How can a society that runs on the exploitation of fossil fuels make the transition to a circular economy? Boris Hocks discussed the question with Ruben Baetens, grids and markets consultant for 3E; Ewald Wauters, an agricultural engineer, architect and buildings conservation expert; Iris Gommers, sustainability coordinator for the city of Antwerp; and Han Vandevyvere, a project manager and senior researcher at VITO/EnergyVille.
Ruimte magazine report
Hans Tindemans, a policy expert for VRP, chaired the discussion. Koen Raeymaekers, editor of the Flemish trade magazine Ruimte, wrote a report. Boris made some interesting remarks on the energy transition in the Netherlands, what the energy landscape will look like in the future, and where he believes we should begin. For a summary of his points, read on.
Advantages of the regional approach
Boris, the only Dutch person at the table, shared his views on the Netherlands’ regional approach: “Given the Dutch administrative system, working at the regional scale is sensible. City governments quickly reach the conclusion that there’s no way they can come up with a solution at the local scale, especially in urbanised areas. […] The regions have a certain power, but at the same time they’re still close enough to the people.”
Disadvantages of the regional approach
At the same time, Boris sees the disadvantages of a regional approach: “As soon as you scale up to the regional level, you come up against legislative issues. In the Netherlands, the national government encourages working at the regional level; however, we’re getting a new environmental law that prohibits a region from making an overall environmental plan. So first you make a plan, and then you have to chop it up for the various municipalities, which then have to individually justify it and get it approved by their councils.”
First steps in the energy transition
Boris responded resolutely to the question of how we should begin making the energy transition. We simply need to get going, he said. “We know we have to become energy-neutral. But we don’t know how yet. We’ve got a number of potential scenarios we’re considering, and we will continue to refine that process as we go.”
The energy transition could be accompanied by social inequity, however. The Dutch government wants to require homeowners to make their properties more sustainable. “But then what will happen to all those people in cheap rental apartments who are barely able to pay rent?” Boris said. “If you wanted to insulate all the homes in the Netherlands – a great many of which are social housing – you’d need €126 billion. These amounts are incalculable.”
A different energy landscape in 50 years
Boris is clear about the effects of the energy transition on the landscape: we shouldn’t think that what we build today will still be around in 2050 or 2080. “The wind turbines and solar parks we’re building now will be obsolete in 20 years. We’ll design bigger and better ones.”
A shortage of professionals
The question is who will install all those windmills and solar panels and all that insulation. After a careful study, Boris explained, Posad has concluded that society lacks the necessary personnel. People aren’t being trained for these jobs. “At a vocational college, they told us three students were doing the heat pump engineer course as a subsidiary subject, in their spare time. The rest was all natural gas!”
Interested in what the other members of the panel had to say on the subject? Read the full article (in Dutch) in Ruimte 34.