Transitions made by people

This topic of the week was "Transitions made by people" and included an inspiring workshop by Gertjan de Werk and a bicycle drive to Rotterdam that I unfortunately had to skip. Meanwhile, I also visited a lecture by Fastned founder and CEO Michiel Langezaal. Transitions are made by people, but Michiel doesn't really agree with the vision of Gertjan that says: "Think big, start small"...

Transitions are made by people. When I first read the sentence I thought that I had made a mistake; aren't transitions done by people? A transition doesn't seem really makeable; separating plastic waste for instance, has to be done by people and you can't make them do so. Of course, the plastic heroes campaign that stimulated the Dutch to separate their plastic and the infrastructure surrounding this separation program had to be created, but the separation itself was done by the people! 

But apparently I was wrong; Gertjan de Werk explains how he and his team of enthusiastic TU Delft students created this van that involves people on festivals in the sustainable transition. How does that work? It reminded me of this awesome video of the guys from the perpetual plastic project, who are apparently also part of the team of Gertjan. The video shows how plastic waste (in this case; drinking cups at a festival). In this example the actual transition is really made by people! They have to insert their empty cup into the machine that first cleans it. Afterwards, they have to shred the plastic cup which turns it into small shredded plastic. This is melted and extruded into 3D-printing filament! This 3D-printing filament can then basically be used to create everything that one can make with a 3D printer. Which 3D print design would you choose? Of course, this is a future dream, but how far away is that future? We will see! As Gertjan put it; start small, but think big.

Someone who didn't entirely get the first part of that concept is Michiel Langezaal, CEO of Fastned and a Dutch entrepreneur. Fastned believes that fossil fuel driven cars are the "Discmans of the future" and will become obsolete in time. They believe that the Electric Vehicles (EVs) will take over soon. On top of this, they don't think that 'home charging' will become the standard; less than a third of the EV drivers are currently able to charge their car in a garage or on a driveway. The rest of them has to rely on an extension cable or a (city provided) charging pole. It is simply not possible to provide charging poles for tens of thousands EVs and reserving parking space for EVs also seems to be a sensitive issue in the cities. 

So what's the answer? Well, it kind of looks like a futuristic water droplet; 



And it will be placed at 201 highway gas stations across the Netherlands (and extension plans to Germany have already been made). It is the place where you can charge your electric vehicle with 100% green energy in 15 - 30 minutes. In fact, it will be the gas station of the future - without selling gas of course. So how did this start? 

In december 2011, the government announced that parties could bid on the construction and operation of charging stations for EVs at the 245 highway service areas. This is interesting, because oil companies have been fighting on these spots for the sales of fuel for over decades. The permit allows the holder to open a charging station at this specific highway service area. Instead of starting small and try-out their concept on a few sites (like the competition did), Michiel Langezaal and Bart Lubbers (co-founders of Fastned) decided to bid for all 245 highway sites, which obliges them to build a charging station at these spots within 18 months. At the moment, a Fastned charging station is opening every week. In my opinion, these entrepreneurs are really making transitions. Want to know how they came this far? I can highly recommend to read the story (pdf) of Fastned which is written in a really nice and readable way!

So my gut feeling was wrong in the end, people actually are making transitions happen. Whether this is in stimulating the market pull way of Gertjan de Werk or the technology push way of Fastned, it is probably the interplay of both. If other Gertjans didn't stimulate the market to buy EVs, Fastned wouldn't have a business. But Fastned will probably catalyze the outroll of EVs in the Netherlands. The interplay of both actors will hopefully make this transition happen in the end.

Thijs Schaap

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