Vacancy: Dutch Clean Energy Champion
The Dutch clean energy scene looks at the developments in neighbouring Germany with admiration – and jealousy. Although in the 80s, the renewable energy industries in Germany and the Netherlands started from a roughly similar base, currently Germany is way ahead of the Netherlands. The private sector, citizens, political parties: in Germany there is a consensus, led by credible and effective leaders such as the late Hermann Scheer, that the energy future will be sustainable. This conviction is heartfelt, robust and leading to an attractive market for renewables.
In the Netherlands, there has been no such leadership. In fact, the clean energy sector is fragmented and is in dire need of organisation, we found recently at the Clean Energy Drinks. Those present at the October Clean Energy Drinks, an informal get-together in a bar in Amsterdam, asked themselves the question: if we would make a list of the 100 individuals in the Netherlands who are most influential for the benefit of clean energy, who would be on it?
As national newspaper Trouw had just published a “Sustainable top 100” along the same lines, we thought something like that for clean energy would be easy. Just think of those people who are charismatic, are active in politics as well as in local communities, are exemplary renewable energy users themselves, combine a deep belief in clean energy with good knowledge and realistic ideas about clean energy, can unify industry and people’s interests behind the idea that our energy future must be sustainable, and organise national and international action. Sort of the Hermann Scheer of the Low Lands.
Unfortunately, it was not easy at all to identify such people in the Netherlands. Sure, we came up with a list. But there was no clear winner, not even in specific fields. A colleague working on bio-refineries could not think of a person who he would call a champion in his field. For solar energy, a professor with excellent applied R&D achievements and effective collaboration with the solar industry came to the fore as the clear winner, but his political influence is limited. The director of Stichting Urgenda, a foundation aimed at local sustainability initiatives, who came in first at the Sustainable top 100 list, is very visible and is doing great work, but remains focussed on bottom-up initiatives and so far has not succeeded at forming a national movement that impacts national politics and policy. The politicians working for clean energy are not unifying enough, distracted by other themes or not with ruling political parties. The most persistent of the clean energy industry in the Netherlands, struggling for survival after fifteen years of highly variable, investment-stymying government policy, is divided and scrambling for the few remaining investment opportunities.
All these individuals and fragmented interests are easy prey for the well-organised, powerful and affluent gas and oil industry lobby.
The Netherlands is in desperate need of clean energy leadership, and the impact of the lack of leadership is showing. The government still gets away with unpredictable and pro-fossil policies, and the pressure to change this is easy to resist. The Netherlands is one of the worst performers in Europe: Less than 4% of all energy in the Netherlands in 2011 was generated by renewables, and less than 10% of electricity.
So what to do? Which person, preferably a high-ranked politician in a mainstream party with a charismatic but selfless personality, wants to devote his or her life to unite the Dutch clean energy stakeholders and take on the fossil dominance? A vacancy has emerged for a rewarding and challenging position, with excellent benefits!
Heleen de Coninck is associate professor at the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and a fellow at the Wiardi Beckman Stichting, a social-democratic think tank based in The Hague.