In this week’s weekly report we reflect on the insights we gained from interviewing Antoine Maartens from Urgenda. Urgenda is a foundation that has been founded in 2007. The mission is to improve and stimulate sustainable development. Antoine is the program manager for sustainable Wadden Islands. The interview was conducted in a semi-structured way. We had prepared some topics which we wanted to know Antoine’s on. This report is therefore not an exact transcript but more an impression of the conversation.
To start the interview of, we were very curious where and by whom the project of “Texel as a sustainable island” was initiated. Antoine immediately had to correct us however. “Texel as a sustainable island” is not a project but more an overarching name for several smaller initiatives. The ideas for these initiatives were originated in so-called arenas. These are meetings which try to envision sustainable transitions. These arenas were organised all over the country, but Texel is a very good place to start such a case because, since it is an island, it is rather isolated. This minimises external influences and makes it more easy to initiate transitions. Several examples of these initiatives are:
- 25 new charging poles for electric vehicles;
- electrical transport hospitality;
- a new docking method for the TESO ferry in Den Helder;
- a new ferry (the old one is using between 3,5 and 4 million liters of diesel every year.
At the first meeting of the engineering for sustainable development course we were told that the goal of Texel is to be completely durable in 2020. We thought of this as being energy independent as well. We asked Antoine on his vision for this goal. According to him the goal is not to become energy independent by 2020 but to be energy neutral. This means that as much energy must be generated as is being used. The electricity cable connecting Texel and the mainland will still be required and no large electricity generators will be installed on Texel, but rather a few small ones. It will be very hard to reach this goal in 2020 however.
We were also wondering how the Texelaars are dealing with the plans for their island. According to Antoine we can look at the elections for the city council as an answer to this question. The parties which are in favour of sustainability are in the coalition, although no one wants to install windmills. The Texelaars believe that this will negatively influence tourism due to visual pollution, which Antoine doubts. He mentions that one of the German Wadden islands (Borkum) has installed a number of windmills and no drop in tourism was measured.
When asked about his stance on solar energy Antoine tells us that the permit for a solar field near the Pontweg has been granted. The solar panels will be partly be installed floating on the freshwater reservoirs. The province however is not willing to decrease the amount of farmlands in order to create more solar fields. Solar panels that are floating in the sea are unfortunately also not possible because the waves of salt water will damage the solar panels. The efficiency of modern solar panels and the overall space of possible locations, according to the current zoning, is too small to provide enough energy to fulfil the demand.
This is why Antoine was focussing on a combination between wind and solar energy, as the solution for Texel to become energy neutral. Because of the lack of space for solar energy, solar energy will only provide a reasonable amount of clean energy during the day and especially during summer, whereas wind energy will provide a more consistent flow of energy during times when there is no generation of energy by solar panels. The only problem to overcome is to decrease the opposition against wind turbines.
Stance of the Texelaar
Since Antoine’s projects are very much focussed on electric driving we asked him about the feedback he received from Texelaars with regards to electric driving. Antoine starts of with indicating that nowhere in the Netherlands the number of charging poles per capita is as high as on Texel. He and others have put in great effort to persuade people of buying an electric vehicle. This has been moderately successful up to this moment. There are about 50 electric vehicles on the island, of which one is a taxi.
The Waddenfonds has granted subsidies on a purchase base. Another idea is to introduce a car sharing program with electric cars. An entrepreneur called Hans Werner has recently started such a company on Terschelling. Antoine has put his plans in the fridge to offer the space to Hans Werner, with whom he is regularly in touch. Antoine is leaving the space for Hans Werner because Urgenda is not a company, it takes its hands from initiatives whenever the market picks it up. The Skylche e-auto as the project is called can be rented for a monthly fee of 50 euros with additional costs of 19 eurocent per km. Since the distances that people travel on the island and the average monthly costs of owning a car are around 350 euros, this would be a perfect solution for many Texelaars.
For Skylche e-auto, a car needs to be driven 35 hours per month to be cost efficient, the extra time is profit. On the other hand Antoine highlights that Terschelling has a natural protection, the ferry to and from Terschelling is not able to take on cars. The Texel ferry on the other hand is. This would mean that people will be able to transfer the cars to the mainland, which is not desirable. We think however, that these problems can easily be overcome by introducing a GPS-connected chip, that turns off the car engine automatically as soon as the car leaves the island. Technology will be able to provide solutions for problems such as these. Nevertheless, people can attempt to do strange things with rental cars Antoine knows from Hans Werner, who has considerable experience in the business.
The main problem with starting such a company is the software that needs to be put into the cars. On Terschelling there is also the problem of mobile connection. Some parts of the island have no mobile coverage. On Texel this problem does not exist however.
When enough cars will be available, Antoine thinks that Texelaars will use this system and that tourists will try them out. Cars are very popular, the main question is: who is willing to do the initial investment? Antoine has calculated that about 100 cars are needed on Texel to make this a successful initiative.
When asked after other possible initiatives like package drones or hydrogen cars Antoine states that hydrogen is a hoax in his eyes. The technology is far behind when compared to electric cars, which also boast the first mover advantage in the field of cleaner transport alternatives.
When looking forward to 2020, Antoine thinks that the amount of electric cars will increase a lot. The population of Texel is aging, younger people often leave the island. The total population will therefore decrease in the coming years and with them the distance travelled on the island. What is considered as a small distance on the mainland is quite a trip on Texel. Some people from De Cocksdorp are never in Den Burgh because it’s on the other side of the island. So people don’t travel often but when they do, it’s just a small trip. This makes Texel ideal for electric cars because the limited range is no issue on Texel.
Antoine thinks that the municipality can enforce or change regulations, to stimulate electric driving. However, to think that all cars have to be electric, or that fuel cars will be banned from the island, or parts of the island, is unrealistic. That would harm tourism to much. Most families own a MPV or a SUV and there are no affordable electric solutions in these car segments yet. But nonetheless, electric driving will become popular if the regulation and possibilities that facilitate electric driving will come into place.
Getting things done
One important issue that was stressed from the beginning of the course is the possible resistance to change from the Texelaars. We asked Antoine what his experience is on this subject. He thinks that it is all about respect and striking the right chord. Most changes on Texel are initiated by people from the mainland, ‘outsiders’ according to the Texelaars. The Texelaars are open to change, but it is important that the outsiders respect their ways. Money is even a of secundary importance, the respect for their lifestyle is primary.
One of our ideas is to use local people as policy entrepreneurs, local people that have a leading role in society and that can inspire other people. We asked Toine who he would find suited to fulfill such a function. These were the people that Antoine mentioned:
- Mark van Rijsselberghe: father of the olympic medallist Dorian van Rijsselberghe and already a policy entrepreneur in the field of saline agriculture. This man has no links to any political parties and therefore has a lot of freedom.
- Jacco Dros: from ZO Texel, an organisation that aims to give a new twist to tourism on the island. This party really has a different view according to Antoine.
- Maarten Drijver: a fisher who has experience in lobbying. He successfully introduced pulse fishery, a way of fishing that saves about 35% of diesel and reduces bycatch. Because the engines are no longer required to run at full throttle during fishing, the ships are fueled with a cleaner diesel. This diesel contains less oil because the engines require less lubrication. The combinations of these measures reduces CO2 emissions a lot.
- Gijs Berger: has worked a lot on the mainland, but is currently involved in the Texel energy corporation. One of his projects is the solar field mentioned before.
- Urgenda: Antoine explains that his organisation has a lot of contacts on different places on Texel.
Before thinking about introducing new kind of transporation systems, the necessary underlying energy system should be in place. Currently Texel is still heavily depending on energy from the mainland. By deploying a combination of wind and solar energy, Texel could become a lot more energy neutral already on the short term, such as the year 2020. New transportation systems such electric rental cars can then be applied on top of this clean energy system, which should be able to provide sufficient energy all year round. In order to create a behavioural change among the Texelaars, four things are needed:
- Further development of sustainable technologies;
- Local Texelaars or mainlanders that are willing tot take the entrepreneurial risk of deploying this new technology on the island;
- Local regulations paving the way for the Texelaars to adopt these new technologies;
- Local policy entrepreneurs that want to take the role of innovators or early adopters, meaning that they adopt as one of the first ones the new technology and actively promote its use.
When these 4 prerequisites are in place, Texel makes a good chance to rapidly transition to a more sustainable mobility system.