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Reinier Rijke demonstrates the power and reliability of tidal energy

From studying shipbuilding in Delft to designing dredgers and jack-ups. From 20 years managing IHC's shipyards to designing and managing tidal turbines. Reinier Rijke's story is about technical ingenuity, seeing possibilities and passion.

How do you get from shipbuilding to tidal energy?

“I worked at IHC for 20 years and was director of production at three shipyards. At one shipyard we ran a pilot with tidal energy. The focus was on designing floating structures. Because there was no effective turbine, I proposed to design it myself. IHC stuck to its last, namely dredgers and offshore. Then I thought: “Why not do it myself?” It is like the film “The boy who harnessed the wind”, where a boy driven by technology builds a windmill in a dry area. That's how I became the boy who harnesses the tides.”

What attracts you?

“Firstly, it is a technological challenge. It is complex, innovative. What could be better than adding something new to the waterways? For me, the pride of installing a new turbine is comparable to the launch of an enormous trailing suction hopper dredger a few years ago. Queen Máxima, who inaugurated the ship at the time, was just as impressed by her namesake Vox Máxima as all the employees at the covered slipway of the IHC Merwede shipyard. A spontaneous “oooh, how big” escaped her! It is, after all, the largest dredger ever built in the Netherlands.

Back to this turbine: I work with the same satisfaction on something so visibly useful, focused on the future.

But above all, it complements existing forms of renewable energy. Energy from wind and sun is well known and has the power. But these sources are not always available. The general public is not yet aware of the power and predictability of energy from water, of tidal energy. I want to prove and demonstrate this power and reliability.”

Tell us about getting the turbine up and running

“We are in a two-year pilot phase now. The Province of Zeeland wanted to make the sluice more sustainable while renovating it. We were able to take advantage of that. The turbine was installed in October 2021, after a six-month design phase and construction of the turbine.

In March this year, we took the turbine out of operation for a while. We wanted to optimise the conduction of the water from the Western Scheldt into the canal, so that less energy is lost through turbulence. We did this by extending the flowguides.

It remains a matter of switching between the environmental factors and the innovation itself. Now that we have a better view on the currents at the sluice, we can respond to it in a more targeted way in order to achieve maximum return in the future. After two years, we want to prove that this is a sensible way of generating energy. The turbine is built to last at least 15 years."

Is tidal energy the future?

“Yes, but it takes time. It is a long haul. It’s all about persistence. There is still a lot to research and learn. My hope is that there will be more and more showcases like this turbine. In this way, we will prove what the power of water can offer the province and the Netherlands, namely a predictable and reliable basic energy source in addition to sun and wind, which will reduce the need for energy storage in the future.

As a shipbuilder and sailor, I know one thing for sure. When you know the power of water, you have faith in tidal energy.

Energy company Delta shows on their site where the sustainable energy comes from, and that includes our tidal energy. The first visible proof is there. Wouldn't it be nice if more sluice complexes, harbours and dams could generate their own electricity by installing a turbine?

It is also profitable for the province of Zeeland. They harvest energy from their own sea. That is a wonderful sustainable proposition. If one sheep crosses the dam...”

How are you embedded in the environment?

“I think it is important that tidal energy is visible. To start with, all the people around here have received a leaflet and an invitation to ask for more information. A lot of passers-by get off their bikes to ask what is going on. Apparently, this project appeals to a lot of people in Zeeland and to tourists. I am proud to say that the Province of Zeeland, the municipality of Vlissingen, Zeeland Water Board and the Interreg programme have given us the opportunity to test here, and that Water2Energy is very grateful to them. Later this year, we want to give a big presentation to all those involved, including local and European politicians.

There is a whole circle around us. We work closely with the Water Board, Energy PZEM / Delta. Students from HZ University of Applied Science are involved in collecting and processing all the measurement data.”

What’s the role of EWA in your work?

“As a technician, I get lost in subsidy applications. I usually get them back by return mail because something is not right. I also don't speak the language of the lobbyists. Through EWA, for example, I got to know Bluespring and Dutch Marine Energy Centre (DMEC). Thanks to their efforts, I receive a subsidy and can carry out this project. With my innovation, I am happy to work as an example. Because priority now is to become visible. Exposure. To show that tidal energy is a sensible addition to wind and sun. And that it is constantly there, every day, always.

EWA also takes care of the positioning of our sector. I see that they make the pilots and showcases visible in the places where it matters, for example through the Netherlands Water Partnership and the North Sea Community of Practice. But also among the general public and politicians. We must show that it is a feasible and affordable source that will keep our energy system reliable and affordable beyond 2030.”

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