The city of Delft (100,000 inhabitants) has had an active energy policy since the 1990s, resulting in a 15% greenhouse gas emission reduction between 1990 and 2012. In 2011, the municipality took a big step by adopting the ambition to become energy neutral by 2050 and decided to reduce GHG emissions by 35% between 2012 and 2020 to achieve this aim.

This decision resulted in the need for a radically different approach. The municipality had a direct influence on only 2% of the emissions generated in its territory, i.e. the emissions generated by municipal buildings and facilities. The city of Delft opted for an innovative approach, moving from a role of initiative instigator to one of facilitator after noticing that an increasing number of initiatives in favour of sustainable development had been launched by local businesses and citizens. While increasing numbers of citizens felt the need to reduce their dependency on large utility companies by generating their own energy, businesses were seeking to reduce fossil energy costs and an increasing number were paying growing attention to their environmental footprint. A genuine trend in favour of a “green economy” based on innovative solutions and the responsible use of available resources was therefore emerging.

The municipality thus decided to encourage these committed local players to take on more responsibilities, by giving them enhanced powers over the interpretation of the targets and over the means to achieve them.

E-deals: a choice of agreements

In this context, the municipality implemented e-deals (e- standing for energy), a local version of the national green deals. They are agreements signed between stakeholders and the municipality, either for specific projects or to express their commitment in favour of Delft’s ambition to become carbon neutral by 2050. Two municipal employees, Maaike Kaiser and Pauline van Gijn, of the team in charge of relations with local stakeholders and responsible for implementing the local energy plan, work on e-deals in Delft.

Since 2013, 17 local stakeholders have signed a general scope e-deal, thus expressing their support for Delft’s ambition to become carbon neutral by 2050, including the municipality of Delft, several universities, Orange Gas, Ikea Delft, the Datacenter Group and Eneco. The municipality has also supported ten specific e-deal projects: two energy retrofitting projects, one project with the Technical University on hydrogen-powered vehicles, “Delft Solar City” for the development of solar panels in the city, and other projects with hotels and schools.

For these specific e-deals, the municipality provides small subsidies and gives projects more visibility through articles in newspapers, a Facebook page and a website. The municipality has chosen to adopt a market approach, which means that it will not refuse to support two potentially competing projects. A few conditions, however, have to be met: the project must be in line with the city’s energy plan and must have a business model to ensure that the municipality does not finance the totality of the project. Projects must also be sufficiently significant to justify the signature of an e-deal, a relatively long process requiring the involvement of several municipal employees. Smaller and less costly projects may benefit from other types of financing, notably through the energy plan.

The “Widar in the sun” example

This e-deal was initiated by the parents of pupils from the Widar school, who wanted to install solar panels on the school rooftop. Faced with financial difficulties and lacking expertise, they contacted the municipality. The subsidies granted under the edeal made it possible to hire a financial consultant and to launch an efficient communication campaign about the project.

In collaboration with the organic supermarket Ekoplaza, the necessary funds were raised within a few months. Parents and other interested individuals were able to support the project by buying Ekoplaza vouchers (buying €250 entitling them to a €300 discount voucher at the supermarket). It was then the supermarket that invested in the solar panels and will receive the profits of its investment for ten years while paying an annual rent to the school. After the ten-year period, ownership of the solar panels will be transferred to the school, which will also benefit from the renewable energy they produce. Thanks to this project, not only is the school supplied with renewable energy, but the initiative means that energy-related issues have become a meaningful part of its curricula.