Accelerating towards a climate-neutral built environment

Industrial concepts

The Netherlands is facing a major challenge. In the Climate Agreement, it was agreed that the built environment must be carbon neutral by 2050. This means that before then, 7 million homes and one million other buildings must be made gas-free. The pace is not currently high enough to meet this goal. That’s why we are working on a solution: the contingent approach.

TNO's contingent approach

Meeting the goal requires 50,000 home renovations per year, which is 1500 home renovations per day. And this really requires an acceleration of the energy transition. That's why we are advocating a different approach, one that can make 70 percent of buildings more sustainable more cheaply, quickly, and efficiently. This approach revolves around clustering buildings into contingents. The goal is that the sustainability solution can be used for all buildings within the contingent and no customisation is required on a per-home basis.

The same sustainability for the whole contingent

A contingent is formed by making a match between a proven sustainability solution, such as solar panels, and ‘building DNA’. This is a set of detailed characteristics of a building, such as year of construction, location, housing preferences, and household composition. In practice, this can mean that homes in Groningen and Breda belong to the same contingent, while the adjacent homes belong to a different contingent. A contingent is expected to have an average size of 15,000 buildings. Buildings within a contingent can all be made more sustainable in the same way.

The advantages

This approach ensures that construction and installation companies can innovate and scale up in a targeted way, so that costs are decreased, and the companies have more certainty regarding the sales market. Currently, customisation per house is the standard, but the focus on contingents allows companies to apply a sustainability solution to a cluster of buildings, which is a lot more efficient and cheaper.

Do you want to know how the contingent approach can work for your organisation? You can read a detailed explanation of the approach in the white paper 'Gearing up to a climate-neutral built environment'.

Current approach falls short

What we are doing in the Netherlands currently, is making buildings more sustainable that are relatively easy to adapt, for example, new homes. These are already well insulated and just need to be ‘taken off the gas’. Buildings without energy labels, with low energy labels, and buildings owned by private individuals are more difficult to make sustainable.

Required sustainability is not defined

A difficult aspect of the current approach is that the level of sustainability required is undefined. There is also no definition of the term ‘ready for natural gas-free’. It is, therefore, not clear whether the measures homeowners are implementing to make their houses more sustainable are actually contributing to a (future) gas-free home.

Lots of customisation

Making buildings more sustainable is now often about a single home or building at a time. These projects are one-off, site-specific, and always involve different parties. If buildings are clustered, the diversity of the buildings is often still too great for a unified approach. This makes accelerating sustainability impossible.

No knowledge transfer to private individuals

The starting point in the climate agreements is for housing corporations to start implementing sustainability measures. Private building owners could learn from their experiences, and construction and installation companies could develop standard solutions that in turn incentivise homeowners because of lower costs. But construction and installation companies that invest in sustainability solutions often work on behalf of housing corporations and not for private clients. That is why little is expected in the coming years from the transfer of experience from housing corporations to private building owners.