Tag Archives: Energy

Generating energy; what other sustainable options are there besides solar and wind energy?

When we think about generating energy in a sustainable way –thus no use of fossil fuels- most people think about solar panels and large (ugly) windmills. Of course not without a reason, because both options have already been proven to be very efficient and have become cheaper and better every year. But to generate energy there are so many other nice possibilities that each have their own set of extra benefits. It would be a shame to neglect these options.

What about all the people that work there asses off in the local gym? Why is the power generated by all their hard work not being used to burn our lights yet? About 20 % of the population in the Netherlands over 15 years has a gym membership.That’s about 3.2 million people if they all run say, one hour per week on a treadmill. That would already be 3.2 million*52 hours= 166.4 million hours on a treadmill. One hour on a treadmill gains you about 400 watts. So that’s 166.4 million *400 watt. That can be used. The bonus here of course is that people also get healthier!

Honey, I’d like to charge my phone tonight, could you please go on the treadmill this time?

Another idea could be to take an advantage out of our ageing problem. We have more and more elderly people with failing body’s like for example incontinence. In Japan diapers of elderly people are being used to recycle the paper and plastic from the diaper, but they have found a system which can separate the faeces in the diaper and use the methane to heat the roads or to heat greenhouses.

Japans system of diaper energy

Or what about energy generating speed bumps? We have tons off them in the Netherlands so why not implement an energy generating system out of those annoying car wreckers.  In England they have already started installing ‘’electro-kinetic road ramps’’ as they are romantically called. The bump contains some kind of a metal plate. Whenever a car drives over the bump an internal generator will be powered. Of course it depends on the weight of the car and the passenger (do they generate energy as well in the gym or not?) how much kilo watt the bump generates, but it can go up to 50 KwH per vehicle! All this energy could be used by traffic lights for examples of LED road signs

As my last example of multi-beneficial sustainable energy generating I would like to give some attention to a quite simple implementation that Sweden did. They use confiscated alcohol, which would normally be poured down the drain, as a way of generating energy. How amazing is that! In the Netherlands we have a lot of festivals every year, where people bring their own booze. And although I am sure that many people actually can smuggle their alcohol into the venue, there are also enough that get caught. In Sweden the alcohol they confiscate (700.000 litres last year) is converted to biogas and will subsequently be used for trucks, buses and trains.

And there are so many other bizarre ways of generating energy that could be used. In a sense everything that moves, contains energy. In my opinion it would be a waste to not use all these options that are already there anyway. We just need to make some slight adaptions. And most importantly we need to keep thinking out of that box!




Smart planning with smart meters

In 2015 the Dutch government decided to install a smart gas meter in all the 7 million households by 2020. This measures gas and electric use and sends it to your provider and also makes it possible to look into your own usage. These new meters were expected to lessen the energy use of every household by an average of 3,5%. A quarter of these households now have one of these meters installed and the results are not as hoped. Installing the new meter decreases the energy use on average by less than 1%. Planbureau voor Leefomgeving(PBL) researched why the new meters did not have the impact they had hoped.

Personally when I thought of a smart meter I was expecting the smart thermostat to be a part of the deal, which would tell you in real time how much you are using and possibly what could be saved. But contrary to my assumptions, it was just a meter in a cupboard in your house that you will not open unless you need your vacuum cleaner. So it was assumed that with installing the smart meter the consumer would use this opportunity to look into their usage and change their behavior accordingly. This assumption was true for the “interested, analytically oriented consumer” which accounts for the decrease of energy consumption that was measured. But I would say it is naive to expect the average consumer, that normally checked their meter once a year and now does not have to at all, to put in the extra effort to save energy. Since the average consumer would have no idea where to start or does not have the incentive to spend time on it.

In the Netherlands only 15% of the consumers use a smart thermostat. For example: you would have to take a 4 year contract or pay around 275 euro to install it and an additional 3,50 per month to use Toon from Eneco. So consumers will not be triggered to keep an eye on their energy expenditures, without offering a clear monetary benefit to them. It turns out the installment of the smart meter did not come with a display as they do in the UK. The UK has a decreased consumption of energy of 3% since installing the new meter. It would be a fair assumption to expect it to have the same effect in the Netherlands. I just wonder if they could not have come to this conclusion before installing the first 25% of the smart meters.  before spending the 3,3 billion spent so far.

It’s not odd that energy companies are reluctant to give away their smart thermostats for free, as consumers usually have to pay extra fees to have one installed with their energy contract. It is a big money maker for the energy companies, and therefore the thermostats will not be widely and publicly available unless ordered from higher-ups. If the same decrease of energy consumption can be decreased by an additional 2% just by offering a visual aid in the living room, it would be highly beneficial to pursue that avenue. Perhaps, universal smart thermostats can even be developed without the energy suppliers, as a governmental endeavor. In which case society as a whole can benefit from this technology in hopes of a more sustainable planet.

Source: https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2016/11/19/energiebesparing-door-slimme-meter-valt-tegen-a1532652

Hedonistic sustainability: guilt-free living

Scandinavia. A region that all the sustainability enthusiasts look up to. The Danish capital city  Copenhagen and the Swedish city Malmö have together received a Special Mention award at the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize in Singapore “for their close collaboration at government and business levels, and shared vision of a holistic set of economic, environmental and socially sustainable goals”. Copenhagen wants to become the first carbon-neutral city by 2025. One of Malmö’s neighbourhoods, Västra Hamnen, is already carbon-neutral, as the first neighbourhood in Europe.

The City of Tomorrow

The ‘Western Harbour’, the English translation of Västra Hamnen, used to be a shipyard before the regeneration project was initiated in 2001. Now known as ‘the City of Tomorrow‘, the neighbourhood houses 4,000 people. As Katja Wessling, one of the residents, mentions, her way of living is a form of hedonistic sustainability: “you can just live a good life and you don’t really have to think about it”.

Gift to the city

Less than 40 kilometers away from Malmö is Copenhagen. In this city, 97 percent of the houses are connected to district heating; the buildings are heated by excess heat of power plants. Denmark only landfills four percent of its waste, 42 percent gets recycled and 54 percent is used for the creation of heat and electricity.

The CEO of Copenhagen’s newest waste to energy plant wanted the plant to be part of the city’s environment, as a “gift to the city”. She opened a competition, which architect Bjarke Ingels won with his idea to turn the outside of the plant into a ski slope.

Source: forbes.com

He designed walls with greenery, turning the building itself into an ecosystem. In addition, the waste to energy plant forms an ecosystem with the rest of the city as trash is interchanged with heat and electricity. Ingels also wants to teach the residents of Copenhagen about emissions, so the carbon-dioxide gets emitted in smoke rings and to know about the quantity of one tonne of CO2, people just have to count ten rings.

Hedonistic sustainability

In his TEDx talk, Bjarke Ingels, like Katja Wessling, speaks about the concept of hedonistic sustainability. It challenges “the misconception that one must give up a portion of their comfortable lifestyle” in order to live sustainably. Ingels defines hedonistic sustainability as “sustainability that improves the quality of life and human enjoyment”. He claims we shouldn’t focus on behavioural change. Instead, “it’s about designing our society in a smarter way”.

Copenhagen and Malmö thus teach us that we should focus on a smart design of the city while emphasising the good life, but then guilt-free. Ski slope, anyone?




Will prolapsed houses become the new standard?

Well let’s be honest: your house probably won’t be prolapsed in the coming five years, but there are some chances buildings will sag in the future if we don’t do anything. Area’s in the so called “Randstad” are facing two vast problems in the coming years. There will be a growing task of protecting ourselves against flooding, on the other hand we have to ensure our peat soil will be solid enough to hold our houses and other buildings.


Where most people think the protection against water is our biggest difficulty, they underestimate the growing shortage of ground water in the peat soils our cities are constructed on.  By using the peat grounds we face a process called ‘inklinken’. This natural process is accelerated by human activities like filtering the groundwater for the supply of drinking water and other purposes like agriculture. For years the problem of inklinken was way less critical than protecting our country against flooding, but now the time has come to see things in perspective. In this video you can hear an extensive explanation on the worldwide problem of inklinken: https://goo.gl/ZsMJdr.

Inklinken is basically the process of volume decline of the soil through drought. This volume decline can possibly cause buildings to prolapse, sewer systems to move and ways to sag. Everyone could imagine the problems this process could cause; therefore, several solutions are available. One of them is to let water flow back into the peat soil to regain the lost volume. Even the peat can grow back and long gone ecosystem services will have their function again. This solution isn’t as easy as it seems: many people rely on these peat soils for work and income.


The biggest stakeholders as it comes to the dry soil are farmers, they rely on the relatively dry peat soil for the production of their farms. Setting their acres under water would be devastating for their businesses. Therefore, the government decided, amongst other things, to enlarge the Kleinschalige Water Aanvoervoorziening (KWA), this emergency irrigation supply uses canals connected to the Lek and the Amsterdam Rijnkanaal to irrigate land in control of the Hoogheemraadschap Rijnland. The KWA will be enlarged and its supply will be doubled the coming years. More information about the KWA can be found here: https://goo.gl/P4tFXp.

This emergency irrigation is of course a great way to stop the process of inklinken when its necessary, but we have to ask ourselves if it’s enough to prevent our houses and highways from sagging in the future. As the article in the picture above states: “the inklinking is mostly caused by the winning of drinking water”, with a growing population this factor could grow even bigger. The government and other people that work on a solution for this problem know it exists, but I bet most of the people living in the Randstad don’t even know there is a problem. To prevent peat soil from sinking, we have to undertake a lot more action than we do now. To do so, inklinken has to be recognised as a major problem: let’s hope government and water management stakeholders start with gaining attention for it!

The Future of Energy Generation: Sustainable Architecture

When considering utilization of wind or solar energy, the image that most often comes to peoples mind is that of conventional solar panels and wind turbines. Consequently raising the question of assessing the required space for the installation and operation of these solutions.

However, time has moved on and along with it new ways and form-factors have been developed for the implementation of these sustainable energy sources within urban areas. Taking both of these technologies into a new direction, by rethinking the way we build and live. Combining the concept of architecture and sustainable energy, has led to the design of amazing new buildings that generate a significant sur-plus amount of electricity while providing increased living comfort.

On a global scale, several projects have been developed within this philosophy. A prime example of which, is the joint development project between Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta and Norway’s research centre on zero emission buildings. Designing and building a house which produces three times the amount the energy it consumes. It even incudes its own sauna and swimming pool. The designer also states that the addition of an electric car is also ideal by charging the car with the sur-plus produced energy.

Building-Schematics, showcasing the utilized sustainable technologies
Outside view of the house

With the current prognosis that by 2050 66% of world population will be living in urban areas, and the fact that 75% of the current carbon footprint is related to city’s1, concepts like these are no longer to be considered a niche, but actual feasible solutions that we should embrace in order to create a healthier and more sustainable living environment for the future. By integrating sustainable energy production with the concept of housing, cities in contrast have the ability to become inter-connected energy producing hubs.

Related projects on a more grand scale have also been undertaken. Showcasing the extent to which these sustainable solutions are applicable. The Bahrain World-Trade Centre, which was build in 2008 for example, consists of two seperate towers built in aerodynamic accordance  with the regional Persian gulf winds. The design which was inspired by ancient Arabian wind towers, helps to funnel strong winds allong three wind turbines. Annually providing the equivalent amount of energy to sustain 300 households.

By looking at regional conditions and circumstances, specific structural designs can be employed, while implementing matching sustainable solutions to achieve the most energy efficient outcome. Current, alongside new sustainable energy generating technologies will enable the construction of complete city’s which are able to provide in our ever-increasing global energy demand. Thereby not only solving spatial issues regarding the implementation of conventional sustainable energy solutions, but also freeing up an substantial ammount of public space, which in turn can be used for recreational purposes alongside the production of food. Thus also contributing to the improvement of urban living conditions.

By taking on a different view on how a city can function, we can create an environment that works in accordance with our modern day needs. Furthermore, by revaluating the combined concepts of form and function, we have to ability of shaping an enviroment that facilitates in overcoming planetery boundaries and meet in our future energy demands.



More pages on the subject:

Norwegian Ecological House

Insights in the minds behind sustainable City Projects – Interview

Examples Around the World – Modern day development

1. United Nations – World Urbanisation Prospects  https://esa.un.org/unpd/wup/publications/files/wup2014-highlights.Pdf

Fossil to turbine, turbine to kite


Planete energies defines energy transition as “the shift from current energy production and consumption systems, which rely primarily on non-renewable sources such as oil, natural gas and coal, to a more efficient, lower-carbon energy mix.1” This is a lot easier said than done, especially with lots of discrepancy amongst scientists on various approaches and unforeseen problems. However, they do agree on one concept known as the energy trilemma:



The energy trilemma looks at how policies made need to balance three different aspects: security, sustainability, and affordability. The easiest way for change to be made is for innovative technological breakthroughs. These would hopefully raise energy efficiency, lower the cost, and not harm the environment, thus solving the trilemma.

One particular solution was a concept brought up many years ago but never fully took off. Saul Griffith talks in his short Ted talk about the efficiency and usefulness of kites to capture wind energy. Griffith explained how turbines are limited in how much taller they can be, however kites can go significantly higher, which is where more wind is.3


You can watch his 5 minute Ted talk here

Griffiths isn’t the only one who is advocating for kite energy. Several other companies around the world are hopping on this bandwagon:

Kitenrg, an Italian company, is working on making kites that reach up into the troposphere where there is significantly more wind, thus creating more energy. It is harnessed to the ground with two cables as well as an electric generator.5


Kite Power Systems of the UK explain the added benefits of low cost that government subsidies won’t be needed and that unlike windturbines, these can go places the turbines can’t. They have already set up a small station in Essex as well as a 500-killowatt system near Stranraer in Scotland.6

Makani, a company bought by Google, focuses on making wind energy more affordable and efficient which will ultimately eliminate fossil fuels. This kite is slightly different than the previous two examples. The kite is launched from a station on the ground and reaches heights of 800 feet with the help of rotors acting as helicopter blades. Power is generated by flying in circles higher up in the air.7


As shown above, wind kites come in a variety of shapes and sizes with several different companies from around the world trying to propel this solution everywhere. Kites could be a key concept to help Leiden transition from a city of fossil fuels to a city of renewables. This is relatively cheaper and simpler than current wind turbines. Additionally, since it is not feasible for Leiden to rely heavily on wind turbines as an option for renewable energy, this could be a key solution.

Wind kites have the potential to be the technological breakthrough that solves the energy trilemma for renewable energy.





  1. http://www.planete-energies.com/en/medias/close/challenges-energy-transition
  2. Picture: http://www.arup.com/low_carbon_energy_the_future_is_now
  3. http://www.ted.com/talks/saul_griffith_on_kites_as_the_future_of_renewable_energy/transcript?language=en
  4. Picture: https://www.faulhaber.com/global/markets/environmental-safety/energy-kites/
  5. Picture and Website: http://www.kitenergy.net/technology-2/key-points/
  6. http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/kite-power-station-scotland-wind-turbine-plant-electricity-a7348576.html
  7. Picture and Website: http://www.alternative-energy-news.info/makani-energy-kite/

Accomodating energy neutrality: Living on top of a parking lot!

Leiden: the ‘city of knowledge’ and one of the most densely built cities of the Netherlands. This fact goes hand in hand with many challenges, including a need for parking areas and housing, especially for students who account for at least 10% of the Leiden population! And now Leiden is facing another challenge as well: getting carbon neutral with a 40% energy reduction by 2020, as stated in the Duurzaamheidsagenda. However, it still proves to be a huge task to make this transition to other forms of energy and to establish a society in which saving energy is the norm… Public support is required in order to reach those goals. Therefore it is crucial to create public awareness of the necessity, options, and even advantages of the transition!

Three themes are highlighted here: a lack of space, a necessity for the transition to other forms and ways of using energy, and the need for a public awareness and support for this transition. Would it not be perfect if all those issues could be combined in one single project?

Maybe the ZED Pods  from the Zero Energy Development (ZED) Factory could offer such a multi-functional solution. ZED Pods are literally small sized, pre-fabricated pop up houses with a general gross internal floor area of 22.4 m2. This makes them cheap and easy to erect, as well as to relocate if necessary. In their design they are placed on top of parking lots or other unused spaces, thereby combining different functions. ZED Pods are supposed to be completely energy neutral due to a combination of very good insulation, efficient energy use, and a roof fully covered with solar panels. About 70% of the time the solar panels provide the houses in all the electricity they need, plus that of the charging points for electric vehicles which are located on the parking lot underneath. The lion share of the electricity for necessary heating is used to provide hot water, which gets heated and distributed by a small electric heat pump.

Composition of the insulation

In addition to their huge advantage of being energy neutral, the ZED Pods are cheap and easy to erect as well as to relocate if necessary. This makes them highly suitable for spaces which do not yet have a fixed destination plan. The Pods which are meant for couples have an estimated rent of €750 which makes them suitable for student housing too. Therefore the implementation of those Pods could potentially decrease the shortage of student housing which Leiden is facing at. Additionally, the ZED Pods could be an incentive for people to make the transition towards electric vehicles. At the same time they could raise awareness among the (young) residents and their surroundings. This awareness might spread even further when combined with a more wide-spread promotion of the project.

ZED Pods for students

Altogether this means that the implementation of ZED Pods could provide the city of Leiden with a unique opportunity: creating cheap housing in line with the goals of a carbon neutral Leiden, while responding to the challenges of a limited space capacity of the city, a need for (student) housing, and a need for public support and awareness of the energy transition. Embracing this opportunity would thus enrich the city, its inhabitants, and the environment as a whole!