The number of homes (i.e. housing stock) in the Netherlands was 7.7 million in 2017, with a similar number of households. The energy consumption of these households is determined by opposing forces. On the one hand, behavioural changes have a positive effect on energy savings in households. On the other hand, factors such as an increase in the number of homes and housing size have a negative effect on energy consumption. On balance, however, the overall consumption of energy in Dutch households has decreased.
Energy savings in the residential sector fell on average in 2017 compared to 2016, in particular, due to a decrease in the number of insulation measures taken in owner-occupied homes. It is a possibility that homeowners only take measures that are easy to implement, and not those that cost a lot of effort or money. Around 60% of homeowners have already taken the measures they wanted to take.
Nationwide, the share of renewable energy consumption in the built environment sector is still small. 75% of the energy consumption in the built environment is used for heating. Fossil fuels represent more than 90% of the sources for heating, with natural gas as the main source. Although the share of renewable energy for heating is small, it is increasing every year. The increase in the renewable share of heat demand in the built environment is mainly due to the source of ambient heat, as more and more heat pumps are used. The heating networks use partly renewable energy (26%), but also fossil fuels. This is a challenge to be addressed. Conversely, the use of renewable electricity from solar electricity (solar PV) has risen sharply in recent years. The growth comes from both households, companies and institutions.
The Netherlands has the ambition to have a natural gas-free built environment by 2050. Making homes natural gas-free is challenging. An estimated 500,000 homes from the housing stock are now gas-free. Most of them are connected to district heating. However, many of these homes are still indirectly dependent on natural gas. Gas-fired power plants are the main heat source for the existing heat networks. Determining the number of natural gas-free dwellings therefore depends on how we define ‘natural gas-free’. If natural gas-free is defined as: houses without their own gas connection, the share of natural gas-free houses is a lot higher than if it is also taken into account how the heat for these houses is indirectly generated. As mentioned already, almost all heat networks and forms of apartment/district heating are still dependent on gas-fired installations. Even the natural gas-free nature of an electric heat pump can be discussed. After all, 42% of our electricity is still generated from natural gas.
Natural gas-free neighbourhoods do not just happen. Figure 1 gives an overview of the key dependencies of a successful transition to natural gas-free neighbourhoods. In summary:
- There must be sufficient renewable energy available;
- The right infrastructure must be available for this;
- Homes must be adapted and prepared for a natural gas-free alternative;
- Homes must be adequately insulated;
- Decentralized charging facilities must be developed for renewable energy, such as solar panels on roofs; and
- Natural gas-free adjustments must be linked to non-energy related home improvements that residents find important.
Each block is represented by a different stakeholder. If you want to tackle one aspect, you must involve all stakeholders.