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NSM Focus | Henk-Jan Kooij and Martijn Gerritsen: Spatial planning experts examine “colouring pages” of energy regions

In order to meet the Climate Agreement goals, the Netherlands wants to generate more and more sustainable energy. Thirty energy regions are translating the energy ambitions into concrete projects such as solar fields and wind farms. How are these regions doing this? Which factors determine the ultimate strategy? PhD candidate Martijn Gerritsen and assistant professor of Spatial Planning Henk-Jan Kooij are researching this.

“You can compare the Climate Agreement with a colouring page that has a few thick lines and some thinner lines,” says Martijn Gerritsen. “They are the outlines of the climate ambitions. Energy regions were given the task of colouring in the picture in the way that is most suitable for their region.”

The Netherlands has thirty of those energy regions. As part of this, municipalities, provinces, and regional water authorities collaborate with network operators, energy cooperatives, and social organisations. The regions establish their colouring-in in a document, the Regional Energy Strategy (RES). It includes choices and agreements related to sustainable energy, including concrete projects, and a timetable.

Gerritsen’s research is part of the EXPLORE project (EXPerimentaL gOvernance for the Regional Energy transition). “As part of this, we are collaborating with various parties, such as other universities, energy cooperatives, the metropolitan region of Eindhoven, and the Province of North Brabant,” says Henk-Jan Kooij, EXPLORE project leader.

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Spatial planning for energy

The research has demonstrated that the colouring of the “colouring page” is experimental and differs per region. Gerritsen: “Regions such as Zeeland and Flevoland were already well advanced in the generation of sustainable energy before the RES. The municipalities there already had experience with collaboration and policy-making on that theme. Some other regions are very much still at the start.” In addition to the history, the ambitions and wishes of the energy regions also differ. “It is not possible to make the Rotterdam port area sustainable with just a solar field or wind park. Different choices have to be made there than in a rural region with little industry.”

The researchers observed that energy choices sometimes clash with spatial aspects. Kooij: “This is why some type of spatial planning for energy is required. This involves not only looking at the generation side, but also at the question of how new forms of sustainable energy should fit into the existing landscape. The energy grid is so overloaded that we have to make strategic choices. What do we want to use the energy for: a residential area, a solar park, a business park? Not everything is possible everywhere.”

Until now, however, energy and spatial planning have been two separate worlds, each with its own language, traditions, and methods. Kooij: “It is important that those worlds look for solutions together.” Gerritsen: “A first step could be for both parties to identify the main criteria that they use for making decisions. That could make for better understanding on both sides.”

MARET examines the social aspects of energy transition

The EXPLORE project that Martijn Gerritsen and Henk-Jan Kooij are working on is one of the six projects in the MARET research programme (Maatschappelijke Aspecten van de Regionale Energietransitie (social aspects of the regional energy transition)). The programme aims to develop knowledge and insights into social aspects of the regional energy transition and implement this in policy and practice. MARET is an initiative of the Dutch Research Council (NWO), the Nationaal Programma Regionale Energietransitie (national programme of regional energy transition) (NP RES), and five provinces.