The price of domestic waste in a circular economy

Domestic waste. The only time Henk & Ingrid actively consider this to be an issue is when it’s that time of the week again, and he or she has to lug the waste out of the house. Usually in the poring rain.  And granted, who would consider the remainder of our daily life as an interesting topic? Perhaps it is not a coincidence as most of the expressions concerning waste have a negative connotation!

But there is more to domestic waste than we generally care to consider. And I’m not just talking about the resources hidden in the enormous quantities of domestic waste we collectively chuck out each year.

In The Netherlands, there is something odd going on with domestic waste.
The amount of domestic waste produced annually has increased steeply for decades until the year 2000. From 2000-2007 the growth decreased as from 2007 the total amount of domestic waste decreases.

As of 1990, the Dutch become more and more positive towards the idea of separating domestic waste, which is clearly shown in the amounts of waste collected in separate streams and what domestic waste in the Netherlands consists of. The connection between the contents and the degree of separating waste is obviously not a coincidence.

Every household in The Netherlands pays an annual fee to the municipality for the disposal of its domestic waste. This fee is not just for paying the individual who comes to take the trash away, but obviously for managing the system as well but not for other expenses. Thus, when the total amount of domestic waste decreased, the obvious assumption is that this fee would decrease as well. Well, no, not necessarily.

Based on the principle that waste has no use or function, our municipalities have been given (or have taken, depending on the point of view) the authority to get rid of our waste to keep our town and cities inhabitable. And obviously the ones –the households- causing the pollution are the ones who have to pay to get rid of it. And traditionally, the waste was taken to a landfill, or incinerated. Luckily for us the landfills are largely obsolete and the majority of waste is incinerated, the released energy is used to generate ‘sustainable’ energy (both electricity and heath). But still.

The annual fee every household pays has not decreased but steadily increased over the past years. In all honesty, this is not the case for every municipality. There is a significant difference between three systems in place. The most common system is a fixed fee per household (one person, or more) per annum (green line). Alternatively there is a different system which calculates the fee per person in every household (purple line).

And finally there is the DIFTAR system (blue line). Municipalities who have chosen for this differentiated system have not had to decrease the annual fee over the past decade. Roughly 30% of the Dutch municipalities are DIFTAR-municipalities.

But what does this mean for Henk & Ingrid? Generally speaking this means that separating waste does not bring them anything, apart from the knowledge that they are actively reducing the amount of resources incinerated and making them Plastic Heroes. They will pay the same fee, regardless whether they turn out one bag of refuge or 10. Suffice to say that this does not offer an incentive to separate or reduce waste.

Perhaps this stems from an era in which we could not have known better (or could we?), in a time in which recycling was a myth and municipalities signed European tender agreements which lasted for decades with large multinational refuge handlers? It is a fact that most of the major cities in the Netherlands have entered such agreements and that the municipal waste goes straight into the incinerators, after a stage in which the separate materials are separated and – in all likelihood – sold.

There are different approaches, though. Ryck is an initiative in which individuals are financially rewarded for every kg of separated waste they hand in. Twence is a cooperative of a number of municipalities, which have taken matters into their own hands and in doing so, have created a system which turns out green energy, large quantities of raw material and a substantially lower annual fee for the inhabitants. HVC Groep, has taken it upon itself after being confronted with decreasing quantities of waste to incinerate to turn towards sustainable energy and to create awareness and subsequently decrease the amount of waste produced by its shareholders, a number of municipalities. This is a paradigm shift from the more obvious paradigm to import waste from abroad to keep the incinerators burning. And finally, one municipality has, in spite of a very lucrative contract (for the refuge handler, that is) taken the initiative to organize a subsystem for raw materials and thrift stores, to ensure that the absolute minimum of materials go to waste. As a “prize” for this initiative they may face a penalty because the quantity of waste collected goes beneath a threshold set in the 90’s (!).

This example shows once again that economic principles can only be applied to green our economy with the right government policies in place. Otherwise the Dutch will all become Plastic Heroes instead of getting a lower annual fee for removing a decreasing amount of waste in an increasingly circular economy.

This post was written for and published by TEDxBinnenhof in close collaboration with Ivo Stroeken, Advisor Electric Transportation.

Clean tech can feel like a football match

Sometimes watching a football match can give you a deja vu feeling. That’s what happened to me during the European Champanionship. Just like the Dutch lost from Denmark and Germany during the European Championship, we are losing in the clean tech sector. According to research done by Rolald Berger Strategy Consultants for the World Wildlife Foundation The Netherlands are loosing market share not only in Europe, where Germany and Denmark manage to maintain a top 3 position worldwide , but also worldwide. The Netherlands in have dropped from 18th to 21st place and sales are decreasing too.

Although we do have 4 Dutch companies named in the Global Clean Tech 100 and five Dutch clean tech companies are speaking at TEDxBinnenhof. The FME, the largest organisation in the Netherlands representing employers and businesses in the technological industry, is even aiming for a top 10 position in clean tech for the Netherlands. During the last couple of years De Groene Zaak (‘Green Business’) has been uniting entrepreneurs that want to speed up the transition to a green economy.


On the government level a difference in approach between The Netherlands, Germany and Denmark can be seen. While Dutch government has been lobbying in Brussel to prevent Canadian tarsand from getting a separate carbon footprint the Danish and German governments are taking action to retain their worldwide position in the fast growing clean tech market. The German decision to close down their nuclear plants attracted a lot of attention. Less attraction is given to the Danish decision to ban oil and gas heaters from new buildings starting in 2013. They also aim to generate 50% of their electricity from wind in 2020 (link in Dutch). The year the Netherlands hope to generate 14% renewable energy (which will be mainly reached by burning biomass and waste).

So it’s about time the Dutch stop talking the talk and start walking the walk on clean tech and energy transition. The ambition from FME, De Groene Zaak and the fact that half of the speakers at TEDxBinnenhof are active in clean tech shows that Dutch entrepreneurs are ready. As is shown by the For entrepreneurs doing is about getting their products and services sold, for Dutch government it’s about time to look at current legislation to remove or adjust parts that hinder the market introduction for clean tech companies and start acting based on a long term vision towards sustainability. For those policy makers and politician looking for inspiration for the coming elections both the research conducted by Roland Berger and the election page of De Groene Zaak provides good starting points.

Dutch innovations in air quality

The environmental policy debate has been taken over by climate change for years. With some backlash lately because of climate denialism. Most discussion about climate change focus on reducing the emissions of carbon dioxide into the air. In this post I will argue that it is better for both public health and fighting climate change to shift focus to non-CO2 greenhouse gases and air pollution for the short term, leaving the reduction of actual CO2 emission to the future. Do I hear some climate fighters cry wolf already? :P

Let me be very clear: I trust climate scientist when they say irreversible climate change is upon us if we don’t act now. I equally understand the peak oil statements about shrinking oil and gas reserves and rising fossil energy prices. I also know a large part of The Netherlands is within European air quality standards. And still I argue the focus to combat climate change should be on air quality, especially if The Netherlands want to give their entrepreneurs a head start. As a researcher once provocatively said to me: the carbon price will be zero if Europe reaches the CAFE air quality standards timely…

The problem
A few years ago I attended a workshop about the interconnection between transboundery air pollution and climate change. The research presented showed it might be more effective to combat climate change by combatting soot and air pollution (like nitrogen oxides and methane).

Carbon black, as soot was called by the researchers, is formed mainly through incomplete combustion of both fossil and biofuels. The researchers told that part of the carbon black rains down in snowy areas, where it turns the snow darker. Thereby increasing the amount of solar radiation absorbed, thus raising the temperature of the snow which makes it melt… That’s one good reason to focus on reducing air pollution by carbon black for The Netherlands.

A second good reason to focus on carbon black has to do with human health. Carbon black is associated with a lot of human health problems ranging from asthma to heart diseases. Human health can be an important driver for environmental policy and a researcher from the Dutch Environmental Agency (PBL) recently wrote an article suggesting reducing soot can be very effective to improve impact from air pollution on human health.

I know The Netherlands manage to comply to current European air quality standards. But still our air quality is a far cry from the long term CAFE objective:

to achieve levels of air quality that do not result in unacceptable impacts on, and risks to, human health and the environment.

Especially because the scientific evidence that smaller carbon black particles have more adverse health effects. Those small particles are not yet regulated, but local politicians know that their citizens are worried and either use it in their campaign or reject to build schools and houses next to highways.

Carbon black isn´t the only air pollution problem. Ozone is another one. Although the ozone layer on high altitudes is necessary to prevent skin cancer, ground level ozone forms a threat to human health. Recent research by Plant Research International (Dutch pdf) based upon data supplied by Crops Advance shows that exposure to ozone also significantly decreases the ability of plants and trees to absorb carbon dioxide. This effect can be significantly and can reduce the Carbon Use Efficiency of commercial crops up to 46%. If plants are exposed to ozone as seedlings the effect remains even after the ozone level decreases. Perhaps it’s more logical to increase the carbon use efficiency of commercial crops by reducing air quality before spending our money on putting carbondioxide undergroud…

The carbon use efficiency can be increased by reducing ozone concentrations at ground level. Ozone is formed as a result of other air polluting emissions, mainly volatile organic compounds (VOC’s, such as methane) and nitrogen oxides. Both are emitted by burning fossil and biofuels. But VOC’s are also released during transport and storage of fossil fuels, and some of them, like methane, are very potent greenhouse gasses. So considering the fact that non-CO2 greenhouse gases (like methane) are responsible for over 50% of the greenhouse effect focussing on air quality to combat climate change is less strange then it looks on the outset.

The solution
The solution to the above problem for the long term is to decrease the amount of combustion fuel needed by increasing the production of sustainable energy that don’t need combustion and electrification, like electric cars. The short term solution is to use innovations at hand to reduce the emissions of air polluting substances like VOC’s, carbon black and nitrogen dioxide. Several Dutch companies can provide such solutions and research shows that providing them a home market is very favorable to gain traction on the world market.

So let’s show some examples of Dutch companies that can provide world class solutions to combat air pollution.

Teigro: VentClean-system
The VentoClean-System is a special explosion proof machine for the degassing and recovering of hydrocarbons out of tanks and hoses in the shipping industry and bulk storage. It has been developed to clean tanks and hoses from gases and residues quickly after the tanks have been emptied. Through a condensation process gases and residues are brought back to the original product in liquid form very quickly. The high speed together with the high ventilation capacity of the system are also caused by bringing back a higher optimum temperature in the tanks and hoses, this temperature is re-used from the condensation process.

The VentoClean-Systems had advantages for both people, planet and profit. To start with the profit part: In short the VentoClean-System saves costs and increases turnover. By using the VentoClean-System the tanks are immediately employable, washing is not necessary and there is hardly any waste or slobs.

As the system can be used independent from location and time, ships that have been equipped with the VentoClean-System become more flexible and are employable more rapidly. The extra shipping hours caused by ventilation can be brought back, port and lock costs can be reduced and a backload can be loaded more often.

The gains for the planet consist of less waste or slobs, less washing of tanks and reducing the need for ventilation in open air decreases air polluting emissions. Less air polluting emissions is also good for people, as the system can also be used to clean tanks containing carcinogenic substances like benzene.

Accede: Cairbags
Accede has developed a concept they call Cairbags for use in tanks. This short movie explains how Cairbags work.

A Cairbag is an aircushion that is installed and inflated in the container of the trailer or truck, especially if the container is only partially filled with a liquid load. The Cairbag fills at all times that space that is not filled by the liquid, preventing the presence of free air. The effect of the Cairbag is that it decreases the emission and evaporation of liquids in a partially or fully filled tank. Therefore the Cairbag contributes to better air quality along shipping routes, both coastal and inland. A Cairbag also increases the fuel efficiency for trucks that use them.

Cairbags can also be used in tank terminals to reduce emissions to air. When they are combined with a Linerbag emissions to both air and groundwater can be reduced to (almost) zero. Leaving a larger volume of products to sell and increasing air quality in the surrounding area.

Greentec Oils
Greentec Oils increases the fuel efficiency of existing engines and reduces the emission of both nitrogen oxides and soot. This is done by a combination of a special biobased oil, adjustments to the engine which make it run smoother and an addendum to improve fuel quality. Confidential data I’ve seen show generators use 10% less fuel and emission from soot and nitrogen oxides are reduced up to 80%.

HMVT: Corona
HMVT is developing the Corona Air Purification system together with Eindhoven University of Technology (TUe) and Oranjewoud. The name Corona refers to the phenomenon of air conducting electricity under the influence of a powerful electric field without making a full discharge circuit. The Corona Air Purifier cleanses vapours with the help of pulsed high-voltage electricity, also known as Pulsed Power. The Corona Air Purification system can remove substances like VOC’s, nitrogen oxides, particle matters and traffic emissions with rates ranging from 50% up to 99%.

Needed action by government
First and foremost the current separation between air quality and climate change policy should be reconsidered. People are much more likely to act on air quality, as air pollution has a direct effect on both human health and agricultural output and can have a profound and almost immediate effect.  Both local and national authorities can play their part by not settling for a C minus for air quality.

On the second place a home market for the above mentioned companies can be created. One of the main lessons from research to the critical success factors for clean tech done by both the European Union and World Wildlife Foundation is that a home market gives a large competitive advantage to clean tech companies. Nothing is more convincing and compelling for foreign customers than being able to show that your technology is being used in your own country. After all a sales pitch containing the phrase this technology is not yet used (or not even allowed) in my own country will not be very convincing, of even a sales pitch at all!

Creating a home market requires more than providing innovation subsidies or R&D funding. It requires an environment where government and entrepreneurs form partnerships to bring technology to the market. Also Dutch government should take an active role in setting at least European standards for clean tech, as we’ve recently done for electric cars.

If this is done wisely the above mentioned technologies have the potential improve air quality both in The Netherlands and worldwide. Improving air quality will decrease health care cost, save millions of people from air pollution related illness, increase agricultural production (one of our top sectors) and even stall climate change as a side effect…

So let’s hope some we’ll see some Dutch clean tech on the Catwalk for Innovation next month.

This post was originally witten for and published by TEDxBinnenhof. Thanks to my former collegues for pointing me to the companies and research mentioned in this post. And to Ivo Stroeken, Advisor Electric Transportation, and Max Herold, owner at for critically reviewing draft versions.

Electrifying the Dutch – Part 3: alternatives for the alternative

Over the past few weeks I have written two articles on Electric Cars, part one & part two mentioning that electric cars are a valid alternative for the conventional car from an economical perspective and that these cars are offering mobility whilst considerably reducing the environmental impact. But still: can I use an electric car for my daily commute? Yes I can! Can I use an electric car to safely convey myself and my family across the Dutch countryside? Yes I can!  Can I get more than 100 km from a single charge without driving like my grandfather or without having to dress like entering an Antarctica expedition when temperatures fall? Yes I can!  Can I use an electric car to drive to Italy in my well-earned holidays? Yes I can! But I’d better make sure that I have extra time to spare.

Obviously the present electric cars do have some drawbacks which stand in the way of an one on one substitution of conventional cars by electric models.

First and foremost, an electric car needs time to charge. There is no denying that. Charging time differ from six to ten hours, which is generally more than the average motorist lingers at a petrol station. Adding injury to insult, a majority of households do not have a private parking space or the possibility to install a charging station. Luckily the number of public charging stations is steadily increasing, decreasing the need to carry around street lengths of extension wires. And most electric cars can use the fast charging protocol, decreasing the charging time till 90% to a mere 20 minutes. And if that’s still to long for you, some companies are aiming at replacing empty batteries with full ones in less then 3 minutes without the need to leave your car. The current aim is to realize well over 450 fast charging station across the Netherlands by the end of 2013, pretty much ending the feared syndrome known by all in the field of electric cars: range anxiety.

Another point to be made is that, when confronted with the limited range of a battery, electric car owners are reassessing the need for mobility and are rapidly becoming the forerunners of a new breed motorist. The route to and from work, to meetings etc used to be determined by the amount of traffic, the possibility of grabbing a nice lunch of combining business with… well business, such as the daily shopping for groceries. Range anxiety and the knowledge that petrol stations are effectively around every corner called for a planning which was the most efficient for the motorist, but not necessarily the most efficient in general.

With an electric car, users are looking for a more effective way to travel whilst meeting their demands and the effect is, to much surprise that the mileage is dropping without the number of meetings dropping. This simply means that users of an electric car are travelling more efficiently. The spacing and location of meetings is planned more effectively, decreasing the mileage. There is an increased use of car sharing programs also decreasing the mileage and – as a side-effect- decreasing the need for an employer to pay travel allowances.

Electrifying the DutchBut still, there are few motorists who willingly substitute there fuel guzzler for an electric car (apart from perhaps the Tesla.) The question is whether we should aim for  this substitution? I believe that electric cars make a paradigm shift from ownership of mobility to access to mobility a reality.

In the traditional way, we own a car. Or perhaps, in the case of a company car, we may not own the vehicle, but we sure feel like we own the car. One car (possibly two, for the school run), used for the daily commute, the trips to friends & family and holidays. One car, owned generally for more than four years. This car, seats four, generally transports 1,7 persons, travels less than 30 kilometers on a daily basis and carries a bag of some sorts, sometimes groceries. So it needn’t be a large car. But still it generally is, because we might want to travel to the grandparents over the weekend, or take off for a weekend to the Ardennes. So that is why we need a large conventional car, which can take us to Italy should we wish to.

But picture this: what if we can use a small electric car for the daily commute, or, even better, use a small electric car readily available, for the commute to work or the shops. Very fuel efficient, and preferably paid only for the use of the car, instead of for owning the car. This vehicle can transport us where we want, given the radius. For example, to a train station. We hop into the train, check in with the same RIFD-card which we used to access the electric car, travel to our destination. Upon arriving, we can choose between a rental (e)bike, public transport or once again, the electric car in the vicinity of the station to transport us to the appointment. The route back home is a repetition of the above! A distant future? No, very possible today.

And for the visit to the grandparents in Limburg, or a cycling weekend in the Ardennes? Could this limit our mobility, if we don’t have a large car with unlimited mileage given the petrol stations abound? No! All it takes is an innovative way of access to mobility! Access which delivers the car of choice (model, not necessarily make) to your doorstep without having to go through the hassle of going to a rental agency and renting a car. The car we need  would be available at the click of a button. Family with two young kids and up for a holiday trip to France? A station wagon! A romantic overnight stay? An Electric Smart! In need of a versatile, small and fast way of transport? Please. Use a bicycle!

What about the costs of renting a different car every single time? Well, it may come as a surprise, but considering the costs of car ownership over the year, renting  a car which specifically suits your demands is significantly less expensive than paying for car ownership. And as proves earlier, an electric car as a rental makes the equation even more profitable.

Is this possible today? Yes and no! There are very few providers who can offer such services but the main and limiting factor is us. We are very reluctant to give up the privilege of having a car at our disposal and mobility in its present form is still not too expensive for the average motorist to start reconsidering car ownership. Although some are renting their own car to others already.

However, I, for one, am convinced that in due time, when petrol prices rise (and they will) and the travel allowance is once again being renegotiated, people will reconsider and will realize that in the end, having access to mobility far outweighs the ownership of mobility. Let’s dumb the pump.

This post was orginally written for and published by TEDxBinnenhof in close collaboration with Ivo Stroeken, Advisor Electric Transportation, and Max Herold, owner at

Electrifying the Dutch – Part 2: the proof of the pudding is in the numbers

When I was thinking about writing an article on Electric Cars in the Netherlands, my stance was that I was not willing to enter the ongoing debate on whether or not one should WANT to abandon the conventional cars or not. In fact, as I mentioned in the first part, I can fully understand the merits of a particular brand of fuel powered car on the German Autobahn, or a 4×4 in the terrain.  That’s emotion, passion, even conviction.

However, I am equally convinced that in this day and age, there is no logical reason why we should not choose an electric car over a conventional model for our daily commute and for most of business travel by car.

The most obvious factor contributing to this opinion is the fact that an electric car is much more economical to run. Contrary to common belief, this is not achieved by driving the way my grandparents do. It is mainly due to the increased efficiency of an electric engine compared to the efficiency of a conventional internal combustion engine. The running costs of an electric car are considerably less than those of a conventional car. € 50,- would buy you enough regular petrol to get you roughly 350 km. € 50,- of electricity would get you approximately 1.000 km.

However, every car, whether electric, petrol- or Flintstone-powered is less than 100% efficient, the images below, taken from the Tesla Motors Website clarifies this.

Internal combustion engines are relatively inefficient at converting on-board fuel energy to propulsion as most of the energy is wasted as heat. On the other hand, electric motors are more efficient in converting stored energy into driving a vehicle, and electric drive vehicles do not consume energy while at rest or coasting, and some of the energy lost when braking is captured and reused through regenerative braking, which captures as much as one fifth of the energy normally lost during braking. Typically, conventional gasoline engines effectively use only 15% of the fuel energy content to move the vehicle or to power accessories, and diesel engines can reach on-board efficiencies of 20%, while electric drive vehicles have on-board efficiency of around 80%.

Only when we take the entire chain of processes into account (for electric cars and conventional cars equally) we can make a fair comparison. Once again, the Tesla Motor Company has created an of excellent image to explain this.

Another significant improvement of the electric car is the Well-to-Wheel efficiency. Normally fuel consumption and CO2-emissions are measured (literally) in the car. In the case of electric cars, this is not the whole story. Obviously the CO2 and other emissions at tailpipe are zero in the case of an electric car, there are emissions during the whole process of generating, transporting electricity etc. It is understandable that, when the electricity comes from renewable sources, such as solar energy, wind, water etc the emissions are far less that when the electric cars are charged from the grid, using electricity from coal-powered power plants.

There are numerous studies being undertaken for the Dutch & European situation at this moment, but because of the increasing number of available  models, their efficiency and perhaps even more important the debate on the power sources, following the nuclear disaster in Japan, there is no real accurate study at this moment. In the US however, the Union of Concerned Scientists have released a very recent study on the electric cars in relation to the power source and grid stability in the US (This shows that even in the area’s where the grid the least stable and electricity is generated from coal, the electric car is as fuel efficient and has the same or less of an environmental impact that a relatively small car, such as a Ford Fiesta.

So, does this end the debate? No, it does not in my opinion.Yes, electric cars are more efficient, cheaper to run, have an equal or less environmental impact than conventional cars. But an electric car cannot take me to Spain, unless I have a lot of time on my hands, the number of models are limited and obviously charging times are still very long. But I feel strongly that when electric cars are combined with smart alternatives, they can and will offer a valid alternative to the ownership of a conventional car. So stay tuned for part three: “alternatives for the alternative?”

This post was originally written for and published by TEDxBinnenhof in close collaboration with Ivo Stroeken, Advisor Electric Transportation, and Max Herold, owner at

Electrifying the Dutch – Part 1: the debate

Ever since the introduction of the Th!nk City in The Netherlands in 2009, there has been an everlasting debate on the pro’s and con’s of electric cars in the Netherlands, and there are no signs that we are anywhere near reaching consensus on this subject.

The question is: do we WANT to reach consensus, or rather, why should we strive for consensus? I, for one, see no point in this.

Despite the high costs of purchase, the number of electric cars registered in the Netherlands are exploding, from somewhere to 100 in January 2009 to well over 1500 by March 2012. Of course, when compared to the total number of cars (well over 7 million) this is, well, a modest start. But didn’t Confucius say:” A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”?

One might wonder why those early adopters went ahead and purchased these vehicles in the first place? Expensive, range of 150 km maximum, no public infrastructure for charging the vehicle other than an extension cord, the battery has to remain plugged in otherwise it would bleed and it’s range would diminish to zero in roughly a week. The owners were either admired or ridiculed, depending on the perspective. But still, they went ahead and did it and discovered something amazing.

The sum of all fears for prospective owners (or rather, users) of an electric vehicle is called range anxiety. Only 150 km on a single charge. And refueling the car would take at least eight hours, even more. Not really versatile when compared to conventional cars. But what those hard-core users found out is that range anxiety is fundamentally non-existent. The only issue they had, was that they had to plan their journeys more carefully, to prevent the battery from running on empty. One added advantage of this was an increased efficiency of their daily business practice and a significant decrease of their travel distance, without, obviously, compromising their effectiveness! And of course, with the ever increasing number of fast charging stations (200 by the end of 2012, well over 300 by the end of 2013) the issue of running out of juice is merely a matter of pressing too hard or plain poor planning.

Those first vehicles would set you back roughly € 40.000 which is, frankly, staggering and there was virtually no choice in brands or models. That kind of money would buy you a decent set of wheels, even back in 2009. Lease of these vehicles was no different matter, because nobody in the car business knew what the long term development of their investment in those vehicles would yield, and so the lease-prices were even more staggering. You had to be pretty convinced or determined to even consider using an electric vehicle back then.

Today is an entirely different story altogether. Virtually all car manufacturers of conventional cars are developing new electric models from scratch, for prices which are much more interesting. Yes, those vehicles are still much more expensive than their conventional cousins. But a select number of providers, believing in the residual value of these cars, is starting to offer realistic lease prices, making the electric cars even cheaper than their conventional brethren, when comparing the annual total costs of ownership. This way, enterprises can actually start to convert part of their fleet from conventional vehicles to electric ones.

The prospective users of those cars are, of course, an entirely different matter. There are very few ‘owners’ of a company car who make this decision based on the environmental effects of the car. And those few just might be the ones who bought the first electric cars in 2009. The vast majority makes this decision based on the brand, versatility, fuel consumption and additional tax liability. This last aspect has caused a massive increase in numbers of sales of the Toyota Prius & Auris, the Honda Civic Hybrid etc.

Electric cars can benefit from an even greater advantage, the fuel consumption is dramatically less then it’s conventional counterparts and, due to the emissions on which the additional tax liability is based, there is a 0% tax bracket.

The increasing number of makes & models can provide the same (or challenge even) the level of comfort and ride of the conventional car, makes the electric car a much more valid alternative. And an added bonus is the amazing torque offered an electric car. A necessity is the availability of ‘access to mobility’ providers, for, for example a weekend trip to the Belgian Ardennes in a conventional car without having to go to the hassle of renting a car. Again, certain mobility providers are offering these services as we speak, making this a reality and thus ensuring that the driver of an electric car can access the mode of transportation they need, whenever they need it.

In this day and age, there is no logical reason why we should not choose an electric car over a conventional model for our daily commute and for most of business travel by car.

The question I’ve started off with was, however: do we WANT to reach consensus over the electric car? No we don’t.

I can very much understand and even appreciate ones point of view when someone states that they immensely enjoy the ability to reach 200 km/h and over on the German motorways, or how a particular brand of 4×4 really ‘does it for them’. At present it’s an illusion to think or, even more, to try to convince someone to substitute their beloved brand X for an electric car, and I for one, am not prepared to enter this debate.

What I am convinced of, and I will prove this in ‘electrifying the Dutch, part 2: the proof of the pudding is in the numbers’, is that electric cars offer a valid, and often economically more viable alternative to conventional cars.

This post was originally written for and published at TEDxBinnenhof in close collaboration with Ivo Stroeken, Advisor Electric Transportation, and Max Herold, owner at

TEDxBinnenhof: Innovation in Construction – part 2: Energy Producing Buildings

In my first postI linked to a TEDx talk by an architect who showed a lot of innovative ideas to construct more sustainable buildings and cities. In this post I will focus on ways the construction industry is enabling him and his colleagues to actually build them. Reducing the energy use and increasing the energy generation capacity of buildings is a central theme, but the focus is shifting towards more integrated approaches. In this post I will focus on energy, because I think it still remains the question whether the Dutch regulatory framework is facilitating the transition towards energy neutral and energy producing buildings.

Increasing the energy generation capacity of buildings
It is becoming increasingly clear that solar power is reaching grid parity for consumers in The Nethterlands, according to some the price of solar power has fallen below grid parity for consumers already. The Dutch are becoming totally enthousiastic about collective purchasing of solar power. In 2009 Urgenda started the collective purchasing action called we want solare (Wij Willen Zon). Currently there are over 60 active collective purchasing actions in the Netherlands. Even now, more local community energy companies are starting everywhere in the Netherlands.

For those who won’t or can’t afford the upfront investment in solar panels a growing number of solar as a service companies are starting. Zonline, for example, offers consumers solar panels paid by a fixed price per kilowatt hour electricity produced. They’ve only just started, but looking at Dutch consumer prices for electricity (around 21 to 23 Eurocent per kilowatt hour, about 70% of which are taxes) and the growth rate of it’s US partner Sungevity it promises to be a booming business. Other companies, like Rooftop Energy are applying the same business model to the business market. Which is a bit more difficult as companies pay a lower rate for electricity. Still the first examples of local governments using solar lease to get solar on their rooftops are popping up. For business placing solar on your own rooftop can be part of their CSR strategy too.

Different forms of sustainable heating are catching up too. Sometimes (old fashioned ) based on using the waste heat of waste incinerators, but also based on heat pumps (air-to-air or air-to-water) or geo-thermal power.

Reducing energy use
Although solar energy is the sexiest kid on the block, it surely isn’t the only one.
Stimulated by the energy label for buildings and rising energy prices a growing number of companies are offering help to property owners to reduce their energy use in existing buildings. Most of them demand upfront investments by the property owner. A few are exploring new business models and let property owners repay their investment through a reduction in their energy bill. In the commercial property market (offices, swimming pools) energy service companies (ESCo’s) are emerging. ESCo’s are offering a way to reduce the energy use budget neutral or even with a direct reduction in costs for the property owner or tenant. The upfront investments are done by the ESCo. The reduction in energy use can be achieved by changes to the installations, but also by adjustments to the façade of the building.

Some companies are even exploring business models that combine ESCo’s with green lease agreements. Which is a logical combination, as even the most energy efficient building will use a lot of energy if the tenant doesn’t change it’s habits.

Examples for the residential market include WAIFER and Qurrent. WAIFER says it can renovate a home within weeks and is currently renovating around 2500 homes from housing corporations in the Rotterdam area. Qurrent advertises as a new kind of energy company: one that wants to sell as little energy as possible.

Dutch regulatory framework
The Dutch regulatory framework for the construction industry used to consists mainly on construction. As energy generation is increasing because of the rise in popularity of solar panels, amongst others, the regulatory framework for the energy industry is becoming increasingly pressing. Energy regulation is mainly focused on centralized energy production making little use of lessons learned in other environmental policy fields or in other countries. Despite the subsidy for sustainable energy and many policy changes The Netherlands are lacking behind in sustainable energy.

For example users of sustainable energy have to pay the same amount of energy tax as users of fossil energy. This means sustainable energy has to be subsidized to be able to compete with fossil energy at wholesale prices. For cars the Dutch government has chosen a different strategy making fuel efficient cars more attractive using tax incentives. Looking at the sales figures of hybrids like the Toyota Prius this has proven a very successful strategy.

The high energy tax on (sustainable) energy does make investments in energy efficiency and solar power more attractive, especially for consumers. This will put a growing pressure on the 2 billion Euro in energy taxes the Dutch government collects from users of residential buildings each year.

To make things worse for government budget some community owned energy companies have stopped paying energy taxes on energy used by their members/investors. They claim that there is no difference between people growing their own food and transporting it to their home via public infrastructure and producing your own energy and using public infrastructure to get the energy to your home. It is not yet known if judges will agree, but it does show that current legislation is hindering people who try to provide their own energy together with their neighbors. Pretty strange if you consider the fact that some Dutch politicians are complaining about the nimby-behaviour of Dutch citizens.

Changes for Dutch government
Things can be arranged differently as the Dutch government has a well established system of reaping the benefits of our natural gas supplies. Through EBN, a subsidiary of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Dutch government offers the possibility to provide up to 40% of the necessary capital for the exploration and production of natural gas and oil. Dutch government earned around 6 billion Euro from this investments in 2011 alone. So why not use the same model to finance sustainable energy now that it has become a profitable alternative?

This alternate business model, based on the exploration and exploitation of sustainable energy, would earn a growing income for the Dutch government as opposed to the decreasing income if more inhabitants will change to solar power as a primary source of energy. It can also decrease the funds and manpower necessary for subsidizing alternate sources of energy, thus reducing the costs of reaching the sustainable energy goals set by the Dutch government.

For solar power it can help in decreasing the costs and improving the efficiency of the installations. Take for example my own neighborhood. An average house can uphold about 6 till 9 solar panels, while larger installations are relatively cheaper to install. I would love to be able to combine my installation with the neighbors and exchange the energy generated. Current legislation makes that financially unattractive if not impossible, whereas there would be a valid business case for combining our solar energy systems under a different regulatory framework.

Similar cases are abundant all through the Netherlands, not only for rooftop solar PV installations, but also for the production of biogas or heat recovery from waste water treatment. Adjusting the regulatory framework would also open up opportunities for other technologies like using the heat generated by roads or datacenters to cool and warm our buildings.

Due to the current regulatory framework for energy those types of innovation need subsidy way to long and large scale application is pushed to the future setting Dutch companies on a disadvantage in the international market.

What can we learn from the above? I think the best lesson to be learned is that it’s time to shift pardigm. With sustainable energy becoming competitive with fossil energy (despite existing subsidies and tax breaks for fossil fuel) there are chances for both Dutch government, society and entrepreneurs if we can apply lessons learned from other policy fields to sustainable energy.

For example the government could increase the amount of sustainable energy produced by variating the amount of energy tax paid for sustainable energy and fossil energy. The downside of this policy is that part of the benefit will go to foreign producers of sustainable energy and not towards more sustainable energy production in The Netherlands.

Changing the energy tax system in such a way that no energy tax has to be paid on energy produced by your own solar panels, windturbine or part of the solar road, does have a lot of potential to increase sustainable energy production in The Netherlands. It will bring possibilities to rationalize the decision to invest for consumers. Combining solar installations with your neighbors, using noise barriers next to highways for large scale solar pv installations (like Solar Green Point is promoting) or using heat collected from highways to keep buildings warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

To speed up the development even further and to yield some of the financial benefits the government could use part of the profits from oil and gas production for co-investing in sustainable energy production. Like some local government are already doing.

This way the government gets more than a double dividend. The first benefit will be that the amount of necessary subsidies for sustainable energy can be reduced. The subsidy can be focused on innovative technologies, like tidal power or offshore wind. Dutch government will get a growing revenue base from investments in sustainable energy production to compensate for the expected downward trends in energy taxes. The governmentbudget can be safeguarded even more if existing tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuels are removed or decreased, like Maria van der Hoeven executive director of the International Energy Agency calls upon.

For investors and entrepreneurs in sustainable energy the co-investment from the Dutch government acts as an assurance that Dutch policy won’t change overnight, just like the current investments by EBN in oil and gas do for fossil fuel companies.

This post was originally written for and published at TEDxBinnenhof with the support of Ivo Stroeken and Max Herold.

TEDxBinnenhof: Innovation in Construction – Part 1

I’m working for a large construction company, not the type of company normally associated with innovation at the Binnenhof. Which is pretty strange as a lot of architects  are considered innovative or even visionary. Today I’ll show you one of my favorite TEDxAmsterdam videos featuring Bjarke Ingels a Danish architect.

For me Bjarke Ingels TEDx talk is all about creativity, innovation and sustainability. In my opinion sustainable development is not a a static moment, nor is it about feeling guilty. For me sustainability is all about movement, change and adjusting to the circumstances. It also shows that the Dutch may think they are pretty innovative and advanced, but looking abroad might make a little bit less pretentions…

This post was written for and originally published at TEDxBinnenhof.

Bloggen voor TEDxBinnenhof

Op 25 juni organiseert de rijksoverheid TEDxBinnenhof. De organisatie noemt het een Catwalk voor innovatie, waar inspirerende en grensverleggende ideeën uit Nederland voor het aanpakken van mondiale problemen worden gepresenteerd. De Catwalk for Innovation wordt gelivestreamed op verschillende locaties in Nederland en op deelnemende Nederlandse ambassades.

Ik heb geen idee welke ideeën zich mogen presenteren. De komende maanden mag ik wel bloggen over innovatie. Uiteraard ga ik daarbij ideeën behandelen die volgens mij een plekje op de catwalk verdienen. Te beginnen bij de bouwsector, waar ik in werkzaam ben. De komende weken kun je echter nog bijdragen verwachten over elektrische auto’s en duurzame innovaties.

Ideeën, opmerkingen en commentaar zijn welkom. Mijn bijdrage van deze week is tot stand gekomen met hulp van Ivo Stroeken en Max Herold. Ik plaats de bijdrages die ik schrijf voor TEDxBinnenhof met een vertraging van twee weken ook hier op mijn eigen weblog.

De eerste twee berichten staan inmiddels online en kan je hier vinden: