Sustainable society needs more room for local initiatives and innovative technology. Furthermore, practical scenarios linking sustainable energy generated locally to existing energy systems are needed. The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) has awarded a grant worth € 375,000 to the University of Groningen (Dr Henny van der Windt) and the University of Twente (Dr Ellen van Oost) for research into the technological and social potential of local sustainable energy systems. A number of commercial companies will also make a practical and financial contribution to the study, bringing the total investment in the project to € 500,000.
The research fits in perfectly with the Responsible Innovation programme being run by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), which aims to tailor technological research to the social needs of citizens and businesses.
The recent emergence of local energy cooperatives is an important social innovation which will cause drastic changes in the landscape of sustainable energy development. This research project looks into improving the ways that these local initiatives tie in with technological energy innovations. The unstable nature of sustainable energy sources, such as the sun and wind, heightens the need for smart innovations to store and control sustainable local energy. Mutual synchronization is essential to reinforce the role of decentralized energy systems during the transition to a sustainable society.
Two concrete technological innovations are at the heart of this research, both of them new, innovative, sustainable forms of local energy storage: the environmentally friendly sea salt battery developed by the Dr Ten company, and a smart thermal storage system developed by Ecovat. The network company Cogas Duurzaam is keen to explore better ways of organizing the electricity supply and is an important partner in this project.
One of the issues being addressed concerns the technologies that Dutch energy cooperatives, particularly those in the north and east of the Netherlands, use and perhaps even modify to realize their sustainability and autonomy ambitions. As the Dutch initiatives are very recent, a comparison will be made with similar Dutch collectives for managing water and agricultural land which operated in the past. In addition, the study will try to discover what can be learned from strategies deployed by Danish, German and other European energy cooperatives. The Danish island Samsø and the German village Lathen are both examples of energy-neutral places with an active energy cooperative.
The multidisciplinary study is based on historical, socio-scientific and applied natural-scientific strategies. It will be carried out by the Science & Society Group of the University of Groningen and the Science, Technology & Society Studies (STePS) group of the University of Twente, in association with Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen, the Energy Academy Europe in Groningen, researchers from the Green Energy Initiative (University of Twente) and the companies mentioned above. Other parties with an interest in introducing local sustainable energy will also be actively involved in the project. These include energy cooperatives, government bodies, environmental federations and the companies Enexis, PvD IMC and De Klerk Media.
The project wants to lay the foundations for a sustainable society that creates more room for local initiatives and innovative technology. One of the aims is to develop scenarios for local sustainable energy that to some extent tie in with the existing energy systems.
Dr Henny J. van der Windt
, Science & Society Group, University of Groningen.
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