The energy transition starts regionally

The national government can do far more to support regional initiatives in the field of sustainable energy. This is the conclusion drawn by the Rathenau Institute on the basis of the report ‘The energy transition starts regionally’, prepared on commission by CE Delft.

The report examines three regional sustainability initiatives, as a pars pro toto for a broader trend: the Rotterdam Climate Initiative, under which the city has pledged to achieve a 50% cut in its CO2 emissions by 2025 relative to 1990 levels; the plans set out by the island of Texel to base its energy supply entirely on renewables by 2020; and Energy Valley, a partnership between the country’s three northernmost provinces that seeks to strengthen the region’s economy by developing new energy activities.

In the report the Rathenau Institute argues that national legislation and regulations need to be streamlined and regions afforded greater scope for pursuing ambitions going beyond the national standards currently in place. There is also a need for an unambiguous vision by national government as to how the Netherlands is to engineer the transition to a sustainable energy supply.

Sustainability is not getting off the ground
The study indicates that, in the regions considered, there is plenty of enthusiasm and expertise as well as a desire to collaborate. As yet, however, the goal of making the energy supply sustainable is not really getting off the ground. In elaboration of the various plans, the opportunities for energy-saving and use of renewables are not being fully exploited.

Owing to economic factors – Rotterdam as a major international port, Texel’s tourist industry on and gas production in the north – the emphasis is very much on continued use of fossil energy. Whether that will be a cleaner and greener enterprise than at present is anything but clear, though, as there is still insufficient support for carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Government support for regions
Another conclusion of the study is that national government can do far more to support regional sustainability initiatives. When it comes to energy conservation, regional players are often keen to go beyond today’s national standards but lack the legal mandate to impose additional energy efficiency requirements. National standards therefore need to be made more ambitious. There is also a need for greater legal scope for regions that want to set their sights higher.

Similarly, plans for renewable energy systems are often thwarted by barriers in national legislation. To make use of the opportunities of renewable energy at the local level, legislation should far more of the “yes, provided” variety rather than today’s “no, unless”.

Finally, the Rathenau Institute concludes that regions would benefit from a clearer and more explicitly propagated vision on the part of national government as to how the Netherlands intends to flesh out the transition to a sustainable energy future, thereby making clear which initiatives the government intends to support for the long haul. With this kind of vision in place, it becomes far easier for the regions to create broad public support for large-scale energy projects like wind farms and CCS.