The success of the transition to sustainable energy depends on the level of support that can be created in society. We are, therefore, not only on the brink of a technological but also social turnaround. What will the bill look like? Who is going to pay? Who is allowed to offer electricity? It all depends on the rules of the game. How will they be designed?
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That is why TNO is conducting research on energy poverty and from both a technical and societal perspective, so that consumers, the authorities and industry can always make the right choices.
The transition from fossil fuels and raw materials to a sustainable energy system is much more than a technical innovation. At least as important are the social issues. The success of the energy transition depends on support and acceptance in society.
There are several aspects to energy parity. It concerns citizens: can they pay the extra costs? Industry has its winners and losers. In the energy sector a new division of roles is emerging: in addition to the traditional energy companies, local cooperatives or new market players can also produce and sell energy, but only if the legislator gives them room to do so.
Local, national and national hardship policies
TNO researches energy hardship and comes up with recommendations to combat this phenomenon. It is estimated that as many as three quarters of a million households suffer from energy hardship: they cannot pay their bills or they have to make all kinds of sacrifices to do so. For municipalities we organise meetings to help people on low incomes reduce their energy bills.
We contribute knowledge and new insights to take targeted measures for these vulnerable groups. To improve local, regional and national policy, we study the effectiveness of interventions. In a European context, we exchange knowledge with other member states and share research results on this issue. For example, we are developing social innovations for the energy transition alongside technological innovations.
Research into policy and decision-making helps municipalities to make choices backed up with substantiated facts. We consider also the broader context of the relationship between liveability in the neighbourhood, social cohesion, safety, financial security and personal development. For example, as soon as it becomes clear to residents that generating energy together in the neighbourhood or a collective heat supply pays off, interest often increases.
TNO is investigating new ways of cooperation and municipal decision-making in local heat supply. We develop learning pathways for municipalities and local energy cooperatives. They exchange experiences among themselves and with TNO as a knowledge partner from which new knowledge and insights emerge. TNO also works with entrepreneurs to make business parks energy-neutral.
In the publication ‘The ethics of the energy transition’ experts including TNO, the Tertium agency, Friends of the Earth Netherlands and powergrid operator Alliander examine whether the energy transition is leading to new or different forms of social inequality; who are the winners and losers, and what are the choices to avert undesirable consequences.
One example is the involvement of citizens in issues that are quite far-reaching for them, such as the installation of a solar or wind farm. As in the case of making neighbourhoods free of natural gas, here too it appears that good information and actual involvement of residents is crucial in such plans. Another question was how to ensure that people's mobility is not restricted during the transition and how to share the costs fairly.
The energy transition is literally on the doorstep. Insulation, new installations or a different cooker means that residents will have to make adjustments to their homes. Some of them have studied this well or are already living in a sustainable home. Others have not yet done so at all. These steps from getting acquainted and becoming aware to the decision to invest in sustainability is what we call a customer journey.
TNO researches and develops concepts together with the market to help residents in this customer journey. In addition to acceptance by end users such as residents, there are also other factors that can ensure that sustainable technologies are embedded in society. TNO is developing an approach to this as well as assisting companies in this.
Laws and regulations
Laws and regulations are a long way from being geared to the creation of societal and technological innovations that contribute to the energy transition. TNO is conducting research into this, including how the energy market can best be organised.
For example, we analysed how Denmark has organised heat grids and made an overview of Dutch and foreign successes and innovations that lead to a sustainable and affordable energy transition for everyone. This has also revealed that the serious involvement of residents promotes acceptance and support. Local residents' cooperatives play an important role in this.
Laws and regulations should give new, innovative companies the same market opportunities as their established counterparts, something that is not always the case at present. It is also often difficult for local cooperatives to enter the market. TNO is, among other things, involved in a project together with banks aimed at devising a model to finance the heat grids of these cooperatives.
By making less than a tenth of the business parks in our country energy-positive over the next decade, it will be possible to reduce CO2 emissions by much more than the agreed target in the Climate Agreement for the entire built environment. Business parks are rather neglected in the discussion about energy saving, while it is precisely here that much more environmental gain can be achieved than in homes.