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Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds Then, we go to the third topic of this week, which is innovation in space. Obviously, if we want to shift towards a different kind of energy system, we will need some kind of innovation. But what does this actually mean? Well, let us start with the idea of a transition, because we have started to understand that a shift towards a renewable energy system is going to be a very big shift. It’s not just a shift where you can make a plan and say, hey, let’s instal a couple of wind farms and the problem is solved. This is a shift that will actually involve a lot more. It will involve things with regards to the economy that we have.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 seconds All kinds of contracts will change. Power relations will change. It will have consequences for the infrastructure, the oil and gas pipelines, the electricity grid. It will have consequences for the law, for the regulations. It will also have consequences for space and definitely, it will have consequences for our behaviour. These are such big consequences that the shift we need is not just a simple innovation and implementation. It is actually a really big and deep societal shift and such a deep societal shift is what is also called a “transition.” Let’s give you an example. An example of a transition is the demographic transition that in the Western world happened somewhere around the year 1900.

Skip to 1 minute and 33 seconds First, we had very high numbers of death casualties, but we also had a very high number of births. Through all kinds of innovation, medication, for example, health care, but also food, working conditions, child labour, things changed. First of all, people were able to get a lot older and also healthier, which means that essentially, the amount of people that died really declined.

Skip to 1 minute and 57 seconds The amount of people that actually were still born was still high but at a certain moment with all kinds of changes in how we lived our life and how we were becoming assumed to the amount of children that we had and also with regards to welfare, the number of children also declined, which meant that now we are in a very different system. We don’t have high numbers of death rates, but also not high numbers of birth rates. This is what we call a transition and this might just be something we also need with regard to energy. So transitions– what do they look like?

Skip to 2 minutes and 27 seconds Of course, there’s a lot that has been written about transitions, research into how they evolved in the history, how they actually developed, but also research in how we might be able to influence them. Now, there is literature also in this course where you can read this. So I don’t want to repeat everything, but what is important is that such a transition really revolves around the idea that somewhere before they happen, we need innovation. We need small things to change, small things regarding new ideas, for example, an entrepreneur working on new solar panels that actually are more efficient. And somewhere in the 1990s, he succeeded and these solar panels actually are more efficient. So he was able to sell them.

Skip to 3 minutes and 7 seconds At a certain moment, people wanted to buy them. It was still difficult. You didn’t really know where to buy them. Nobody really knew how to instal them, but gradually, this knowledge emerged. At a certain moment, there were small companies that started to actually become experts in installing them and we actually saw that the legal system started to change. There were some subsidies for these solar panels and at a certain moment, it even became possible to deliver energy back to the grid. At this moment, we actually see that the energy law also with the Netherlands has changed a little bit already, in that you can buy solar panels at IKEA and instal them yourself.

Skip to 3 minutes and 40 seconds These are examples of small innovations that gradually become so important that you actually start to see how they can change the entire system, because the big energy producers are also starting to see this development and are also starting to see how they might want to adapt to that. This is an example of a transition, a transition that starts somewhere, then takes off. And I think at this moment, with the example of the solar panels, we are seeing this kind of takeoff happening in place. The end result might be a very different energy system, but the core issue is we need innovations on a local level, small innovations that gradually upscale and change the system itself.

Skip to 4 minutes and 20 seconds Let us take an example and a good example is the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a country that in 2001 chose to actually use the idea of transitions as a basis for its energy policies. It used what is called “transition management” as a guideline, as a basic framework to actually pursue a change in its energy system. And the Netherlands also has some important agreements with Europe. It, in accordance to regulations of the entire European Union, has to pursue more renewables in the future. In 2020, it needs to have at least 14% renewables in its energy mix. In 2023, it should also be 16%.

Skip to 4 minutes and 59 seconds If we look at that also graphically, then you can see that something like the beginning of a transition is what you should expect in these and the coming years in the Netherlands. But let us see what is actually happening. The last couple of years, the Netherlands is revolving around somewhat of below 5% of renewables and it’s not changing a lot. Also, let us not forget that quite a big part of these renewables is actually wasted, is being burned in incineration plants, some of it imported from abroad. It is counted as renewable energy whereas in fact, of course, you can doubt whether it actually is.

Skip to 5 minutes and 35 seconds Also, the Netherlands is importing biomass from different countries to actually put in coal-fired power plants, again, something that is called renewable, but the question is, how renewable and how sustainable also it really is. You might wonder if you see these pictures, is this even something that is possible? Does this energy transition idea work? Well, let us not forget that the Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, in Europe, second to Malta, which is a small island, basically. And in such a very densely populated area, it is very hard to actually pursue renewables because space matters. It is a good example why actually space should be taken into account.

Skip to 6 minutes and 19 seconds Of course, there are quite more reasons in the Netherlands why it might not work that well, but space is definitely one of them.

Innovation in space

In this video, Christian explains what is meant with the idea of a ‘socio-technical transition’ and why it can help to understand a shift towards a more sustainable energy system as such a transition. Also, he suggests what this means for trying to govern a shift towards a more sustainable energy system.

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This video is from the free online course:

Solving the Energy Puzzle: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Energy Transition

University of Groningen