How will the climate agreement get through the back door?

14-12-2018

At the Energy Podium Debate on 10 December various energy professionals discussed this subject with each other and with Sven Kockelmann.

This was the key issue discussed during the Energy Podium Debate in the Muntgebouw building on Monday 10 December, at which various professionals from the energy sector crossed swords with radio presenter Sven Kockelmann and each other. They didn’t have an easy ride, but were nevertheless able to defend their positions vigorously.

Sven Kockelmann kicked off the debate with Annie Krist and Peter Vermaat, the CEOs of GasTerra and Enexis respectively. The comment that the Netherlands ‘has to get away from gas’ was raised in the first five minutes, but this idea expressed by Kockelmann was quickly parried, and Annie explained that the point is not to ‘get away from gas’ in the energy transition but that we are aiming at a ‘CO2-neutral energy balance’. And talking about gas, in the years to come we still need to deal with the fact that demand for gas far outstrips the supply of gas, and this will remain the case for the next decade. So we will not get through the front door to a gas-free situation as politicians think or hope. Peter added that all solutions are vital to the energy transition and that each front door is different. Something that works for a town is probably not right for a farm in the countryside, and vice versa.

Perception and reality

Meindert Smallenbroek, director for energy and the environment at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, said that perception with regard to the energy transition in the Netherlands does not match reality. Rather than 50% of energy used in the Netherlands being sustainable, in fact the figure is still only around 7%. We are certainly not at the head of the pack in Europe, and if we want to stop using Groningen gas in 2030 and be climate-neutral in 2050, we really need to get a move on. It is vital to create support, and this will only happen if the investments that citizens have to make are in line with lower energy bills.

Delay from The Hague

Sanne Akerboom (postdoctoral researcher at the University of Utrecht ) and Stephan de Vos (manager public affairs for network management in the Netherlands) underlined this and added that a lot of discussion is taking place at climate panels but that a climate agreement is still not in sight. This will also hold up the process of getting through the front door because the population doesn’t know how this will affect them. Will they be connected to a heat network, is the subsidy for heat pumps going to be reintroduced or not, and how much will it cost to insulate your home and make your heat energy consumption sustainable? People are putting off decisions because they do not know the financial implications.

Syp Wynia, columnist and editor for Elsevier, also agrees with this. He pointed out that at the moment the Second Chamber of the Dutch parliament is pushing harder for a climate agreement than the general public, and wonders whether this is a good sign. The climate agreement is the engine block of this coalition agreement, and the government wants the Netherlands to take a leading role not only in Europe but also throughout the world, and citizens have to play a part in this.

More opportunities than threats

Annemarie Spierings, responsible for agricultural development, energy and management of the Provincial States of North Brabant, still sees more opportunities than threats. In reply to Sven’s question as to how far things had moved in North Brabant in respect of the CO2 reduction targets (50% reduction in 2030 and 50% sustainable in 2030), she said that nothing had been achieved so far, but that this did not discourage her. Annemarie’s view is that the most important thing is to save energy, which was more important that improving sustainability, especially in the built environment. One example of a 15% reduction in consumption in offices thanks to better settings of equipment is a great example to other office buildings and an easy way of saving money. Annemarie believes that local authorities really should take the lead, but recognises the problem of the delay, while good communication can overcome many obstacles.

Action not words

According to Onno Dwars, director of Ballast Nedam development, nobody has the right not to make their home sustainable. It is a very easy way of getting the energy transition through the front door. Not talking about it, but just doing it. Having ambitious plans and not being put off from carrying them out by a refusal. Since he took up his post just over a year ago he has made ‘zero meter homes’ a policy. Nobody is against this, and we are making energy transition a bigger problem than it really is. Society has progressed a bit further than politicians believe. Just leave it to the market, because Dwars believes that your home will increase in value, so that the investment pays for itself. Kockelmann asked whether rising real estate prices were not due to the shortage of housing, a question which Dwars could not answer.

Around the dinner table

An interesting debate, a true reflection of society in which everyone defended their interests. There was certainly a consensus that the climate goals must be achieved, but we sometimes lose sight of each other in the details.  How can the climate agreement get through the front door? In fact, it already has: the Dutch population is not waiting for the climate panel but is discussing the issues around the dinner table, where plans will actually bear fruit.