February Success Story: the Rising Tide of Dutch Cooperatives
Community energy is key to action on the climate crisis. It can empower people, boost local economies, and reinvigorate communities. Community-led initiatives play an important part in the transition towards a 100% renewable and just energy future. Success stories of community energy projects can be found all over Europe. At RESCoop.eu we want to highlight these stories, in order to further accelerate the movement towards a cleaner and democratic system. Today we’re putting the spotlight on the growing impact of energy cooperatives in The Netherlands.
Tracking (r)evolutions in the local energy landscape
Each year climate foundation ‘HIER opgewekt’ (meaning ‘produced locally’) makes an inventory of the impact of energy cooperatives on the Dutch energy system. The ‘Local Energy Monitor’ sheds light on the (growing) presence of citizen initiatives in the overall Dutch energy landscape. The most significant finding for 2020 is that quality replaced quantity. Siward Zomer, cooperative director of Energie Samen, the Dutch federation of energy communities, explains:
“We saw an exponential growth of the number of energy cooperatives in the last six years. This year the growth in the number of new initiatives slowed down, but the activities and projects of the existing ones grew and became bigger and more professional. The community energy initiatives also diversified their activities from only production to district heating, renovation and mobility. We see a consolidation and cooperation between the community energy initiatives.”
Today, the Netherlands are home to 623 energy cooperatives . As Siward Zomer mentions the number of cooperatives has stagnated in 2020. Their (generation) capacity, on the other hand, continues to grow substantially and is expected to continue to do so in the coming years. This applies to all alternative energy resources and services, from solar to wind, renovation, mobility and heating. To give a few numbers:
- Collective solar power capacity grew with 41% compared to 2019, with at least 211 projects scheduled for the near future. Today the Netherlands counts a total of 814 collective solar projects, equalling the capacity to answer to the electricity demand of almost 50.000 households.
- Cooperative wind power capacity reached a total of 229,9 MW. This is an increase of 37,1 MW compared to 2019, with 92,5 MW still to be realised the coming year;
- The number of collective heating initiatives equally saw an impressive growth of about 43% compared to the previous year.
Siward Somer emphasises that this growth is primarily the result of these cooperatives’ own efforts. But a supporting framework is in the making and will be functional this year. Therefore, Siward Somer expects even greater growth in activities and projects in the coming years.
A growing societal impact (and responsibilities)
These rising figures testify to a growing impact of local, citizen-led initiatives, not only in the field of renewable energy, but also as societal actors, keeping benefits local and empowering citizens. For Gijs Termeer, director of climate foundation ‘HIER opgewekt’, this is proof of the indispensable role of energy cooperatives in the transition to a future energy system where no one is left behind. This societal role is also increasingly recognized by the (Dutch) governments, the market and society, which provides opportunities to take part in decision making, claim position and make things happen.
Ready for the future
With 623 energy cooperatives across the country, almost everyone in the Netherlands now has the option to join a local initiative. Already, about 100.000 citizens participate in these local energy projects. The existing cooperatives are transforming into dynamic and effective organisations with more projects, members and participants. More than ever, quality is taking precedence over quantity in the Dutch energy cooperative landscape. Yet there is still plenty of room to grow in many directions. With the unceasing vibrancy of the Dutch movement, citizen energy cooperatives are undoubtedly up for that challenge.
 Each year, Hier opgewekt’ publishes a local energy monitor giving an overview of the current local energy initiatives in the Netherlands