Accelerating development of Dutch thermal energy cooperatives
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The Introduction discusses the importance of transitioning towards a low-carbon heating system. Thermal energy cooperatives that develop district heating systems are identified as a socio-technical innovation system with high potential to increase public acceptance. This research aims to aid the development of thermal energy cooperatives in the Netherlands through resolving systemic problems, by identifying successful practices in Denmark and Germany. The Theory expands on the characteristics of district heating systems and examines current literature on (thermal) energy cooperatives. The theoretical framework on ‘Systemic barriers’ is proposed, which can identify problems that hamper the development of innovation systems. Finally, the institutional contexts of the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany are described. The Methods section describes the qualitative research design. 10 case studies were conducted, of which four in the Netherlands, four in Denmark, and two in Germany. The data collection includes documents and 17 semi-structured interviews. Also, the method for data analysis is explained. The Results present the practices from Denmark and Germany to overcome the identified systemic barriers in the Netherlands. Multiple systemic barriers were identified, and thermal energy cooperatives are found to be strongly influenced by the environment in which they develop The Discussion compares the findings of this research with findings from other scientific studies and found that studying energy cooperatives from a socio-technical perspective is useful. Also, limitations are given in relation to recommendations for future research. The Conclusion gives recommendations to policymakers, municipalities, public banks, and cooperative organizations. The following practices were found in Denmark and Germany and are recommended for application in the Netherlands: 1. Low-interest and long-term loans from public banks with municipalities as guarantee were found to be highly favorable in Denmark and Germany. Those will support Dutch cooperatives to improve the business case and be realized. 2. Standardized heating contracts and cost-based pricing could overcome regulatory barriers, improve trust of consumers towards district heating and increase transparency in the heating sector. 3. Thermal energy cooperatives should lobby collectively at the national government to establish favoring regulations and increase legitimacy. Workshops and lectures should be aimed at governmental organizations to increase awareness. 4. Municipalities should take cooperative district heating initiatives seriously and provide them with collaboration, support, and subsidies. 5. To increase professionality within thermal energy cooperatives, Energie Samen or other cooperative organizations can support on administrative, financial, and technical aspects. Such cooperative organizations could operate multiple cooperative district heating systems themselves.