Tag Archives: Sustainability

This is what a energy-neutral Leiden look like.

Nowadays it’s a trend for every country, company, organisation and municipality to set as ambitious goals on sustainability as possible. Most of the time however, those goals are put on the back burner. The methods to reach the goals are kept vague and the goals are often not reached in time. The municipality of Leiden seems to be going down a different path.

Leiden also set some ambitious goals on sustainability. One important goal is to realise a netto energy-neutral Leiden by 2050. But, directly after setting this goal, the municipality of Leiden and the Dutch ministry of infrastructure and environment commissioned several companies and organisations to join hands and to develop an energy transition map of Leiden and its surroundings. This map shows a scenario of what Leiden would look like if this goal indeed would be reached by 2050. You can check out the map below.

map-leidenFor a bigger version of this map click here

This map clearly shows that the transition to an energy-neutral Leiden requires quite some rigorous changes. I’ll discuss the two most comprehensive ones here:

1. Complete new heating infrastructure

To reach the goal set for 2050, Leiden and its surroundings will need to get rid of fossil gas used for heating. Instead, there’s a need for a completely new heating infrastructure, fuelled by geothermal heat ánd waste heat from the Rotterdam industrial area. Realising this infrastructure will take an enormous effort. However, Leiden and some partners have already started the realisation of this network in a big project. Check out the video below to learn more about this project (in Dutch).

2. Placing hundreds of wind turbines

To generate enough energy to make Leiden energy neutral, a huge amount of energy needs to be generated inside the area. To achieve this, there need to be placed hundreds of wind turbines. In the scenario presented in the map, the wind turbines will create a thick belt through the area, ‘separating’ the urban area from the nature area. Some other wind turbines will be placed in the dunes, a almost sacred place for a lot of citizens. To convince people of the urgency of those placements as well as to fund this expensive project will probably be a tough task for the involved parties.


So to conclude, the municipality of Leiden took a bold step by developing this map which shows how radical the transition towards 2050 will need to be. This transition brings great challenges and I’m really curious on how Leiden will take these on.
What do you think? Will Leiden be able to reach their ambitious goal, based on the map that is presented? Can you find any underexposed solutions on the map? Feel free to let me know.

Leiden: Leading in sharing

Modern problematic

Living in a modern world we, as human beings, have exceeded our potential of connecting to (and sharing with) one another by the means of internet, smartphones and most of all an intensive use of social media. Despite its underlying philosophy of bringing people together and creating a sense of community, people still are feeling lonelier than ever and feel more unsafe than they did in earlier times. Even though the latter might be true looking purely from an environmental perspective, one could say we live in prosperous times in which the world is safer than it ever was before. To kill two birds with one stone, moving towards a sharing economy can contribute to a sustainable future while recovering our sense of community and feelings of safety.

How a sharing city works

Basically, a sharing economy works according to the principle of sharing products or services through the concepts of peer-to-peer or peer-to-business-to-peer sharing or renting (such as Airbnb). In doing so, it can reduce the demand for new products and therefore reduce a populations resource consumption. Furthermore, the sharing or temporarily trading of a product or service with ones close by neighbors would result in more communal solidarity. When implented on a large scale in a city, we can speak of a sharing city. As a leading example, Seoul is currently the front-runner on becoming a sharing city. They have implemented interesting ideas such as:

  • Using “sharing libraries” where people could deposit and borrow tools or books for free.
  • Car Sharing
  • ShareHub: a place to find all that can be shared.

The transition towards a sharing economy isn’t only happening in South Korea, but also here in the Netherlands in both Nijmegen and Amsterdam. One could argue that if Amsterdam could implement innovative ideas towards becoming a sharing city, Leiden could most certainly succeed just as well. As Leiden is a lot smaller and less, the possibilities are endless to make the transition.

Leiden towards becoming a sharing city

To make the transition towards becoming a sharing city one could think of several applications in the city of Leiden. For starters, Leiden has a lot of empty buildings that could function as sharing hubs or as headquarters for startup companies that could work on the transition. For instance, the old V&D building on the Nieuwe Rijn/Breestraat which is now being used for pop-up stores could be the new center of sharing. By dividing this massive building into separate supervised corners which all have an own product category (e.g. tools, clothes, electronics), you create an accessible and fundamental place for sharing.

Another way of making it possible for Leiden to become a sharing city is by developing an overarching website or app which includes all categories of products and services which could possibly be shared among the city’s citizens. By including as much companies and students in the development of this application as possible, and by sharing the service throughout the city’s universities, popular visited locations and through the inhabitants mailboxes, this application might result an a success.

To make the transition towards a sharing economy lot of extra services will need to be implemented to make it a succes. For instance, a workforce that examines the products for any damages to a persons product needs to be implemented. Next to that, people would want to be sure that their product always returns to their rightful owner, meaning that people would have to register to be able to share or borrow a product. Of course the transition towards a sharing economy isn’t something that happens overnight and takes time and effort (meaning job opportunities!) to make it all possible. Nevertheless, a sharing economy is an interesting concept that could change our end of life economy  to a more communal and sustainable way of living.

The city as goldmine of both materials and knowledge

What’s wrong?

Today, production and consumption of goods in all corners around the world is more extensive than any time before.1 The problem is that our global economy has always been a linear system. We extract raw materials, transform it into something useable and then, after a relatively short lifetime, turn it into waste. But what if I told you that we no longer have to extract raw materials from Mother Earth and have the opportunity to turn our waste into a resource? Intrigued yet?

That sounds better!

Fortunately, businesses are innovating a new industrial paradigm: closing loops. The driving force behind this? Our economy is approaching a tipping point where the old take-make-waste business model is a dead end. Finished, finito and no longer lucrative. Businesses are forced to rethink their products, as the global population is growing and urbanizing and resources are not infinite.

What do cities have to do with this?

Taking into account that cities accommodate a vast amount of the people that design, create and use these products that are eventually thrown away, I argue that cities cover a great part of the solution to make these products available for reuse. Half a century ago, urbanist Jane Jacobs already exclaimed that “cities are the mines of the future”. This approach of urban mining is seen as a way to recycle metals from city waste like buildings, infrastructure and devices.2 The resource stock that has been mined from underground into the human society now has a chance of circularity. Let’s see what’s in this for Leiden!

“As a city of knowledge and innovation, Leiden should be a frontrunner when it comes to sustainability” – Leiden Duurzaam 2030

Abuse the city’s students!

Life in Leiden is highly influenced by the relatively large number of students, as most of them live and study in de city.3 I have always believed that students can offer great help in society’s contemporary problems when it’s in their field of expertise. Because, as cheesy as it may sound, today’s students are tomorrow’s future. And other than that, it is both cost effective and awesome for municipalities or companies to collaborate with a university or a particular group of students.  When you ask students to get the job done you don’t have to hire an over-priced consultant and you are guaranteed that quality will be delivered, as these students will be advised by the country’s best-educated people: their professors.

Can you get back to the point?

Linking the latter story to urban mining in Leiden, there are a couple of things that can be done. Since students are the future’s leaders, scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs and engineers, it’s clever to get them to work together from a systems perspective. We are still counting on technological advancements, pollution-control technologies and public awareness when it comes to determining what forms of urban stocks exist, when these urban stocks will become available for reuse and how these can be reused.

N.B. I would like to remind the municipality and/or companies not to forget to reward these students with an excessive amount of ECTS.


1 J. Li (2015) Wastes Could be Resources and Cities Could be Mines. 

2 P. Brunner (2011) Urban Mining A Contribution to Reindustrializing the City.

3 http://www.prospectivestudents.leiden.edu/studying-in-holland/university-town-leiden.html

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!




Going to a renewable energy generation

If we look at the energy generation of the city Leiden, there is only a little use of renewable energy generation. The percentage of the renewable energy generation in Leiden is far below the average of the Netherlands. There is just a little increase in the use of renewable energy which is to low for Leiden, a city of knowledge, innovation and development. Leiden must be one of the leading cities in sustainability of the world.

The county council of Leiden made a ‘Duurzaamheidsagenda’. The ‘Duurzaamheidsagenda’ is a report which contains the main goals to become a sustainable city. One goal is about the amount of renewable energy which must be 20% by 2020. There are four obvious ways of renewable energy generation, namely solar energy, thermal storage, geothermal and wind energy.

I compare the four obvious ways of renewable energy generation and investigate the possibilities for Leiden.

Thermal storage:

Heated water is stored in a buffer or tank. The heated water in the buffer or tank will be converted to energy by a heat exchange.  Thermal storage is based on this concept.  The municipality has already got some thermal storage, but this method is only successful in new buildings.


IF Technology investigated the possibilities for geothermal energy in the city Leiden. There is a geophysical potential, but the temperature which will be gained is very low (60 degrees). The current heating network is based on higher temperatures. So, geothermal energy can’t be used in Leiden.

Wind energy:

Wind energy isn’t an alternative energy source anymore because it already delivers 3% of the electricity in the world. Wind energy is an effective way of energy generation, but is it realistic in Leiden? Windmills aren’t beautiful and make a lot of noise, nobody would like to have a windmill in his backyard. Windmills need a lot of wind which doesn’t exist in a city. There are two available places for wind energy in Leiden, the Oostvlietpolder and the A44. The Oostvlietpolder is a nature reserve which isn’t a suitable place.

Solar Energy:

The technology of solar energy is developing and the costs for solar panels are decreasing. The solar panels transform sunlight into electricity. Electricity will also be produced on a cloudy day. Solar panels can be placed on the houses in the city Leiden.

Solar energy might be the best option for  a renewable energy generation. The video shows how a city uses only solar energy as energy source.

The efficiency of the solar panels is increasing. The panels can lie on the roofs of the buildings in Leiden, so they doesn’t bother the citizens of Leiden. However is it possible, in such a short period, to reach an increase of almost 18,5% renewable energy generation of the total energy generation by only using solar panels? And is it possible to become energy neutral? The technology is innovating which might be the solution. What will the new technologies bring? Is energy based on movements the future, or will it be bio-energy in our future? At last we have to remember: Leiden is a city of knowledge, innovation and development!



Noortje van Wanrooij

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?




The end is nigh! The end is nigh!..

The more I learn about climate change, the more I feel like walking the streets, wearing a sign that says:”The ending of times cometh. Repent!” I want to ring doorbells to ask people if they heard about our Lord and Savior; Geo-engineering. I want to spread pamphlets that show failed harvests, forest fires and drowned polar bears.

But this is the 21st century. So I will do what everyone with an opinion does these days:                     put it on-line.

Even though climate change has become a fact instead of a believe, we still need to preach the gospel of the greenhouse effect and the effect it has on our lives.

Thereby preventing further damage to the planet and start protecting ourselves against the consequences. Because a change in climate means a change in local weather. For the Netherlands this means that the temperature will increase a few degrees and that we’ll have problems with water. (Because the Netherlands will always have problems with water.)

First, the intensity of rainfalls will increase, overflowing the rivers, sewers and eventually your basements and ground floors with heavily polluted water.

After the rain come long periods of drought. A drought that causes a shortage in clean drinking water and dry land. All local nature that is not well adjusted to dryer circumstances will have a hard time surviving. Depending on the soil, buildings have a higher risk of collapsing due to the sinking of dry ground and rotting wooden fundaments.

…So let’s build an arc.

As the surface of the earth becomes increasingly covered in stone and concrete, water has nowhere to go but to the sewage. There rainwater mixes with waste water and will need to be purified. It also has the potential to exceed the sewers capacity, causing flooding.

There are many ways to collect as much water as possible before it reaches the sewer.      So, here are some Doomsday-Prepping-tips to deal with this liquid inconvenience.

By growing plants instead of stones in your backyard you increase the amount of water that the ground can hold. Green roofs also store water and work great as house isolation. (Saving both the environment and your wallet!)rain-garden-how-to

Rain barrels and ponds can collect a large amount of rainwater.even-better

Hydroblocks do that as well, but they have the advantage of being underground and slowly releasing the water.hydroblock

Where flood prevention only works if it is done communally, water storage has an immediate personal benefit. As the dry period begins, there will now be a large amount of collected water available. The greenery will maintain itself and local wildlife for a period that increases with size and create a more pleasant local climate. All collected water can for example be used for washing machines and toilets and around the house when tap water becomes scarcer and more expensive.

Hydroblocks will slowly release water into the dry ground, preventing the sinking of houses and roads and the rotting of fundaments.

So, be prepared! The end is nigh! (Or, at least, wet feet are.)

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