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Centre for Energy Economics Research

Faculteit Economie en Bedrijfskunde
Centre for Energy Economics Research
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Rick Holsgens´ PhD Thesis Defense: Energy Transitions in the Netherlands.

Datum:23 november 2016
Auteur:Ben Gales

Energy transitions: drifting or steering?

Energy dominates the debate on sustainability. It is also the focus of Energy Transitions in the Netherlands. Sustainability Challenges in a Historical and Comparative Perspective, Rick Hölsgens’ Ph.D. thesis defended at the University of Groningen. Hölsgens demonstrates that the challenges of sustainable development are time-honoured, if not stricken in years. Hölsgens goes back to the beginnings of the industrial revolution in the Netherlands and analyses four issues. He considers the vulnerability of the energy system and dependence upon foreign suppliers. He discusses efficiency in energy use. He analyses emissions of sulfur and carbon dioxide and fourthly he looks at the damage on the surface caused by extraction of coal underground.

The Netherlands went through three energy transitions since 1800. Better, subjects created transitions. That is a major lesson of this book. Soon after 1900, the Dutch State Mines were established, because the Netherlands had become dependent upon a few coal exporting nations and indigenous production seemed possible and viable, but did not materialize ‘automatically’. The Dutch state therefore intervened with a liberal innovation of ‘nationalising’ energy. A second lesson draws upon the alternation of priorities in the public debate, so that innovation and retardation interchange continuously. A famous Dutch historian coined this the law of the jammed lead. Efficiency and security became opposing forces after the Dutch gas-revolution. Natural gas made the Dutch energy system drastically less CO2 -intensive in one stroke. Further reductions were minimal and undone by the renewed interest in coal. The oil-crisis focused attention upon risks of supply. Hölsgens prime conclusion: government is crucial in steering complex change. The thesis therefore fits in an emerging trend: a good state is more than a night-watchman. At least, a state can be more. Centuries of experience do teach that.

Ben Gales


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