Message of the CEO
Reaping the rewards
After a few turbulent years, 2013 was the first year in which ECN was able to start reaping the rewards of the change in course it had initiated in 2011. Though this year was not without its challenges, ECN's operational management is becoming increasingly more robust and further steps have been taken for ensuring effectiveness and efficiency. Equally important is that ECN's activities are increasingly having a clearly positive impact on the welfare and prosperity of Dutch society and far beyond. For example, this was demonstrated in 2013 in the conclusion of the Energy Agreement (Energieakkoord), a tremendous achievement to which we have contributed substantially. Naturally, we will also remain closely involved in the implementation of the Energy Agreement.
Both with and for the market
Over the last year, we have fulfilled our ambition of developing new technology 'with and for the market'. ECN's presence was clearly visible, both in the Netherlands and abroad, from Qatar to India. In Qatar, the Dutch company Eurotron signed a multimillion contract for developing a production line for solar panels. In India, the multinational Thermax is building the first 4 MW plant for generating electricity and heat from soybean residues. These are just two examples of sustainability combined with economic success, thanks to inventive ECN technology. There are many more such examples, as you will find out in this Annual Report.
The customer satisfaction survey in 2013, which we asked an external agency to perform for us for the first time, certainly held up a mirror for us to see ourselves more clearly. This revealed that, although clients hold our knowledge and skills in high esteem, they feel that the coordination between them and ECN could be improved. ECN took this criticism to heart. Without further delay, we started training our employees to equip them with the right tools to secure a closer involvement of clients in our projects.
In addition to strengthening the competitive position of existing businesses, we also set up new companies with other parties: an example of this is the creation of the startup company Admatec, based on ECN technology. Admatec is the first company in the world to successfully print exceptionally high-quality 3d ceramics at high speed. Hence, it has an excellent starting position for tapping new markets.
We are gaining an increasingly better mastery over the art of forming strategic alliances with the right partners. Besides working together with companies, we also cooperate with other research institutes, as in the case of NERA, the Netherlands Energy Research Alliance. This platform was set up in November by ECN, in collaboration with FOM, TNO and the three universities of technology in the Netherlands. The aim is to streamline Dutch research efforts in the field of energy. This will help us jointly strengthen our position in the European research domain.
Up to now, we are satisfied with our participation in the top sectors. However, we are concerned about ECN's financial capacity for financing the public part of public-private partnerships. The planned further decrease in government participation in ECN until 2016 will severely limit this capacity, thus threatening to undermine Dutch innovation in the field of renewable energy. ECN is following the reorganisation of the Top Sector Chemicals Industry (Topsector Chemie) with great interest. We are hoping that important topics for energy supply, such as biobased economy and energy savings in the industrial sector, will be retained by the Top Sector Chemicals Industry. Intensive research in these areas is needed in order to achieve the objectives of the Energy Agreement.
No matter how advanced our equipment and how strong our networks, expert and dedicated people remain by far ECN's most important asset. We are very aware of this, which is why we have invested heavily in the development of our employees. In 2013, we saw that the average employee satisfaction had decreased compared to 2009, although there were large differences between the organisational units. This decrease reflects the uncertainty related to the organisational changes that have been implemented to facilitate a necessary transition to a more market-oriented organisation. We take this signal from our employees seriously and are working on creating more clarity regarding each person's role and improving communications between employees and management.
ECN's nuclear activities fall under the general partnership NRG. In addition to research and consultancy services, NRG supplies nearly one-third of the global demand for medical isotopes. In 2013, NRG faced major problems with the operation of the High Flux Reactor, in which it produces the isotopes. The reactor had to be shut down for a large part of the year. As a result, NRG incurred a substantial loss in 2013. This loss is reflected in ECN's financial balance sheet. Substantial investments are needed to keep the High Flux Reactor in operation until its successor PALLAS can be commissioned. The cost of these investments must be borne by the market. Since these investments cannot be pre-financed from our own resources, intensive discussions are underway with the Ministry of Economic Affairs. We are expecting a definitive answer in the course of 2014.
Our employees, customers, partners, subsidy providers and operating environment can count on ECN to take its social responsibilities seriously. Hence, it gives us immense satisfaction to be able to report extensively for the first time in 2013 regarding our policy on and activities related to corporate social responsibility that we have undertaken over the past few years. Successfully renewed The ECN of 2014 is a substantially different organisation from that of 2010. The process was occasionally painful and some of the changes are not yet fully crystallised, but we have managed to renew our organisation. This was necessary, and we have succeeded in doing this. With a rejuvenated and healthy ECN, we are now ready for the future.
Chief Executive Officer ECN