and have developed concrete solutions to regulatory
barriers still existing in the Dutch system. MicroGen are developing a
1 kWel Stirling engine at their UK developed center. Their wall hung
solution to micro cogeneration aims to look like a condensing boiler,
making it an easy to fit replacement. However, despite numerous
announcements, they have not been able to bring their unit to market in
2004 as planned, and are now aiming for 2007. The main issues seem to be
noise and vibration, and lifetime guarantees for the engine.
There are several other developers active in the Netherlands. These
include Honda with their gas motor and a Dutch gas turbine developer.
Honda does not yet have a product suitable for the Dutch market and will
probably be some 3 years away from having a product on the market. The
turbine developer does not have a product yet, and it is expected that basic
prototype development will require another three years. Hence, the main
players for the Dutch market in the near future are Senertec, WhisperTech,
MicroGen and ENATEC.
Apart from these technology developers, there are other players of
importance in the value chain such as boiler manufacturers and energy
The Dutch boiler manufacturers have been known for their innovation and
acceptance of the condensing boiler. Now that developments of this
product are nearing the end of life, a next generation of products could be
micro cogeneration for them. The industry, however, has consolidated
significantly over the last years, and only few players are independent.
This means that scope for developments has been reduced as smaller
Dutch players have been absorbed into larger multinational organizations.
ATAG is already involved in the ENATEC development, though recent
developments indicate that some changes are afoot in the consortium. Up
to now, no concrete numbers have been announced for manufacturing,
though the question is whether this is due to the boiler side of the
development, or the engine.
NEFIT is now part of Bosch Buderus and is no longer independent.
However, the Nefit company will continue to function as an R&D site, and
hence, any new developments would be created there, including micro
282 Michael Colijn
cogeneration. Bosch, of course, are working on their own Stirling based
micro cogeneration through their Junkers subsidiary. This development is
a 450 Wel unit, expected for launch in 2008. However, this is a general
development, not specifically for the Dutch market.
REMEHA have been actively participating in the Dutch government’s
transition program, indicating an interest in new technology, and
particularly in micro cogeneration. REMEHA is active in the Netherlands
and Germany, and would be well suited to manufacture micro
cogeneration as they are independent, and in need of some new
technology. To date, however, nothing concrete has been announced.
AGPO are similar to NEFIT in that they have become part of a larger
company: Ferroli. Their R&D function makes them of interest to the micro
cogeneration developers as the AGPO arm steers developments that impact
the whole group. The down side is that they have no manufacturing
capacity in the Netherlands, and would require commitment from their
parent to engage in the development process towards a new product.
Intergas is an independent Dutch manufacturer. However, their target
segment is the bottom end of the market, where micro cogeneration does
not naturally fit at this moment in time. Intergas may enter the market in a
few years, but is unlikely to be among the first to develop micro
The Magic Boiler Company is a new development in the Netherlands
looking to manufacture a range of micro cogeneration technologies. They
will manufacture white label micro cogeneration, and thus act as a risk
buffer for both developers and boiler manufacturers. The Magic Boiler
Company is developing its concept in the north east of the Netherlands,
close to the boiler industry, research centers and the German border. The
Magic Boiler company has developed a modular manufacturing concept,
that allows it to integrate generators of different types, using mostly
standard heating technology. Their aim is to come to market early to mid
2007 with the first products for the Dutch and German markets.
Although Gasunie is not a manufacturer of micro cogeneration, nor a mass
market distributor, they have been extremely active at promoting micro
cogeneration. Gasunie has been testing and developing several
technologies over the last 10 years. They engage with developers to bring
the product to the next level of market readiness, and ensure that sufficient
publicity is given to these developments to open doors to the market.
14 Micro Cogeneration in the Netherlands 283
One of the main concerns of Gasunie is that micro cogeneration is
perceived as a risk, both by the end user, as by potential manufacturing
partners. The first is needed for the market, the latter to make the product.
The installation branch can help convince the end users that the technology
is now sufficiently reliable for them to make a purchase decision.
The manufacturing partners, however, are concerned about betting on
the wrong horse: what happens to the technology investment if a better
technology arrives on the market in a short space of time? Gasunie aims to
remove part of this worry by co-offering “ready to manufacture”
developments through their cooperation with developers.
14.3.6 Electricity Utilities
The Netherlands has 12 electricity and gas utilities. All of them are
engaged in the micro cogeneration discussion to greater or lesser extent.
However, there are four that are actively looking for a method to engage
and position themselves as leading the micro cogeneration market: Essent,
Nuon, Eneco and Delta.
Essent is the Dutch utility that has traditionally covered the south, and
part of the north east of the Netherlands. Essent has no position in solar
energy, which they believe is economically unfeasible, though they have
active engagement in wind industry projects. Through their vast installer
network of the “Inhome” organization, they are interested to market micro
cogeneration as the innovative solution. With more than several thousand
installers, their ability to roll out a mass market product is strong.
Nuon, traditionally active in middle and north west Netherlands, have
previously embraced solar and wind energy, as part of their division Nuon
International Renewables. They are now more focused on profits than
before, and view micro cogeneration with a healthy sceptical optimism:
better than solar photovoltaics, but still to prove itself. Like Essent, they
want to be first movers and therefore actively engage with developers, the
trade association and the government. Again like Essent, a very strong
installation network would allow roll out easily once products become
Eneco has been less engaged in government projects than the other two.
To balance that, this utility of traditionally middle and western Netherlands
regions, have had their share in ENATEC, thereby being well ahead of the
others in micro cogeneration interest. For the moment, Eneco looks to
continue its path of participating with ENATEC, thereby confirming its
interest in the technology for the future.
284 Michael Colijn
Delta is the smallest utility of the four, and is present in the south west
of the country. However, Delta has been active in wind energy, and has
engaged both with the trade association Cogen like the others, and in the
government energy transition program. Together with Altran consulting
they have developed concepts for micro cogeneration, but no actual
projects have developed as a result yet.
At the beginning of 2005 there is only one project for micro cogeneration
planned in the Netherlands. This is the 50 units demonstration project with
WhisperTech and Gasunie.
The total number of micro cogenerations in the Netherlands is the sum
of 100 Dachs, 50 WhisperGen, 12 Vaillant fuel cells, 12 ENATECs and a
hand full of lab units of different technology developers.
The Netherlands is not currently leading in terms of number of installed,
commercially available micro cogeneration units. However, the
government, utilities, developers and Gasunie are extremely ambitious and
determined to succeed in making micro cogeneration a standard
In 2006, Gasunie is hosting the International Gas Union (IGU)
conference. For this, Gasunie aims to have 1000 micro cogeneration units
installed, preferably in a cascaded virtual power plant set-up. This will be
video-linked to all delegates at the conference as an example of what is
possible using very small scale generating technology.
To facilitate the uptake of micro cogeneration, however, the government
will have to improve the installation climate for this technology as there
are a number of structural barriers.
14.5 Government Actions
The government is actively seeking new ways to develop a more
renewable energy infrastructure in the Netherlands. To do this, they have
engaged industry and research institutes in several programs. The biggest
of these is the Energy Transition Program (www.energietransitie.nl).
14 Micro Cogeneration in the Netherlands 285
14.5.1 Energy Transition
The Energy Transition Program is an initiative of the Ministry of
Economics. This ministry holds the Dutch energy portfolio and is
responsible for security of supply, supervising the energy regulator and
developing an energy future. The ministry has set up a project team of civil
servants and energy industry experts, and has organized a multitude of
workshops together with industry to ensure buy-in from developers,
manufacturers, researchers and distributors.
The program consists of four main streams in energy, of which the
Team New Gas is one. Micro cogeneration falls under this category, in one
of two subclasses called efficient gas use or combined heat and power
Under this program the ministry has financed feasibility studies for
promising developments, with a goal to getting actual projects out of these
studies. The projects in turn are able to request part financing so that the
novel elements in all projects are covered, thus allowing the learning curve
to be as cost neutral as possible. Repeatability will then become easier for
suppliers of technology and roll-out in terms of marketing and distribution,
Unfortunately, only one of the developers managed to supply units for
this program: Whispertech. The expectation is that by end of 2005, early
2006 more developers will be able to place a few units in trials or
demonstration projects, albeit in limited numbers.
14.5.2 Eco Innovation
The Ministry of Environment is responsible for renewable energy
production and carbon dioxide emissions. However, they do not hold the
energy portfolio. Nonetheless, they launched an ambitious program
entitled Eco Innovation in the Spring of 2004, ahead of the Dutch
Presidency of the EU in July 2004.
The Eco Innovation Program aimed to bring forward examples from
industry that show economically attractive means for cleaner and greener
manufacturing, energy consumption and waste management.
Using several workshops throughout the EU, the Ministry gathered
information on all possible methods and examples, and compiled a book of
the 18 best examples of eco innovations. This book was presented at the
Council of Environment Ministers in July 2004. CHP, and micro
cogeneration in particular, are mentioned as the single best solution for
achieving carbon dioxide emission reductions.
286 Michael Colijn
The Ministry does not have an active financing program like the
Ministry of Economics. However, they have shown interest to develop
case examples using micro cogeneration over the next year or two. As the
Ministry’s full name is “Ministry of Health, Planning and Environment”
they also hold responsibility for urban planning and housing stock. In that
light their support of micro cogeneration is significant as the impact on
housing regulations can be very positive for micro cogeneration.
The Dutch situation with regards to regulations is dismal at face value:
there is no right to connect to the electricity grid, applications for
connection to the electricity grid have to be made in advance and are
unclear, there is no feed-in fee for excess kWh, the certification process is
not in place for technology, and all home owners who buy a micro
cogeneration would potentially be earmarked as entrepreneurs generating a
dramatic bureaucratic paper mill.
Although all these points are true, history paints a different picture.
14.6.1 Right to Connect
The Netherlands needs a right to connect to be written in to the electricity
law. This will remove any doubt with the future buyer of micro
cogeneration that they will have to uninstall the unit once they have bought
The lobby effort to get this done is being made primarily by MicroGen’s
and WhisperTech’s Regulations Manager as their products need to
compete directly with condensing boilers. Several angles are being used:
the European Embedded Generator Norm that is being drafted in Brussels;
the Ministry of Economics Energy Transition Team; the Ministry of
Environment; the trade association Cogen and the regulator DTe.
Although it is important to secure the right to connect firmly in the law,
there have been no difficulties connecting small generators to the grid up
to now: solar photovoltaic (PV) panels have been sold over the counter for
the last 10 years to home owners who have plugged up to 600 W straight
into the nearest socket. No meters have been changed in this process, and
mostly, no mention of the installation was made to the local network
company. For even the smallest generator, formally the network company
should be informed in advance, the meter would have to be changed, and a
certified electrician should have checked the wiring prior to installation.
14 Micro Cogeneration in the Netherlands 287
Solar PV, however, is viewed as a niche product. Micro cogeneration is
set to become mass market. It is therefore important to secure the right to
connect, and specify under which conditions such a right exists.
Furthermore, the energy market has fully opened up since July 2004,
thereby adding competition to the market. The once more relaxed energy
companies may take a more formal stance now that their income is driven
purely by market forces.
14.6.2 Fit & Inform
Apart from the right to connect to the grid, it is important that micro
cogeneration be allowed installation in the same timeframe as a
condensing boiler. If micro cogeneration takes longer to start with
installation due to an advance information requirement, its chances of
becoming a mass market product are greatly reduced. This is because most
condensing boiler sales are distressed purchases: when the boiler breaks
down the owner wants a replacement within 24 hours.
At present, any generator installation needs to seek advance permission
at least three working days in advance according to the Netcode. This can
be changed to a same day information, like the UK’s G83 standard has
14.6.3 Meter Changes
The current meter market is theoretically liberalized in the Netherlands.
Every home owner could choose to have a meter replaced by an
independent company, and have a contract with that company for a
different meter. However, the process of changing is very costly and time
consuming, so that in effect, there is no meter market.
In order to reduce costs for the end consumer, the meter change should
be part of the micro cogeneration package: installation performed by an
accredited installer could easily include the meter. This would prevent one
call-out fee; it would also reduce the time needed for the home owner to be
away from work on a separate day from the unit installation.
Furthermore, choice of meter would again reduce the costs of the meter
change. Where a meter is currently charged to the end user for amounts
upward from € 50, an accredited import-export meter is available from
Therefore, a liberalized meter change market, with same day meter
change, using a meter of choice would reduce costs and time needed for
288 Michael Colijn
the overall installation, and improve both customer experience and
14.6.4 Feed-In Tariff
In the Netherlands, there have been no phenomenal feed in tariffs like in
Germany. Renewable energy has received up front support up to 50 % of
the investment costs, but no structural support on the electricity side.
Former programs for condensing boilers included up front support as
well, yet showed that 60 % of end consumers bought the boiler without
seeking subsidies, despite their availability.
The current electricity law, however, allows “renewable domestic
generators as well as hybrid generators that make use of fossil fuels” to
feed up to 3000 kWh into the electricity grid per connection per year. This
allows those kWh to be subtracted from the used kWh and thereby receive
a full value of the electricity.
The difficulty with this inclusion from May 2003 is that there are too
many uncertainties over the definition of renewable and over hybrid
systems. The parliamentary initiator of this amendment mentioned micro
cogeneration, yet it is not written into the law. What is needed is to clarify
the current amendment and clearly state that micro cogeneration is to be
included in the list of permitted types of domestic generators.
The current technical standards that apply to micro cogeneration are for
generators up to 5 MW. This is due to the novel aspect of micro
cogeneration where they did not exist before. Clearly the requirements for
a 5 MW plant are different than for a 5 kWel micro cogeneration unit, and a
simpler version needs to be made for the domestic generator types.
The European embedded generator norm is one document that will be of
value. However, that will need to be adopted in national standards, and a
national certification procedure. Hence, the requirements for installers and
for developers to their current products should be spelt out at national
Dutch level, rather than waiting for an EU norm. This will provide
adequate feedback into the Brussel’s process where the EU norm is still
being debated and contested by other national representatives.
14 Micro Cogeneration in the Netherlands 289
The Netherlands is poised to become an extremely active micro
cogeneration adopter. There are many developers actively engaged in the
market, looking for both a distribution market, as well as potential
The government has earmarked micro cogeneration as a promising
emissions abatement technology, and has given it the initial support
required to kick start projects.
The utilities and Gasunie have shown their interest in the technology by
taking the initiative to develop a project of their own, and by planning for a
big demonstration virtual power plant in 2006.
What is now needed are two elements: the government needs to adapt its
legislation and standards to allow easy adoption of the new technology in
this eager market. And the developers have to stick to their promise of
delivering a product to the needs of the market, and within the timeframe
required: as soon as possible.