Muddle along to label B or live without natural gas


Column on saving energy in the built environment

From 15 September 2016 you can get a subsidy of about 20 per cent for insulating your roof, cavity wall, floor and glass, provided that you have at least 2 new insulation measures applied. This scheme is the result of the negotiations which took place at the start of this year about the taxation plan. The D66 party managed to obtain a one-off figure of € 100 million for energy saving, 60 million of which will be used to fund this scheme. The idea behind the requirement for at least two new measures to be applied is to encourage home-owners to adopt the most comprehensive measures, and jump immediately to label A or B.

The question is, will this approach work? Experience with marketing various measures at the same time is very negative. In practice, people tend to adopt measures one at a time. Many people can’t afford to do several things at once. And it doesn’t affect the end result. The scheme has aroused the necessary critical reactions in the market, especially among post-insulation companies that specialise in one specific measure, such as floor insulation or cavity wall insulation.

Another issue is how long this scheme will remain in operation. Just after it came into force, the Energy Agreement Monitoring Committee started to discuss a completely different approach. There are two proposals on the table. One of these is an energy-saving obligation: energy distribution companies will have to achieve a certain level of energy saving, via a system of white certificates. As many energy companies do little in terms of energy saving in practice, this sector has joined forces with Netbeheer Nederland [the Association of Energy Network Operators in the Netherlands] and the Nederlandse Vereniging voor Duurzame Energie [Netherlands Association for Sustainable Energy] to develop a tendering scheme as an alternative. This would be open to any company, including contractors and post-insulation companies. The RvO [Netherlands Enterprise Agency] is said to be already working on both of these options.

“Insulating to level A+ is only possible if the cheaper measures fund the more expensive ones”

In all these schemes, no distinction is made between measures that have already been taken and new measures. It would be impossible to do this in practice, but this does diminish the effect of the scheme. Insulation measures that are now being implemented without subsidy are sufficient to use up the 60 million budget in a year.

But that’s not all. While the Ministry of the Interior and the Monitoring Committee have the aim of ensuring that 300,000 homes a year are well insulated, the Ministry of Economic Affairs has in the meantime quite rightly adopted another aim in the Energy Report: in order to comply with the Paris agreement, we must stop using natural gas in the built environment within 35 years.

It is now clear that this requires quite a different, more localised approach, linked to the network operators’ replacement plans. In its publication ‘Opties voor energie- en klimaatbeleid' [Options for Energy and Climate Policy], the PBL (Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency) argues for a ‘delta plan’ to make heat provision more sustainable. This would be a coherent approach taken by all relevant parties, removing bottlenecks in national legislation in the years to come, giving local authorities a key role in producing heat plans, and learning a great deal. It points out that insulating homes to the level of label B is usually insufficient. The range of instruments must focus on better insulation to label A+. A comparable message is coming from the Power Acceleration scheme, which focuses on energy-neutral homes. Experience from that scheme is that insulating to level A+ is only possible if the cheaper measures fund the more expensive ones, which is the direct opposite of the schemes that are now starting or are in the pipeline. As the environmental protection body Milieu Centraal [Focus on the Environment] states in the information campaign for the Blok scheme, these are designed to reduce the payback time of measures from five years to four years.

It is now too late to revise the Blok scheme. But we can hope that the Monitoring Committee will follow the lead set by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and focus on the new aim of living without natural gas, and give local authorities the opportunity to work together with housing associations and launch local energy initiatives at neighbourhood level, so that they can gradually learn how this transition may turn out in practice.

Sible Schöne is Programme Director at the HIER climate agency