Newsletter #2 June 2008

A dialogue for sustainable energy in Amsterdam New West



epaSaving energy and using renewable energy rank high on political agendas nowadays. In many cities attempts have been made to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change. The European research programme Ecostiler (Energy efficient COmmunity STImulation) also links into this by aiming to achieve energy efficiency and the use of local sustainable energy at the level of local communities. At the moment, three communities are participating in the Ecostiler programme: London Southwark in the United Kingdom, Måbjerg in Denmark and Amsterdam New West in the Netherlands.

In Amsterdam New West, an area built in the 1950s which houses 128.000 citizens in 60.000 dwellings, major refurbishment activities are going on. In the coming years, more than 20.000 tenements will be renovated. Urban renovation projects provide a good opportunity to simultaneously implement energy options, a thought that is recognized by the local government as well: in 2002 they proclaimed a 50% CO2 reduction target in the period up to 2015. This target will for a large part be reached by connecting dwellings to the local district heating supplied by residual heat of an existing waste incinerator. However, not all buildings in the Amsterdam New West area can be connected. For these buildings other options have to be found.

The Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) is conducting the socio-economic pillar of the Ecostiler Amsterdam New West research project. To this end, we are facilitating a dialogue between housing corporations, local district managers and residents in which the parties together explore the potentials and drawbacks for energy efficiency and energy generation options in renovation activities. The dialogue existed of nine meetings; the last meeting took place in April this year.

In the first four meetings, emphasis was laid on information gathering. Participants shared their knowledge with the group in the first meeting. In the three following meetings we invited two to three guest speakers to inform the group about different energy saving or sustainable energy options. The second aim of this first phase was to roughly identify participants’ perceptions on energy options: what options are favored for Amsterdam New West, and what are the pros and cons of different options?

From the first phase, it resulted that overall there is a high level of ambition among group members regarding the level of efficiency that the options should achieve. A passive house may not be accomplishable; energy neutrality can be used as a starting point in refurbishing plans. Some participants even wished to go further by stating that we should aim for supplying sustainable energy at the level of a building estate. The group did not express marked preferences for specific options. They deemed it far more important that options were implemented under preferable circumstances: in deliberation with residents, without deteriorating the living quality (financially and physically) of residents, and a fair distribution of the costs and benefits of the measures taken. Understandably, residents were stressing the first two points, while housing corporations repeatedly stated that they are not willing to bear all the costs while only residents benefit from lower energy bills. In the end, the group agreed that raising the rent is only acceptable when the level of comfort is raised as a result of implementing sustainable energy options.

Based on strong requests from all participants, the second phase (fifth to eighth dialogue meeting) involved looking at actual building complexes that would have to be renovated, to examine the possibilities of energy efficiency options in practice. The aim of this phase was to develop concrete and optimal packages of energy measures, together with new institutional arrangements that provide guidelines about who is responsible and who pays what. The participating housing corporations provided the necessary data on three housing estates. An external technical advisor developed for each estate two energy scenarios. Each scenario consists of approximately twenty measures: energy saving measures, sustainable energy measures and measures to increase the comfort of residents, for example cooling. The scenarios are both ambitious and realistic: they aim for energy neutrality but they also take account of several limitations, e.g. local characteristics of the estate and surroundings, policies set out by the government and market expectations.

In three sessions, the three different housing estates were discussed. The group assessed both scenarios on their desirability and feasibility. This was done following the method of ‘peeling’: remove measures from the scenario to make the package more attainable. Some important conclusions can be drawn from these sessions. On the one hand, participants welcomed the new point of view in these sessions. Especially after the first four meetings in which energy measures had been discussed on an abstract level, they enjoyed looking at the matter from a concrete and actual standpoint. On the other hand, most participants experienced the extensive and highly detailed information incorporated in the scenarios as an overload: they had a hard time ‘seeing the wood for the trees’.

The ninth dialogue meeting was held in April this year. The purpose of this final meeting was to determine the most important conclusions and recommendations that the dialogue has produced. Several conclusions were drawn. First, as an outcome of the sessions in which the scenarios were discussed, a CO2 reduction of 70% (in comparison to the situation before renovation) is perceived to be attainable for a housing complex that is refurbished on a large scale. The costs of implementation lie between 15.000 and 35.000 euro. Second, there are good possibilities for producing sustainable heating for domestic use at the level of a housing estate. Local production of green electricity is bounded by much more difficulties. In Amsterdam New West, surrounding buildings often limit the airflow so that wind energy does not yield its full potential. And although solar energy technology is continually being improved, many roofs in Amsterdam New West are not oriented in an optimal position for solar panels. In the dialogue participants therefore dropped their desire to be self-supporting and decided that buying green electricity from the market was an interesting option.

The participants were enthusiastic about the outcomes of this dialogue and about the shared ambition between policymakers, housing corporations and residents to achieve a 70% reduction in emitted CO2 in Amsterdam New West. They proposed to share these outcomes with the people who will actually implement the energy measures -notably the project leaders of the housing corporations and the city districts- and the people who will be affected by these measures -the residents of Amsterdam New West-. Therefore, IVM, in corporation with the dialogue partners, will now start disseminating the outcomes of the dialogue through, amongst others, mini-symposia and publications. Hopefully, this will result in general acceptance of the desirability and feasibility of the outcomes of the Ecostiler dialogue in Amsterdam New West, and in the implementation of the proposed energy measures.