Energy Transition Lessons from the Netherlands Natural Gas Transition –

The world is undergoing historic transitions, a global shift in energy, transportation and consumption that will affect all aspects of our lives, but is not the norm and could we learn from The Dutch natural gas transit (“”the Dutch natural gas transition“) In the 1960’s?

The Dutch natural gas transition

Mankind has not always used oil, natural gas and coal as its dominant sources of energy. It transitioned from wood to coal, but that transition took a long time. What can we learn from these historical transitions to effectively deal with the modern energy transition? The author, Sven Ringelberg, natural gas-free project consultant and entrepreneur behind Simpel Subsidie, wrote his book The Dutch natural gas transition: Lessons for the Dutch natural gas transition, or Dutch natural gas transition: Lessons for the Dutch natural gas transition, which looks at the shift from coal to gas to space heating in the Netherlands in the 1960s and the lessons we could gain from this transition that took less than 10 years. The book is published in Dutch by Eburon.

The Dutch transition from coal to space heating to natural gas compared to the world transition from fossil fuels to heating, electricity, transport and industrial processes may seem like comparing apples and oranges, but the energy transition is happening on several fronts on several scales. This book is primarily aimed at those who think about the Netherlands and their current “energy transition” away from natural gas and towards renewable energy, but all countries are facing their own energy transition, and this book provides interesting insight into how the energy transition at national level is national plan can be done. And it comes in a nice, well-written package.

The current energy transition in the Netherlands with projects and the creation of gas-free neighborhoods, increased insulation and expansion of renewable energy has a parallel with the energy transition of the 1960s.


Natural gas and sparkling nuclear future


In 1959, the Netherlands discovered a massive gas pocket near the Slochteren. The company that discovered it and the Dutch government negotiated, and 10 years later, a country that had normally only heated one room in its homes with coal, had converted most of its cooking and heating to natural gas and had introduced more widespread central heating.

This rapid spread of natural gas is examined in depth in the book based on the negotiations and the rationale behind it, including one of the government’s main driving forces and assumptions at the time. In the 1960s, it was expected that nuclear power would be the future, and that if the gas supply was not rapidly developed and exploited, it would be difficult to recoup the investment, so a plan was created to rapidly develop and exploit the natural gas energy source that was expected to last 30 years. Gasunie, a company that was a public-private partnership, encouraged gas use with regressive tariffs. With the tariffs, gas became cheaper the more people used.


Something in the air


In the 1960s, marketing for natural gas was about the benefits of using more gas coziness and luxury in heat, but in the 1970s things changed. The Club of Rome publishes it Growth limits in 1972 and the oil crisis in 1973 changed the focus from spending as much as possible to saving as much as possible.

The book goes into detail about this change of focus and the results, including the focus on more insulation and how gas was promoted.

Advertisements for economical use of natural gas from the 1970s.  Source: International Institute of Social History.  provided by Sven Ringalberg

Advertisements for economical use of natural gas from the 1970s. Source: International Institute of Social History, provided by Sven Ringalberg


The background


Heating and home cooking in the 1950s The Netherlands was divided between several types – electricity, city gas, coal and oil. Each had its advantages and disadvantages, but city gas was dominant in cooking and coal was dominant in space heating – but this space heating was limited to the living room due to cost. In the book, Sven discusses how post-war Holland dealt with the issues of ruined homes and sub-standard homes and worked to solve this problem, but rising social standards had created a growing desire for more comfortable centrally heated homes, and while propaganda for coal talked about the comfortable living room , the negatives of coal, oil, city gas and electric were well known to the users. Natural gas was abundant, cheap, cleaner and could use the existing city gas network, which created an opportunity for natural gas to become a widespread source of heat and energy if it was planned correctly.


Year of silence


In addition, the government benefited from revenues that made it possible to spend on education, infrastructure and social welfare without tax burdens, but after the first discovery in the Slochteren, the discovery was hardly reported beyond the first reports of a discovery. Sven Ringelberg discussed the reasons behind “the silence in the Slochteren” and how the agreement was not nationalization, but not privatization either. The details of this event included Shell, Esso and government entities.


The transition


The agreement between the companies, the national government departments and urban municipalities outlined the entire planned transition, from pricing, infrastructure, marketing materials and the roles of each actor in the transition. Sven Ringelberg goes in depth with details about this planning process and every part of the transition, from laying the large backbone of natural gas pipelines to transferring the gas from Slochteren to the municipalities, to the process of changing neighborhoods to natural gas and retrofitting old city gas stoves.

Design gas transport network in the Netherlands 1963 - 1975. Source: Gasunie.  provided by Sven Ringalberg

Design gas transport network in the Netherlands 1963–1975. Source: Gasunie. provided by Sven Ringalberg.


Lessons to be learned from a transition from the 20th century to the transition from the 21st century


According to Sven Ringelberg, this rapid (10 years) and somewhat painless transition was helped by a number of factors. A key factor was leadership from the central government, which shaped the goals and provided resources from key partners and agencies to quickly design and plan the transition, which is in contrast to what is happening in the Netherlands in 2021, where municipal governments are tasked with this job , but where they lack resources and may only have “one and a half men and one horse’s head” to set up pilots. The division of responsibilities and resources has led to a lack of standardization (which increases costs) and less momentum towards the goal.

Sven Ringelberg discusses how focusing on economic benefits can be the wrong way for people to choose to go gas-free, that putting a price on something does not always lead to buy-in from the public, but focuses on the non-economic benefits that People coming from a gas-free home is key, such as comfort or reducing your impact on the environment. This aspect will affect many customer transitions, e.g. The move from fossil fuel vehicles to electric cars.


Last word


Sven Ringelberg has managed to turn a topic that could easily have been a dry, dusty, academic reading into a very engaging and informative reading. The book has charts and tables of important statistics, but also anecdotes – from Pinkie from bullet propaganda to Kees’ gas dog. The book provides a rearview mirror to consider what has brought us here and what may be needed to keep driving toward a better future.

Gashund Kees from Utrecht Archives, supplied by Sven Ringalberg

Gashund Kees from Utrecht Archives, supplied by Sven Ringalberg.

Cats Pinkie and Beatrijs;  Catholic weekly magazine for women, 19-07-1958 provided by Sven Ringalberg

The cat Pinkie in Beatrijs, Catholic weekly magazine for women, 19-07-1958, provided by Sven Ringalberg.

For now only available in Dutch, this is a much-needed addition to energy transition literature that readers from around the world could learn from.


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