Friesland: an exceptional Dutch local partnership

30 January 2017

Something special is happening in Friesland. Friesian housing corporations and contractors are teaming up to deliver large scale Net Zero Energy (NZE) home renovations. Housing association Elkien has taken the initiative to bring three large contractors together to develop a sound, affordable Net Zero Energy concept.

Killing two birds with one stone

Housing association Elkien has taken the lead in initiating this productive cooperation for innovation. Managing director Alex Bonnema explains his vision of how it could all come together. “There is obviously a lot going on in the area of energy transition. We are aware that in 15 years the natural gas in the Netherlands will be gone and we are looking to move away form fossil fuels. Elkien’s goal is to keep our rental properties affordable, and that means that rental and energy prices mustn’t fluctuate. In addition to this we have an ageing population in Friesland. This trend looks set to continue, so we also want to address this challenge. Net Zero Energy provides us with an opportunity to address these issues in combination. With a sound and affordable concept, we can transition around 15,000 of our dwellings to Net Zero Energy without needing to raise housing costs (rent + energy costs). But Net Zero Energy also ensures that the housing costs remain stable into the future, and on the side we can simultaneously refit 80% of these homes with technology to meet simple aged care needs.”

In for the long haul

Bonnema acknowledges that this approach is not possible using short term solutions and is looking to establish long lasting collaborations, local to Friesland. “We aim to keep our housing costs under €620 per month for renters. Market providers will need to innovate to achieve this (with Net Zero Energy for example) but in order to innovate they need a long term strategy. This will require a certain economy of scale and a combination of local talent. You have to be in for the long haul, otherwise you only get short term solutions that fall short. We’re aiming, together with the contractors, for long term innovations.”

Joining forces

To develop the Net Zero Energy concept to its full potential will require cooperation, so Elkien has invited the three largest contractors in the area to share their knowledge; Bouwgroep Dijkstra Draisma, Van Wijnen and Jorritsma Bouw. “You have to build an alliance, otherwise everyone just looks out for themselves. These three parties each have their own strengths and the art is to combine them as effectively as possible.”

Contractors offer a peek at their innovations

One of the contractors embracing the project is Bouwgroep Dijkstra Draisma. “We want to make a difference across the board” explains Biense Dijkstra, director of Dijkstra Draisma. And that is exactly what they have done. Over a period of two months, all three businesses involved have met with each other at least once per week. They have further taken the exceptional step of letting each other in on their latest developments. That is new in the building world. “Yes, that was certainly exciting” says Dijkstra. “You actually exchange your latest innovations, and whilst this is unusual, we have all taken the plunge. Through this process it becomes clear where each other’s strengths lie”. For example, Dijkstra Draisma has been innovative when it comes to facades and even uses robots to install stone veneer. Van Wijnen has already developed a core energy product with performance guarantees and Jorritsma has innovated most in the domain of logistics and feels right at home working in earthquake zones. Dijkstra is convinced that “by bringing these innovations together we can deliver the best and most affordable NZE product”. The Net Zero Energy concept that has arisen out of this collaboration is offered to Elkien with a guarantee that the price of the NZE renovations will drop still a further 20%! “Of course, the guarantee that the price will drop is fantastic” says Bonnema.

Local government also comes to the table

The housing corporations are offering an economy of scale and the contractors a top concept, but the collaboration doesn’t stop there. Four local councils in the region where many of Elkien’s properties are located have also joined the initiative; Leeuwarden City Council, and the councils of Súdwest Fryslân, Heerenveen and Smallingerland. “These four councils have a sustainable vision which they don’t only want to talk about, but also to realise on the ground” explains Bonnema. “The Council of Súdwest Fryslân, for example, wants all rental properties in their area to be energy neutral by 2030 and will require all new buildings after 2020 to be energy neutral. That’s bold!”

Alliances of stakeholders, that is the future.

In order to forge alliances of stakeholders like these in Friesland, there has been a deviation from traditional professional relationships. “In order to innovate, you need to leave the traditional client role behind. Rather than specifying complicated targets and objectives, you need to look towards the interests of all stakeholders. The long term objectives. These objectives need to align. Through mutual understandings you gain insights and come to the best solutions” says Bonnema. And Dijkstra sees a new role for the contractors: “Let’s leave our fears behind us and change the term competitor into partner.” We are certainly going to hear more from Net Zero Energy in Friesland.

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