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The city of Amsterdam has set a goal of eliminating the use of natural gas by 2040 – 10 years sooner than other regions in The Netherlands. Yet the vast majority of existing buildings and households in Amsterdam currently rely on natural gas for cooking and heating. Much of the network is also underground and difficult to access in historical or densely inhabited neighborhoods. In seeking to reduce reliance on natural gas and tackle the problem of global warming, there are endless questions to answer. What are the available alternative energy sources? Which of those will be most cost effective? How can the impact of the transition on the lives of residents be mitigated? And where to start? To move forward, Amsterdam needed a coherent vision and a solid plan.
Over Morgen, an Arcadis company, took on the task of investigating how best to achieve the city’s goal, before creating a strategy to make it happen. This included everything from building a programme and advising on how it could be successfully funded, to examining different technical solutions, evaluating which ones might be best applied to specific locations, and assessing in what order the various transformations for different parts of the city should be undertaken. The overarching strategy is captured in the Natural Gas Free Program.
A significant aspect of our team’s success hinged on collaboration, the importance of balancing a vast array of different requirements, and standardizing the approach in order to support faster and easier decision making over the coming months and years. We devised a method called ‘WAM’ (Wijken Aardgasvrij Maken), or ‘making districts natural gas-free’ which integrates procedures and decision-making practices from all relevant parties – from multiple local government departments, to utility companies, to commercial stakeholders and housing cooperations.
One particularly crucial voice is the people of Amsterdam, and we worked hard to find ways to engage local communities, to give them meaningful ways to review and shape the plans as they progress, and keep in mind the impact that the transition would have on their lives as it is actually taking place.
Aside from setting up WAM to make fast and efficient progress, we also provided technical and financial expertise. The program includes a joint business case which sets out a route to funding the transformation, along with identification of risks and ways to mitigate them, including suggestions of partnerships and joint tendering.
We also studied a vast array of technical solutions, from heat pumps to green natural gas alternatives generated from fermented farm waste. We advised which might be best applied to certain locations or neighbourhoods, and what could be the best order in which to transform different parts of the city.
Banning natural gas connections in new developments is a big step, and it’s becoming more common across the world. The Netherlands made the change as early as 2018, but the tricky part when it comes to reducing fossil fuel dependence is finding ways for existing buildings (which may have been standing for centuries), and their inhabitants to make the switch to renewable sources for their everyday needs. Add to that the ambitious deadlines needed to curb the climate emergency, and the task can seem impossible to surmount.
The impact of the Natural Gas free Program and its multiple elements - technical advice, financial planning, decision-making strategies, and unifying capabilities – is to show that there is an achievable, affordable way forward, and to provide the foundations to go out and do it. Using the program as a springboard, Amsterdam is already well on its way to realizing its 2040 goal, adopting a Transition Vision Heat plan towards this.