The Dutch Energy Renovation Strategy, its Key Points, and Criticism

How energy efficient is your home? Soon, it should be B or above!

O‌‌ur buildings’ energy efficiency has been identified as a crucial aspect in the fight against climate change. In previous QLab articles, we learned that the rate of energy renovations must triple to keep up with the EU’s climate goals.

Exploring what it takes, we’ll look at the Dutch strategy (because the Dutch government provides such a neat, accessible PDF) and examine some limitations of this approach.

First things first: What are deep renovations?

Deep renovations are energy renovations focused on phasing out residential heating based on fossil fuels, which causes most of the building sector’s emissions. In Germany, for instance, that’s about 90% of all emissions attributable to housing.

The priority of deep renovations is to introduce alternative heating technologies. Instead of fossil fuel-powered boilers, rural areas could turn to individual heating solutions such as heat pumps or biomass as fuel. In urban areas, entire suburbs must be supplied through district heat networks (DHN) to be truly energy efficient.

DHNs connect centralized heating sources with a district’s buildings through insulated water pipe systems. These systems are well suited to collect heat from locally available renewable sources and avoid costly energy transport over long distances.

Beyond heating, the energy efficiency of houses is being overhauled. Further insulations, thicker window panes, and photovoltaics (PVs) on the roof reduce the overall heating and external energy required. All these aspects must be addressed through a proper long-term strategy to avoid issues as Italy and Germany are experiencing them currently.

The Dutch strategy: Key aspects

Overall, the 92 pages of the paper provide a thorough overview of the trends and factors concerning homes’ energy efficiency, percentage of households struggling with energy expenses, and (required) renovation rates. Some passages are detailed and accountable, while others remain unspecific. Anyhow, these are the points made most explicit in the report.

  • Regionally led efforts: The Netherlands is separated into 30 energy regions. In each, the municipalities frequent experts and determine the best strategy for the specific region. A Regional Energy Strategy is based on communication “with social partners, businesses, regional governments and residents.”
  • District-oriented approach: The responsible municipality engages with homeowners to determine an affordable, manageable course for each district. The process also determines the best alternative heating technique considering the overall costs for the Dutch society.
  • Avoiding energy poverty: In communication with tenants and homeowners, it is ensured that the monthly costs of renovation loans do not exceed the amount of savings made through the increased energy efficiency. Therefore, the Dutch strategy aims to ensure that no stakeholder experiences adverse financial effects.
  • Individual subsidies: Homeowners who initiate investing in sustainability themselves receive bonuses while also reducing their energy costs through self-made renovations.
  • Energy and heating sources: Underlying the above points is the acknowledgment that gas must be replaced quickly by renewable energy sources, specifically PV and sizeable offshore wind farms.
  • Others: The paper discusses steps concerning skills, technologies, and tax incentives. Since the report is openly accessible for those more curious, I’ll save you the time going into details here.

The Dutch strategy reviewed: How’s it going in 2022?

As recently as July 2021, researchers published an analysis titled The actual performance of energy renovations in the Dutch residential sector (Guerra-Santin et al., 2021). They found that the residents’ experiences during deep renovations were only monitored to a certain extent.

Currently, no data collection of the energy renovation programs could paint a complete picture, and it remains unclear why specific energy renovation projects under– or outperform the stakeholders’ expectations. Thus, the municipalities and other stakeholders don’t know precisely what their residents need to be satisfied with the process.

Nonetheless, Guerra-Santin and colleagues conclude that most dissatisfaction is caused by delays in planning and construction. They also suggest that the interfaces of the new energy systems are either of poor quality or not sufficiently demonstrated to the residents, causing additional discomfort through noises and maintenance.

As of now, no specific analyses of the Dutch renovation rates for 2020 and 2021 are available, and neither are estimates for the future. I generally like crunching some numbers to give you a more specific picture of how sustainable processes are doing but no chance here.

Take-away and outlook

Personally, I’m under the impression that, although elaborately detailed, the Dutch strategy paper fails to address specific targets of how many homes should be renovated at what moment. The general focus lies in the overall emission reduction and energy efficiency goals for 2030 and 2050, in line with the EU’s fit-for-55 targets.

However, the Dutch plan does not appear more ambitious and avoids accountability by not specifying yearly renovation rates as milestones. Apparently, this is a common issue with deep renovation strategies across EU members, according to this report by the European Commission.

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Finn Faust

Finn Faust

I’m an author of the QLab Think Tank blog, and I believe that empirically founded information is essential to prepare stakeholders for climate action.