Renewable Energy

Throughout human history, an interaction between use of energy and space is recognizable. Whether we burn wood, cut peat, burn coal, cook on gas or charge our electric car using wind and solar energy, energy is an important factor shaping our living environment. The more we are aware of this, the better we will be able to use our living environment in a smart and attractive way for our energy needs.


Spatial interventions are necessary for every form of energy generation, and every form of energy has a spatial footprint. Since the fire was tamed, trees have been felled and entire regions have been deforested to obtain firewood. Later, new forests were planted for wood production, with which the shafts in the coal mines could be supported. The peat bogs and peat lakes in the Dutch landscape are silent witnesses of former peat extraction. Opencast mines for lignite and coal are among the greatest human artifacts. Energy production has continuously changed the landscape over the centuries. The transition from fossil to renewable energy, as laid down in the Paris Climate Agreement and our own Energy Agreement, will have major spatial consequences. Energy will soon be visible everywhere in the landscape.

The former energy landscape of the Loosdrechtse Plassen (peat extraction), now a highly valued natural, residential and recreational landscape


In recent centuries, society, the economy and the world order have been built on an abundance of energy from fossil fuels. This has had an unprecedented influence on the use, appearance and perception of the available space. However, the fossil age loses its self-evidence. There are urgent reasons to work towards an energy system based on renewable sources such as wind energy, hydropower, solar energy, residual heat and biomass.

Climate change

The most urgent reason for a far-reaching energy transition is the accelerated global warming. This climate change is driven by a by-product of our fossil fuel use, namely the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Controlling climate change is one of the greatest societal challenges of our time. CO2 emissions are a result of the existing energy supply system and can only be structurally reduced by radical changes in that system. Therefore, a transition from CO2-emitting to CO2-poor energy sources is necessary. Because the accelerated warming is already underway and the further course of it entails greater uncertainties, there is a need to hurry. The transition must be completed in the coming decades. The energy transition again takes place in an interaction with spatial changes.

Due to an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere, the earth is warming and the climate is changing. Check out the insightful infographic at:


In the last 400 years we have burned a lot of fossil fuels, which nature has taken 400 million years to create. While the evidenced amounts of fossil reserves in the earth are still impressive, it is clear that the supply is finite and that it can never be replenished at the rate at which it is consumed. However, as indicated in the previous section, the biggest problem is not that there are still too few hydrocarbons in the soil, but rather that there are now too many in the air.


The uneven distribution of fossil fuels around the world creates geopolitical instability. An energy transition is therefore also of strategic importance. For example, Russia has used its gas supplies several times as a political means of pressure. The greater the share of renewable sources on our own soil, the less dependence on oil and gas from elsewhere. This makes us less dependent on unstable regimes and/or suppliers in unstable regions.

During the Carboniferous period, dead plant remains were stored in the many swamps. These eventually made up a large part of the world's coal reserves.

Regional Opportunities

The task of switching almost completely to renewable energy sources is immense. But the energy transition also brings all kinds of opportunities. The decentralized character and the relatively low environmental impact of renewable energy sources make it possible to produce the energy used within a region locally. Energy costs can therefore be recovered on a regional scale. Moreover, the employment potential of the transition is high. In the U.S. for example, employment in the solar energy sector is now 5 times greater than in the coal industry. And in the 2050 - An Energetic Odyssey project, we calculated that if we were to develop wind in the North Sea on a large scale, this would generate 310.000 jobs, compared to the 280.000 jobs that will disappear in the fossil industry.


Plume of smoke on the horizon

We can view the current energy landscape as a kind of illusion landscape, in which we are rarely or never confronted with the consequences of our energy consumption; the energy supply is discreetly concealed and only sporadically visible as a plume of smoke on the horizon, where there is a power station that is fired with coal mined from the invisible underground. Only the thin lines of the power lines disturb the discretion somewhat.

Visible landscape

The energy transition breaks this illusion. It brings energy sources and energy installations above ground on a large scale. The solar panels and wind turbines will be visible. The energy supply becomes visible, audible and tangible in your own daily living environment. This is where tension arises; the space that the earth offers has been transformed by man into a structure of use, a composition of interests and a legal system. The space is also loaded with values, meanings, symbols, memories and emotions. As a result, the landscape is full of formal and informal claims, which do not give way without a struggle for major new additions.

Making room for the energy transition also does not mean that other functions (such as food production and nature) should disappear from the landscape. It is more about interweaving the new energy layer with the existing functions in the landscape as well as possible. It is important to know to what extent the landscape and the current functions are already in motion, or should be in motion. It is precisely by uniting spatial developments from different sectors that we can also give place to new claims on the landscape. The Environment Act, which is under development, is a great opportunity in this regard to integrate the energy transition into spatial planning.

Spatial and cultural design assignment

The energy transition will inevitably lead to landscape changes that have a profound impact on the familiar formal and informal claims. So here lies the major spatial and cultural task: not with a simple 'integration' of a new facility, but with a reorganization that does justice to all the ingredients of the landscape. The energy supply and the energy transition are a cultural and spatial design task.

Landscape and Energy

With the energy transition in mind, we can look at the same space with different eyes and discover something different in it than before; different spatial qualities, different forms of use of space, a different experience of space. Bringing the two perspectives of energy and space together creates an opportunity to integrate them smartly and beautifully. In our book Landscape and Energy, we often make this mega-task, which is still experienced as abstract, concrete and visual, and that on several scale levels.

The landscape is the base

Every landscape is subject to continuous change. New developments build on underlying layers in the landscape and on previous events. For example, the excavation of peat for peat extraction has led to the creation of the puddles. These wet depressions were later used for the Water Lines, as a barrier to hold back the enemy. Due to the military claim to the landscape, large areas have been protected for a long time from the advancing urban developments and now form prized recreational landscapes. This accumulation of anthropogenic and natural layers and events has shaped the Dutch landscape, but is slightly different everywhere.

New layer

Renewable energy adds a new layer to this dynamic cultural landscape. The interventions based on energy are in line with the subsoil (soil and water) and the size, scale and dynamics of the landscape. In some areas it will be less obvious to apply large-scale renewable energy production, while in other areas (which are under heavy pressure, for example) this could be a structure-reinforcing intervention. Renewable energy can add quality and meaning to the landscape.

Area-oriented approach

Connecting with the specificity of the area offers opportunities for adding new layers to the landscape, both socially and physically. To create carrying capacity and ownership, it is necessary to link up with the social structures of an area. In the Ateliers Energie en Ruimte Fryslân, for example, we have sought to connect with the tradition and organizational strength of Fryslân (mienskip), in order to allow the contribution from society to flourish.

What and where?

An important question with regard to the energy transition is: what do you do where, and on what scale? Not everything can and will be created from the bottom up and the opportunities and (energy) potentials are not equal anywhere. Major projects and local initiatives will have to be realized side by side. On the scale of Europe, the North Sea is one of the windiest areas. There is therefore an obvious opportunity for large-scale wind energy. We tested this in the project 2050 - An Energetic Odyssey. In the Alps there are opportunities for energy from hydropower, in Southern Europe for solar energy and in Iceland and Italy for geothermal energy. In order to take full advantage of these geographical qualities, regions will have to work together, both at an international and national level.

There are also differences in potential and opportunities on the scale of the Netherlands. Due to the available space and the relatively low energy consumption, Flevoland can produce more renewable energy than it uses itself, while this will be more difficult for South Holland. The coastal regions are richer in wind than the east of the country and geothermal potential is present in certain areas, while the major heat consumers may be located in other areas. It is becoming clear that municipalities with few inhabitants and a lot of space in terms of renewable energy supply will also have to mean something for the cities in the vicinity. What a National Energy Perspective can look like, we have, in collaboration with FABRICations , POSAD , Studio Marco Vermeulen and NRGlab further investigated in Energy and Spatial Planning and Energy and Climate.

Energy (networks) as a strategic resource

As soon as energy, as a new layer, has been added to the landscape, this will also have consequences for future developments. By being aware of this and anticipating it, renewable energy can also be used strategically. A heat network can attract certain activities, a wind turbine can be used to keep a certain zone free from development, because there is a legal minimum 'protection zone'. For example, the energy infrastructure in the Eemshaven has tempted Google to establish itself there.

Landscape and Carbon

Broader perspective

When we talk about the energy transition, it is mainly in light of climate change. Renewable energy is not a goal in itself, but a way to reduce our carbon emissions. With this we hope to limit the expected rise in temperature, preserve biodiversity, keep our feet dry and secure the future for future generations. By looking at the assignment from a broader perspective, other connections and assignments also become visible. For example, agriculture has a major influence on greenhouse gas emissions from, among other things, fertilizer and fertilizer production. Different land uses, including associated water and soil management, affect carbon emissions or sequestration.

Peat and forest

Through photosynthesis, CO2 is removed from the atmosphere, converted into oxygen and stored in biomass. This is the main reason why the temperature in the Carboniferous and Devonian (the geological time layers from which we now get our coal) dropped from tropical to more pleasant values ​​for us. Vegetation therefore has an important CO2 and temperature-regulating effect. In particular, forests (a lot of biomass per unit area) and peat areas (no rotting of plant remains) are able to absorb large amounts of CO2. Even in our current landscape, the potential to capture CO2 should not be underestimated. If, in addition to the possibilities in the existing forest and peat areas, we also include optimizations in agricultural areas, about 30 Mton of CO2 can be captured annually. This is a nice bonus on a task to reduce the annual CO2 emissions by 180Mton until 2050. Ultimately, it is about finding a balance between emissions and CO2 capture. In doing so, we in fact regulate the global temperature. And geological history teaches us that it is even possible to lower the temperature with a negative CO2 balance.

Opportunities for extra carbon sequestration in peat areas (now a lot of CO2 emissions due to peat oxidation) and forests. Additional carbon can also be captured by other soil management in agriculture.

Tax on added carbon

Another way to reduce carbon emissions is to tax them. With our winning plan S3H-BTK for the 10th Eo Wijers competition, we investigated the (spatial) consequences and opportunities of a Tax on Added Carbon. It is a tax regime that permeates into the capillaries of our society and elicits optimizations and innovations from the bottom up. It also produces social shifts: from chains to cycles, from simple to multiple value creation, from possession and purchase to reuse and borrowing, from accessibility to proximity. In S3H-BTK we show how this broad transition process creates new relationships that activate and enrich the entire urban landscape.

Development principles


Each form of renewable energy has its own logic, regulations and physical and technical preconditions for each location. Such as, for example, the energy potential of an area, the minimum distance to buildings from a certain wind turbine, the effect on flora and fauna of a wind farm, the security or grid connection of solar fields. The technology and preconditions of renewable energy are continuously developing. Insight and understanding of this contribute to the design of feasible new energy landscapes. We often work together with experts in the field of ecology and energy to understand these technical preconditions and opportunities.

In addition to the technical preconditions, a number of general (ordering) principles apply that can be taken into account when developing renewable energy, as applied in, for example, the study Energy Vision Amersfoort.

The five main principles in a row

1.Multiple use of space

It is usually economically advantageous to bundle functions. From the realization that space is scarce in the Netherlands, it is logical to strive for as much multiple use of space as possible. In addition, the principle of diversity = resilience; the more functions and users are bundled in one place, the more sustainable spatial development can be achieved. In our study into solar fields for the province of South Holland, for example, the opportunities for multiple use of space were extensively investigated.

Linkage opportunities and multiple use of space: energy generation, nature development, agriculture and recreation

2. Link to other problems

Bringing together and relating solutions and opportunities to each other suddenly makes separate assignments promising. You can make 'work with work'. It concerns both a spatial and financial link. The energy transition can be an engine for change, as researched in the Krimpenerwaard Strategic Vision. In the Energy Line study initiated by us, the special link between the preservation and enhancement of heritage with renewable energy was investigated. The IABR 2016 Atelier Groningen investigated how the energy transition can be linked to agriculture, chemistry, knowledge institutions, ICT and construction - and what the economic opportunities are for this.

The development stages of a wind forest

3. Linking supply and demand

It makes sense to place energy generation close to the energy user where possible. It is clear from experience if supply and demand are linked. For example, wind turbines at a business park. In addition to this associative link, supply and demand can also be linked in a functional sense; For example, owners of large roof areas could rent out their roof space to a solar collective or energy cooperative.

4. Involve local residents / stakeholders

Involving local residents or other stakeholders from the area in the development of new energy projects offers opportunities. Local knowledge can be used, a project can be organized according to the wishes of those involved and (co)financing can be organised. This creates ownership - and thus support - for the project. Local residents also share in the benefits, not just in the burdens. We applied this principle at an early stage at the Energie-ateliers Fryslân, by organizing workshops in which everyone could participate and provide input. It offers opportunities to involve local residents or other stakeholders from the area in the development of new energy projects.

Example linking supply and demand: a lot of roof surface is available at the Wagenwerkplaats in Amersfoort; this area can produce energy for the surrounding neighborhoods

5. Design assignment at all scale levels

Renewable energy generation almost always has a spatial impact and is therefore a spatial task. This is the case at every scale level, with the large influencing the small and vice versa. It is therefore important to always seek coordination with other spatial developments in the plan area and to develop clear concepts that do not regard the 'receiving' landscape as a given, but make it part of the design process. For example, we have developed spatial principles per scale level for the Visual Quality Plan for Wind Energy in the Wieringermeer; from the integration of a wind turbine into the receiving landscape, to the spatial positioning of the Wieringermeer in relation to the entire IJsselmeer area. Designing this host landscape represents by far the greatest challenge for the field of landscape architecture for the coming years. We've only just begun...

Example of co-designing the receiving landscape; accessibility, nature-friendly banks, ecological verges and a lookout point