Going Dutch? Governance of heat transitions in the UK and the Netherlands

Decarbonising heat remains a key energy policy and technology challenge in the UK and indeed globally if we are to achieve net zero.

In the UK, the largest single source of emissions from heat demand is from residential heat due to its high dependence on natural gas. The only other country in Europe with an even greater dependence on natural gas for heating is the Netherlands. Both countries therefore face the challenge of how to move away from natural gas to alternative low carbon energy systems and ensure the necessary changes to building infrastructure to facilitate the transition.

However, while both the UK and the Netherlands are embarking on a transition away from natural gas from a similar starting point, they are taking very different approaches, with the pace of change much faster in the Netherlands than the UK. This offers an opportunity for the UK to learn from Dutch successes and challenges. This is the key focus for a new research project, led by Dr Matthew Lockwood (SPRU).

Research approach

The project team will conduct a comparative qualitative case study to compare governance arrangements for heat decarbonisation and natural gas phase-out in the UK and the Netherlands and investigate how these arrangements have been shaped by different political and institutional contexts.

Historical and discursive institutionalism will provide a framework for analysing how different institutional contexts, coalitions and discourses in the two countries have shaped governance arrangements. The study will draw on semi-structured interviews carried out with policy actors, regulators, industry and civil society organisations, as well as a wide range of policy and legal documentation. The researchers will then assess what useful lessons this may have for the UK, especially for the governance of heat transitions at a local level, paying particular attention to the need for care in policy transfer across contexts.

Impact and outreach

The project aims to identify ways to improve the governance of and accelerate heat transitions. Heat decarbonisation involves major infrastructure transitions in buildings, conversion technologies, and infrastructures, and requires the right combination of governance at national, regional and local levels. The researchers will engage with actors across these three levels with the view to informing UK policy debates on live issues related to the heat decarbonisation. This is likely to include the role of hydrogen, the future of the gas networks, and trade-offs between energy efficiency and low carbon heat supply.

Partners

University of Edinburgh (Niall Kerr)