Energy transition in the built environment demands clarity

13 December 2018 – Every building in the Netherlands should be heated from sustainable sources by 2050. The path to that outcome is still very uncertain: the respective responsibilities of the government and citizens, the allocation of costs and the extent to which citizens will be able to choose how they heat their own homes in future. These uncertainties have a negative effect on public support for the energy transition, the Council for the Environment and Infrastructure (Rli) concludes in an advisory report titled ‘Warmly recommended: Towards a Low-CO2 Heat Supply in the Built Environment’, which was presented to Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations Kajsa Ollongren today. In the report the Council makes a number of suggestions for accelerating the transition of the entire building stock to a sustainable heat supply with wider public support.

Government is responsible for constructing the heat infrastructure

Disconnecting every home and business in the Netherlands from the natural gas network in the period from 2021 until 2050 will require an average of 800 dwellings to switch to renewable heat every working day. To accomplish that a new heat infrastructure will have to be constructed in time. The infrastructure will often be a network that supplies heat to an entire district. Alternatively, heat could be supplied to individual dwellings with heat pumps, for which a stronger electricity grid might have to be constructed. The Rli regards it as the responsibility of the government to arrange the building of the new heat infrastructure and to ensure that it is constructed in time (by no later than 2040). The Council advises the government to establish this basic principle.

Arranging the new heat infrastructure is primarily a matter for the municipalities, but the national government also has a task in that regard, in the Council’s view. The Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy must assist the municipalities in properly arranging the ownership and management of the new heat infrastructure. In addition, the government will quickly have to make extra money available.

Occupants will not automatically adopt measures

The changes that are required behind the front door are the responsibility of the property owners. The Council concludes that what owners and occupants require most urgently of all is clarity about how heat will be supplied to dwellings and business premises in the future. In the view of the Council, that will depend mainly on which method of supplying heat is most cost effective. Citizens’ freedom of choice will therefore be greatly curtailed. The government must communicate that fact far more clearly.

The willingness of owners and occupants to cooperate with the transition cannot be taken for granted. Municipalities should therefore make the connection between the implementation of the energy transition and other issues of concern that directly affect the inhabitants of a district, such as feelings of insecurity or a risk of flooding. Making the connection with the existing dynamic in a district could increase understanding of the need for the energy transition and should therefore be a mandatory element of the municipal heat plans.

Public support also requires that every owner of a building is capable of making the transition to sustainable heat. That will be helped by allowing any loans that are required to be linked to the building rather than the owner. The Council suggests that the government should guarantee the repayment of any such loans to the banks with a new national energy loan guarantee. The Council also feels that significantly greater efforts to intensify energy saving should be adopted immediately. It therefore calls for a long-term subsidy scheme to encourage property owners to implement energy-saving measures. The Council takes the view that the government itself should set the right example and therefore recommends stipulating that every building owned by the national government, the provinces and the municipalities must be carbon-neutral by 2040.

Create a national narrative for the transition, with a clear timetable

Increasing clarity and support for the energy transition in the built environment has to start with a clear government narrative of why is it is needed and how it will be achieved. This narrative must be conveyed not only by the government, but also by the provincial and municipal authorities. At present there is no such appealing narrative. The Council proposes that a narrative should be published in 2019 and then reviewed at regular intervals.