Improving the energy performance of Dutch houses: Drawing lessons from neighbours

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Improving the energy performance of Dutch houses: drawing

lessons from neighbours

Lorraine Murphy1, Frits Meijer1and Henk Visscher1


OTB Research Institute of Housing, Mobility and Urban Studies, Technical University of Delft,




The Dutch government is not alone in setting ambitious national targets for reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved energy efficiency and increased use of renewable energy. To achieve these targets the building sector must respond and the potential of the existing housing stock in particular must be exploited. The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive offers a European framework to the approach but the European Commission remains resolute in emphasising the important role of reinforcing indigenous measures whether regulatory, economic, and informative or combinations thereof. The development of such measures is currently proving problematic and challenging within the Netherlands. To explore possible solutions a PhD project is being carried out with the aim of developing policy recommendations for improving the energy performance of the existing private residential stock in the Netherlands. The first stage of this PhD project consists of a comparative study of measures operating within a selection of ‘leader’ European countries. This comparative study adopts elements of the ‘lesson drawing’ approach. Lesson drawing is forward looking, examining whether and how a subject country should apply lessons as opposed to looking backwards at how different countries adopt particular measures. While the focus is on the Netherlands it is aimed that results will be applicable to the selected countries and to the wider European experience of improving the energy performance of this elusive element of the housing stock.


Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), existing housing, leader countries, lesson drawing, measures.



Reactions to climate change and energy security by the Dutch government reflect those at EU level with commitments to: reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% (baseline year 1990), reduce energy consumption by 2% per year by improving energy efficiency and, increase the share of renewable energy in Dutch energy consumption to 20%, with all three targets to be achieved by 2020 (VROM, 2007:3). It is widely accepted that, to realise ambitious targets, existing measures need to be strengthened and expanded and new approaches tested and developed across the sectors (Opstelten et al., 2007; De


Groot et al., 2008; Energy Transition Task Force, 2006; VROM, 2007). This has resonance at EU level where it is emphasised that Member States (MSs) maintain a pivotal role in designing complementary and reinforcing measures to strengthen the objectives of framework directives such as the EPBD (EC, 2008).

Measures in this context are interpreted as the economic, regulatory or information instruments developed to align human behaviour with more sustainable paths of development. Efforts to improve measures for buildings is not surprising when it is considered that this sector accounts for circa 40% of total energy consumption and CO2

emissions in the European Union (EU) (EC, 2008). In quality and quantity terms, existing housing in particular offers cost effective energy saving potential (Poel et al. 2007; WBCSD, 2009; EC, 2008). Current projections that long range greenhouse gas emission reduction targets of 80% are required by 2050 in industrialised countries (WWF et al., 2007) further belie the urgency of the situation given that the majority of the housing stock of 2050 is already standing today (Sustainable Development Commission, 2007; Ministry of Sustainable Development, 2006). Despite highlighted significance, existing housing is yet to be at the receiving end of ambitious targets comparable to those coming on-stream for new build (Engelund Thomsen et al., 2008; Itard and Meijer, 2008). While indigenous measures targeting existing housing are promoted there is a lack of knowledge on their content and effectiveness. An objective of this research component is to fill this gap and utilise information with the view to improving measures in the Netherlands.

Research described in this paper forms one part of a wider PhD project. The aim of the PhD project is to provide recommendations for the optimum formulation and content of measures for improving the energy performance of existing private housing in the Netherlands. This aim will be achieved through a mixed methods research approach focusing on three key objectives:

investigation of programmes in operation in a selection of ‘leader’ European countries to elucidate lessons for the Dutch approach;

detailed exploration of the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), by conducting a survey of experts in the Netherlands with emphasis on identifying avenues for improvement and alignment to other measures;

classification of housing profiles/occupiers using existing data to identify contexts to which measures could be best applied.

The approach employed for the first objective of drawing lessons for the Netherlands forms the subject of this paper. While research focuses on the Netherlands, it is recognised that neither the quest nor the barriers to improve energy performance of existing houses are unique to the Dutch case (Meijer et al., forthcoming). In addition, an objective of research is to explore measures that can complement and reinforce elements of European directives such as EPCs. As a result it is intended that research will have relevance to other countries.



Existing Housing in the Netherlands

2.1 The Current Situation

As is the case in other countries existing houses in the Netherlands are the neglected and troublesome members of the sector. With over three quarters of the stock constructed in the second half of the 20th century and an annual replacement rate of .25% (Thomsen and Meijer, 2007:1) the legacy of the existing stock along with its low energy performance will be imparted to future generations unless focused action is taken. Approximately 65% of the Dutch housing stock belongs to the private sector where a low priority is afforded to improving energy performance during the most influential stage of renovation (Itard et al., 2008:23). The main barriers for homeowners are lack of information and lack of appreciation for the cost-benefit relation of improving energy performance (Meijer et al., forthcoming). It is reported that these are the main barriers experienced elsewhere in Europe (ibid; Sunikka, 2006). A programme is in place in the Netherlands which seeks to overcome these barriers. It is elucidated in the following sections that this programme is not considered to be working at an optimum level.

2.2 Dutch National Policy

The Fourth National Environmental Policy Plan in the Netherlands embeds a transitions approach to dealing with persistent problems like unsustainable energy use. This approach recognises that ‘solving the major environmental problems requires system innovation; long drawn-out transformation processes comprising technological, economic, socio-cultural and institutional changes’ (VROM, 2001:30). The transitions approach creates space for continued debate over the use of traditional approaches (Loorbach and Rotmans, 2006). The ‘energy transition’ is represented by a structure consisting of several government departments, a board of directors, a task force (composed of government and third party representatives) and seven platforms representing themes. A theme is dedicated to energy performance in existing houses and is represented by the Energy Transition in Existing Houses Platform (Energy Transition Task Force, 2006).

An important measure of the energy transition in terms of existing houses is the ‘More with Less’ covenant. This is a voluntary agreement between branch organisations and associations representing: housing corporations, energy companies, construction companies, installation companies and the energy transition platform for the built environment. More with Less involves pilot projects planned to operate from 2008 to 2020 which aim to achieve energy savings in the built environment at minimal costs (Meer met Minder, 2008). An aim of the covenant is the removal of barriers for homeowners investing in energy saving measures and a link with EPCs as an outreach measure is made in this regard.

A range of additional measures target the energy saving potential of the existing housing stock. Measures typically reflect those in operation in other European countries reflecting a mixed policy response based on regulatory, economic and informational measures. In terms of regulation, energy standards for new build have formed part of building regulations since 1996 (Beerepoot, 2007:50) and minimum insulation and ventilation standards during renovation have exposed existing houses to regulation (Itard et al., 2008). Alongside indigenous regulatory action the Netherlands transposed


the EPBD into national legislation. The EPC element of the EPBD in particular is viewed as offering potential for increasing energy saving awareness among the owner-occupied and private rented sector (Itard and Meijer, 2008). With regards to economic measures various green financing arrangements and subsidy schemes are in place with the aim of assisting market transformation towards sustainable energy use (Ministry of Economic Affairs, 2007). Information campaigns run by government, non-government organisations and energy suppliers aim to increase awareness and motivate home owners towards improving energy performance (ibid). Despite the existence of these measures, questions regarding their impact, extent, enforcement and adequacy remain.

2.3 Room for Improvement

There is consensus from national government and research communities that much remains to be achieved in terms of energy performance in the Dutch building sector (Van der Waals et al., 2003; Van Bueren and De Jong, 2007; Beerepoot, 2007; Opstelten et al., 2007; Energy Transition Task Force, 2006; VROM, 2007). Beerepoot (2007) questions the strength of measures in light of targets, proposing more severe standards and more flexible instruments rewarding performance above minimum standards. Van der Waals et al (2003) claim that stronger regulations and/or financial incentives are required particularly top down approaches with a wider scope as much activity is centred on voluntary approaches. Brounen et al (2009) reassert the need for stronger regulation particularly with regard to EPCs. Their research demonstrated that houses with high energy ratings, as displayed through EPCs, attracted significantly higher sale prices. However, this is restricted to regions of the Netherlands where the housing market is considered weak as EPCs have struggled to make an impact elsewhere due in part to the absence of an enforcement strategy. Research by De Groot

et al (2008) emphasises the importance of occupant behaviour with results identifying

that energy intensive lifestyles in energy efficient houses can result in more energy wastage than energy extensive lifestyles in less efficient houses. Results such as these emphasise the importance of using measures that can create synergy between technology, the building fabric and human behaviour.



3.1 Theoretical Background

This PhD research component is influenced by comparative public policy theory. A key interest of comparative public policy literature is how nations and jurisdictions learn, borrow or lend so called ‘best practice’ approaches to shared problems. Much of the public policy literature is concerned with theorising policy change as policy transfer, policy learning, diffusion or convergence (Dolowitz and Marsh, 2000). Within this theoretical discussion lesson drawing is “conceptualised as a form of policy transfer” (Evans, 2006: 480). According to Dolowitz and Marsh (2000:5) policy transfer and lesson drawing refer to a process in which “knowledge about policies, administrative arrangements, institutions and ideas in one political setting (past or present) is used in the development of policies, administrative arrangements, institutions and ideas in another political setting”.


This PhD research component is concerned with how positive and innovative influences from other countries can be identified, analysed and possibly applied to another programme. The lesson drawing approach of Rose (2001, 2005) departs from a purely theoretical discussion of comparative public policy by developing practical guidelines on drawing lessons. For Rose (2001) comparison is not simply about identifying best practice solutions but about establishing the circumstances and extent to which positive measures can be applied elsewhere. While the aim of this research component is to identify positive lessons for the Dutch approach it is also pointed out by Rose (2001) that lessons can direct countries on how not to proceed. Lesson drawing has been found to be a practical research method (see Baum 1999 and Luo et al., 2009) and is viewed as compatible with the objective of this PhD research component. An additional advantage is that the approach is found to build on triangulation methodologies by examining themes from a number of perspectives (cited in Baum, 1999).

3.1.1 Lesson Drawing

A lesson can be understood as “a detailed cause-and-effect description of a set of actions that government can consider in the light of experience elsewhere, including a prospective evaluation of whether what is done elsewhere could someday became effective here” (cited in James and Lodge, 2003:180). Rose (2001) identifies steps to systematically draw out lessons. A modified version of these steps is adopted for this research component and is listed below.

Figure 1: Modified version of Rose’s lesson drawing steps (Source Rose, 2005:8)

A key feature of Rose’s guidelines includes the abstraction of a cause and effect description of a programme concentrating on the central elements of its operation. By focusing on essential elements Rose aims to limit contextual influences. Context is viewed by Dolowitz and Marsh (2000) as the main difficulty of looking at ‘best practice’ examples which often neglect the critical role of this factor. Following the abstraction of a cause and effect model, a lesson is designed by re-contextualising the generic model with necessary but not integral details (Rose, 2005). This can illuminate differences between national contexts which results in lesson drawing taking on different forms e.g. emulation, adaptation, inspiration. The end result is a proposal designed to ‘fit’ into another country (ibid).

Rose’s methodology appealed to research conducted by Luo et al (2009) on how the risk based approach to the management of contaminated land in the UK could provide lessons for China. While searching for lessons the essential elements of four aspects of

Scan alternatives and select countries; Learn from abroad;

Abstract a cause and effect model of how a programme works; Turn the model into a lesson fitting the national context; Should and can the lesson be applied?

Simplify the ends and means of a lesson; Evaluate the lesson prospectively.


the programmes operating in each county were analysed and compared: legislative and policy framework, administrative structure and capacity, technical approaches and incentive strategy. The authors suggest that the Chinese approach to lesson drawing should be emulation of components of UK practice including: designing a risk based technical approach and introducing economic and legal incentives to encourage remediation. Abstracting the generic elements of the programmes in operation were particularly important for the researchers as differences in political, social and cultural aspects between the two countries were viewed as strong. The research experience of Luo et al (2009) influenced the selection of countries for this PhD research component with countries selected to maximise information while minimising contextual differences.

By comparing national approaches using a lesson drawing approach it is possible “to explore the range of choice available to societies whose perception of choice may be bound by institutions, economic, social structure, and culture” (cited in Baum, 1999: 627/628). The lesson drawing approach based on comparison of national approaches is viewed as compatible with the transitions approach in the Netherlands which seeks to explore alternative policies.

3.2 Country Selection

A key purpose of this research component is to identify innovative or successful measures for improving energy performance in existing building in use in other national jurisdictions which could be applied to the Netherlands. Criteria related to ‘leader status’ and ‘compatibility’ with the Netherlands were considered before making a selection of countries to be investigated. On the basis of the selection criteria, which is detailed further below, the following countries were chosen for the study:

Denmark Germany

United Kingdom (limited to England and Wales) Austria

Sweden Switzerland

3.2.1 Leader Status

Given the research objective of identifying lessons for the Netherlands (a country considered as a leader in many aspects of environmental policy) other leader countries, trend-setters or pioneers are viewed as offering the most fruitful base for learning (Jordan et al., 2003; Jänicke, 2005). Leader countries in this context are understood as those setting regulatory trends in policy fields (Jänicke, 2005:130). Jordan et al (2003) note that the use of new environmental policy instruments, which represent a core interest in this study, is affected by the same leader-laggard dynamic that is said to drive other domains of environmental policy. Jänicke (2005) states that leader countries are


characterised by a high domestic capacity for environmental policy making. Domestic capacity in this sense relies on “institutional, economic and informational framework conditions and relative strength of the green advocacy coalition” (ibid: 139). Therefore, ‘leader’ countries were selected on the basis of:

Previous research experience at the OTB Research Institute (cf. Itard et al., 2008);

Classification of leader or pioneer countries by academic sources (based on, for example, Börzel, 2003; Jordan and Lenschow, 2000; Lafferty and Meadowcroft, 2000; Liefferink and Andersen, 1998);

A scan of programmes in place using documents such as National Energy Efficiency Action Plans and databases such as those managed by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

3.2.2 Compatibility

Rose (2001) highlights a number of compatibility factors to be considered in selecting countries for comparative analysis, including:

Ideological compatibility; Psychological proximity; Resource similarity; Availability of evidence; Interdependence.

Though not included as a factor by Rose, climate was also considered relevant for this particular study.

In terms of ideological compatibility and psychological proximity, a number of general assumptions were made when selecting countries for study. Membership to supra-national organisations is assumed to represent shared economic, social and environmental objectives. The Netherlands and selected countries are all members of the OECD, founding members of the International Energy Agency (IEA) and are members or are associated (Switzerland) to the EU.

In terms of resource similarity, the Netherlands and selected countries rank amongst the highest in terms of the human development index (UNDP, 2007) and lie within the top ten of EU member states, EFTA and candidate countries in terms of GDP per inhabitant (EC, 2009). In addition, countries are assumed to have broadly comparable institutional resources based on the characterisation of leaders by Jänicke (2005) as countries with high domestic capacity for environmental policy making


With respect to availability of evidence, secondary resources are largely available within the selected countries in English. It is aimed that interviews will form as a quality control in this regard by capturing information that is not available.

Selected countries are viewed as interdependent as action towards improving energy performance of existing building is viewed as a shared problem arising from European energy security concerns and European and international commitments under shared policy instruments, for example the Kyoto Protocol.

Climate is added as a factor considered important for compatibility as this feature may

influence energy policies. The Netherlands experiences a moderate climate and, with the exception of Sweden which experiences a cold climate, the selected countries show compatibility to this criteria (based on Petersdorff et al., 2005).

Switzerland though not an official EU member state is included in the study due to the presence of known innovative measures and as elements of the EPBD are being adopted here. Similarly, Sweden is included due to positive results from the selection process although it is classified as experiencing a cold climate.

3.3 Data Collection

Data will be collected according to the principles proposed by Yin (2009) which espouse using multiple sources of evidence, creating a case database and maintaining a chain of evidence. A topical outline will be followed for the Netherlands and the selected countries which reflects the main components of the programme for existing houses such as national policy, regulatory, financial and information measures, responsible parties, administrative, personnel and financial requirements, issues and future direction.

To define the current programme for existing housing in the Netherlands, data will be collected from a variety of sources, including research projects, databases, government policy documents, and third party assessments and reports of programmes. To corroborate data and elucidate current and future prospects, interviews will be conducted with key actors. Interviews will be semi-structured (Rose, 2005), recorded and fully transcribed.

A similar approach will be adopted when researching each selected country. Following review of secondary sources in line with the topical outline, phone interviews will be conducted with key actors from each leader country. Key actors will be identified through networks of which the OTB Research Institute forms part. Actors include those associated with:

National regulatory authorities; Supporting (Energy) agencies; Research Institutes;



Expected Outcomes and Early Findings

Following data collection it is anticipated that current policy action, future direction and resource commitments for improving the energy performance of existing private housing in the Netherlands and the selected countries will be revealed. During the comparative and evaluative stage of research it is expected that the current approach within the Netherlands can be critically appraised and lessons postulated.

A further expected outcome of research is that the practicalities and advantages of using the lesson drawing approach as a conceptual and analytical guide for research can be evaluated. In the long term it is aimed that results from this research component can contribute to academic discussions related to the leader/laggard debate, policy convergence, divergence and Europeanisation.

Data collection based on the topical outline for each country has identified some interesting findings at this stage of research. In England and Wales, EPCs form a compulsory document of the Home Information Pack required under legislation during property transaction (DCLG, 2009). In Germany, recent debate centred on the legalities attached to mandating micro-generation technologies during renovation or extension developments to existing residential houses (Smee, 2008). In Sweden, EPCs include other environmental considerations e.g. concentration of radon (Boverket, 2008). In addition, EPCs can be linked to wider sustainability criteria in Sweden through the Environmental Classification Scheme (ibid). The above early findings represent aspects which are particularly underdeveloped in the Netherlands. As research progresses, details of programmes in place in leader countries and abstraction of cause and effect models will identify in greater detail the value of such measures as lessons for the Netherlands.

At the macro scale research to date highlights parallels in the frameworks in which measures are developed within selected countries e.g Meer met Minder in the Netherlands, Klima:aktiv in Austria, the Building Living Dialogue in Sweden. As research progresses the differences, similarities and manner in which measures are influenced by these frameworks will be developed further.



Achieving the promised energy savings offered by existing houses requires a set of measures which can overcome barriers while maximising opportunities. It is stated that achieving efficiencies in energy use is no longer centred on technology but on innovation in regulations and innovations (Wall, 2008). This statement has resonance in the Netherlands and throughout the industrialised world as nations face ambitious commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and concurrently face an existing housing stock with much untapped energy saving reserve.

The purpose of this research component, which forms part of a larger PhD research project, is to identify measures in place in a selection of European countries that could contribute to the energy performance improvement of the existing private residential stock in the Netherlands. The concept and method of lesson drawing is adopted for


research. It is aimed that this approach will identify lessons which could be applied to the Netherlands and contribute to more innovative approaches to realising the energy saving potential within this element of the housing stock.

Following completion of this research component the next stage of the PhD project will climb from the programme level to the instrument level. The Energy Performance Certificate will be scrutinised and a survey of experts will be conducted to identify avenues for improvement and integration with other measures. A further element of research will utilise secondary data to develop a housing type and occupier profile to illuminate what measures can best be applied to what contexts. It is aimed that the combined results from these research components will contribute to the overall aim of the PhD which is to develop recommendations for the optimum formulation and content of measures targeting energy performance of existing private housing in the Netherlands.


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