On Friday February 23th, the 21st Geo Promotion Event was held in the Martinikerk and the Provinciehuis in Groningen. The theme of this year’s edition was ‘’Energize the future; spatial implementation of energy policies’’. As the title says: it was all about future energy systems and how to spatially and socially implement these into society. The program was filled with key-note speakers, a panel discussion and two rounds of workshops provided by fourteen partners of the organisation. Girugten looks, through this article, back on this interesting and inspiring day and summarizes the main lessons learned covered by this topic.

Written by: Stefano Blezer and Jeroen de Regt.

The event started with three interesting key-not speakers: Mrs. Nienke Homan (Member of the Provincial Executive of the Province of Groningen), Mr. Ad van Wijk (One of the most influential entrepreneurs and researchers in the field of future energy systems) and Mr. Evert den Boer (CEO at Greenchoice). The host of the day, Anton Buijs (Gasterra) started off by stating that ‘we have to change’, meaning that the traditional ways to gather energy will have to change to new, sustainable solutions. And, most importantly, we together need to make these changes fast. During the event, the focus was on the challenges that come along with these changes in different perspectives.

Of course, part of the focus of the event was on our own local environment, in this case meaning the province of Groningen represented by Nienke Homan. The province has set the goal to provide green energy to large parts of the Netherlands. To achieve this goal, a range of local green projects are set up, particularly in the Eemsmond area. In the nearby future, Groningen wants to produce ten gigawatts of wind energy through offshore windparks in the next five to ten years. This is very ambitious and asks for a radical policy change regarding spatial planning, which currently is still too much focused on old, more traditional ways of energy production.

The governmental perspective gave a basic insight into how local governments deal with energy transition. The more technical side of this topic was filled by Ad van Wijk’s guest lecture, who believes that hydrogen energy is the source we should focus on. Providing examples from the far east and bold statements on our current situation, the emphasis was laid on the idea that the Netherlands could use very much of the current energy infrastructure as a basis for the future. Additionally, he stated that spatial planning should focus on radical energy production changes as well, thus ending his brief presentation with pretty much the same conclusion as Nienke Homan (province of Groningen) did.

Evert de Boer laid its focus on the idea that the energy transition should be considered as being a revolution, by stating that changes can and should go really fast. He believes that energy firms prefer the traditional situation, because right now they pretty much control the energy market: consumers from any kind are dependent on their production. Sustainable energy sources could lead to a less influential position for current energy firms, even if they make the full switch to sustainable energy sources as well. This may be the case because sustainable energy can be produced on a lower scale – like, for example, solar parks that provide energy for a small or mid-sized town. De Boer states that spatial planning should enable the possibilities for local initiatives to take place in order to make examples like small solar parks reality.

The panel discussion got input from five statements about energy policy related issues and four panel members: Mr. Bert de Jonge (Lawyer at Enexis), Mr. Christiaan Zuidema (Professor of Spatial Planning at the University of Groningen), Mr. Jeroen Bakker (Program manager energy transition at the province of Groningen) and Mr. Robert van Tuinen (Business manager energy & data port at Groningen Seaports). The topics were about wind farms on- and offshore, the tensions between heat and electricity, who should manage the energy transition process, the self-supportive character in energy of the province of Groningen and about the aim of policy to face out natural gas in a really fast way. Critically responded by the panel members is the fact that the energy transition challenge is simply too complex to give clear answer right now. Some problems are large-scale focussed, some problems are context-driven and others are simply inevitable to get rid of or unknown how to deal with. However, it is clear that we have to face this challenge together in what way so ever. Different sectors, different perspectives, different roles, different stakeholders; all have to collaborate and may experiment to find suitable solutions to the challenges ahead.

During the day, two rounds of workshops were provided by the fourteen partners of Geo Promotion. They gave us inspiring presentations, different perspectives to the energy transition and challenged us to think creative and in a novel way to issues related to the topic. In this article it is not possible to give a description of all workshops which were held, but two in which members of Girugten were involved are interesting to mention shortly. Close to our home place where we all study, a big challenge is going on. RIO Projects wants to improve the Zernike Campus to a living lab to provide student with more opportunities and facilities both study- and work related as well as for recreational purposes. A living lab is a process-tool to participate and co-create with stakeholders in development processes within a region. In contract to this area-specific challenge, the Province of Groningen provides us with a game; The We-Energy Game. In this game you, in principal, can use any geographical map to indicates which issues are faced when trying to make that map ready for the energy transition. The game encourages us to rethink the energy transition in different perspectives and how to combine strengths to complete this transition together.

To conclude, the event can be summarized by stating that quick thinking is required in order to make the right changes in spatial planning, which in turn should enable possibilities for sustainable energy initiatives to take place. The event gave us different perspectives and visions on how to tackle the energy transition on different planning scales. Further, the Netherlands could become more energy independent, and most importantly, the long-awaited shift from traditional to sustainable energy sources would finally able to really take off. This would be the Dutch part of the biggest challenge the global population currently faces: tackling climate change and saving large parts of the planet for future generations.

Top photo: Geo Promotion (2018).