The 14th edition of our monthly SDG Meetup in collaboration with SDG House explored Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7: Affordable & Clean Energy through the contributions from renewable energy entrepreneurs and experts.

The Dutch National Climate Agreement aims to achieve a 49% reduction in national greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. With the Netherlands lagging behind most EU countries in renewable energy production – only 7.4% in 2018 – our speakers optimistically outlined how Dutch sustainable energy innovations could turn the emissions tide and contribute to achieving ambitious national and global climate targets. 

Dutch National Energy Commissioner | Building mission control for SDG 7

An entrepreneur and pioneer of the energy transition, Ruud Koornstra is the first National Energy Commissioner of the Netherlands and chairman of Smart Climate Opportunities. “An entrepreneur is a dreamer”, said Koornstra, who one morning, 10 years ago, woke up his wife to share his dream: paradise on Earth for 10 billion people by 2030. Koornstra got what he calls a ‘license to operate’ when the SDGs were ratified by the UN; his dream became a UN mission. SDG 7 is all about power to the people – truly sustainable, almost-for-free energy for all. He believes that achieving SDG 7 would trigger a snowball effect of similar success for other interconnected SDGs, including clean water and sanitation, poverty eradication, mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, food security, education, and sustainable cities and communities.

To achieve SDG 7, Koornstra introduced the idea of ‘mission control’, similar to that used in space or military missions. “Not all missions are about soldiers and fighting; you also need technology, storytelling, and funding“, Koornstra explains. “We have the create a perfect storm in 10 years”. As someone helped bring the ubiquitous LED bulb to the world, he has had his fair share of naysayers. But Koornstra is firmly convinced that revolutionary thinking and courage are key. “In business and our lives, we must always start with ‘re-‘: reorganize, reform, rethink, redesign, redevelop, regenerate. And keep the future generation in mind”, he said with a photo of his children onscreen.

Kavalasta | A realistic scenario for the Dutch energy transition

Co-founder and partner of Kalavasta, a strategy consultancy focused on transitions to sustainable equilibria, Rob Terwel took the audience on the Netherlands’ journey to carbon neutrality – from 1990 and with scenarios leading up to 2050. Terwel set the scene by referring to Urgenda case and the landmark ruling of the Dutch Supreme Court, which found that the government must reduce GHG emissions by 25% in 2020 against the same 1990 levels. But Dutch emissions are estimated to have been reduced by only 18%, which makes the Netherlands the lowest performer in the EU. “It took us 25 years, from 1990 to 2015, to reduce our emissions by just 12%” Terwel adds. “The Netherlands will end up paying a few hundred million euro to EU members who have met their targets by 2020”. 

As part of the upcoming Integrale Infrastruuctuur Verkenning 2030-2050, an exploratory study focusing on future-proof energy networks and grid operators, Kalavasta and Berenschot developed a scenario using the technical targets of Dutch Climate Agreement, such as having 2,1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030. However, Terwel points out that the scenario is rather optimistic and assumes effective policies, including government subsidies for renewables not account for ineffective. As a best-case scenario, the reduction in Dutch emissions is 48% by 2030. But given that in the past 5 years emissions only went down by 6%, the energy transition should go three times as fast. Ending on a positive note, Terwel reminded the audience that, although the emission reduction targets are unlikely, actively striving towards them is “still a lot cheaper than doing nothing”.

Sympower | Making the electrical grid smart and flexible

As CEO and co-founder of Sympower, Simon Bushell‘s mission is to contribute to the systemic change needed to stop the climate crisis. Sympower, a smart energy/cleantech company, believes that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our generation, that the energy transition is fundamental for acting on climate change, and that the smart and flexible use of electrical assets is key to the energy transition. To build in more flexibility in electrification as we transition to rather unpredictable solar and wind energy, Sympower connects its clients’ appliances to a cloud-based system. When the grid is under stress, due to excessive or insufficient electricity, Sympower adjusts the consumption of these appliances. Using the example of the SDG House, that would mean lowering the temperature from say 21 degrees Celsius to 20,5 degrees or increasing it minimally; tenants would not feel the difference, and the client would get paid for helping to balance the grid and to reduce the system’s carbon footprint.

Bushell also spoke of a more flexible electricity grid’s direct and indirect impacts. Direct effects include less reliance on fossil fuel plants for balancing the electricity grid and the mothballing of the least efficient plants, which would get used less often. As indirect effects, these range from enabling the integration of more renewables to breaking the 30% barrier of renewable energy that the grid can currently take on, and changing energy policies and decision-making on local and national levels. Bushell concluded with a call to action: if you know of any potential BROs (Balancing Resource Owners) – from malls to factories – give Sympower a shout!

We Drive Solar | Pioneering biredectional charging stations & cars 

Robin Berg, founder and owner of We Drive Solar, realized the potential of using our cars as a battery on wheels. As car batteries are getting bigger and bigger, 75% of one’s battery is not used during a regular commute. A driver could thus store solar and wind energy when it’s peaking in the grid and share when it’s less available. Inspired by Japanese tech solutions after the Fukushima nuclear disaster when people could get much-needed electricity from their own car batteries, Berg pioneered the first bidirectional charging station in Europe 5 years ago, in Utrecht’s Lombok neighborhood. 200 electric cars, about 10% of all of the vehicles in Lombok, can power an entire neighborhood through bidirectional charging. And Berg believes that the entire city of Utrecht could be powered for a whole night by just 8,500 cars.

Four years ago, We Drive Solar signed a deal with Renault on making bidirectional charging – which used to work only with Japanese technology – an open standard. One of the company’s key allies for achieving their ambition to make this type of charging technology the norm is, unsurprisingly, the city of Utrecht, which hopes to become the world’s premier location for bidirectional public charging. 150 of the new charging stations in Utrecht will be bidirectional. And although most cars will just be charging for now – and not putting electricity back into the grid – all of these stations will be future-proof. The national government has thrown its support behind other municipalities who want to follow in Utrecht’s footsteps; subsidies worth €5 million euro are available to cities that want to install bidirectional charging stations.