Until recently, the approach has been to set energy saving, renewable energy and emission reduction goals at EU and national level. Subsequently, energy saving, renewable energy, and greenhouse gas emission reduction policies have also been formulated at both EU and national levels. In many cases, policies have been geared towards entire sectors. This is a suitable approach for certain sectors, such as industry and transport. However, this approach is less suitable for renewable energy policy (due to local impacts on the environment and the landscape) and for making homes and other buildings more sustainable (due to the large number and diversity) of dwellings and the differences in available alternatives to natural gas). To do justice to regional differences, the Dutch Climate Agreement, adopted in early 2019, focuses on stronger regional management and policy.
Until recently, regional electricity generation has not been very visible in the landscape. However, already in the past, high-voltage lines were striking visible. Traditional power plants do not need much surface area per quantity of electricity produced. Both wind and solar energy, however, require a lot of space. With the growing focus on renewable electricity production, there is a need for agreements for regional distribution of new generation capacity for electricity from wind and solar. In 2014, targets for wind energy were distributed among the provinces in the Structural Vision for Onshore Wind Energy. For wind farms with a capacity of more than 100 MW, the central government is the competent authority and the central government coordination scheme applies. The national policy that followed has led to protests against some wind farms. A well-known example is the wind farm in the peat colonies in Drenthe, where the protest is very intense and sometimes accompanied by threats. More recently there have also been protests against the construction of solar fields. However, there are also plenty of examples where wind and solar energy are installed without problems, especially if a citizens’ initiative is involved. There are been few protests towards solar panels on rooftops.
The Dutch Climate Agreement has set the goal of achieving 35 TWh of renewable electricity production on land, to be achieved by the regions. Every region has its own characteristics. Coastal regions are usually more windy and sunny than inland regions. Some regions are densely populated and have high consumption, but with few options to generate all local consumption in their region. Other regions are sparsely populated and can produce more than necessary in their region. The share of large industry varies greatly from region to region and is often concentrated around port areas or in resource-rich areas, such as mining regions. Both economically and because of system integration and spatial and landscape integration, it is not optimal to impose generic goals for each region, such as a percentage renewable for regional electricity consumption, climate neutrality or energy neutrality. The Climate Agreement, therefore, does not apply fixed targets per region but also does not have a distribution that is optimized in one way or another. The proposed approach is to have the regions submit proposals for their contribution and check whether this adds up to the desired 35 TWh.
In addition to setting a renewable electricity goal, the Climate Agreement sets a ‘sustainability’ goal for the built environment. By 2030, 1.5 million existing homes must be made more sustainable. The variation in heating of buildings is even more diverse than that of renewable electricity generation, and for heating, the best solutions can vary per district and even per building. There are many options for making heat supply to buildings more sustainable, each being suitable under different circumstances. Near residual heat sources, high-temperature heat networks seem to be suitable for older neighborhoods with high insulation costs. However, in the long term, this will require a more sustainable heat supply with, for example, biomass boilers or CHP suitable for gas and biofuels. For new construction and well-insulated neighbourhoods, electrification with heat pumps can offer a solution, possibly also low-temperature heat networks with residual heat from data centers or heat from surface water. For old city centers, forms of renewable gas (with limited availability) are expected to offer a cost-efficient alternative. Pellet boilers can still offer a solution in the outlying areas.
The intention to phase out the use of natural gas and the plans in the Climate Agreement for a heat transition will lead to a new form of sustainability that will have consequences in homes. This assignment requires a careful approach. The costs are an important point as well as the “hassle” that comes with replacing natural gas. Involving residents in this process can help to enable the acceptance of the necessary changes. Given the importance of local integration and support, the management in the heat transition is allocated to the municipalities.