When you landed at this blog post I assume, you know some basic rules how to save energy and resources by consuming less, reducing animal products in your diet and flying the least possible. And maybe you’re already living according to this, you have already switched to a truly green energy supplier, have sold your car and now you are biking along and ask yourself, was this now all? Aren’t there more steps that don’t involve changing the entire whole world, but which I can take. In the best case, immediately, because time is running out. And this is what this blog post will be about: Steps that you can take yourself that have impact and are rarely found in the canon of actions for a greener future.
Your own small scale solar panels
If you own a house, of course it is best to fill your whole roof with solar panels. Investing yourself gives you a higher interest rate, but if you don’t have the money at this moment there are also possibilities to rent them from a company, that takes care of everything for you from the planning to the maintenance. Milieucentraal has made a nice overview about this possibility. And why should you do this? According to a recent report by a German research institute the energetic payback time for solarpanels dropped down to below 1.5 years (p.33 of this report), this means that after less than 1.5 years, your solarpanels would have produced more energy than what was needed in the first place to produce them. Considering a life span of the panels of about 25 years this shows why it is energetically so beneficial to set up solar panels. The next question is of course, when do you get your money back. Currently, in the Netherlands, it is very beneficial to put up some solar panels, as the whole electricity that you produce (and also put into the net, if you don’t need it) just gets substracted from your energy bill. This rule is called salderingsregeling and makes sure that you might get your investment back within less than 7 years. And from then on, they just make money for you until the end of their lifetime is reached.
Now many of us don’t own a house, but rent. Even then there is the possibility to profit from the sun by setting up small scale solar panels. You set them up facing the sun and then they can be directly plugged into your existing wall socket. Thus they can be set up directly by yourself, so the investment is even lower as you typically don’t have to make changes in the electricity net of your house. For already 700€ you can get a complete set of 2 panels. Even if you don’t plan to stay in your current flat for long, this might make sense for you, as you can move them yourself. There are different companies where you can buy them and just get them delivered to your home where you can set them up on a suitable spot. There are different companies that offer this such as: plugin-zonnepaneel.nl, supersola.com and simply-solar.nl
Now even if you are living in a big building with many flats, there are companies (here is one example from Germany) specialised to put solarpanels on shared buildings and take care of everything from the design to the distribution of the electricity among the tenants, so if you’re in that category, there is still hope to profit from the sun in a financial way.
If you reached this point, either your housing situation does really not suit solar panels or you probably already have some installed :). And even then, there are plenty of possibilities in the Netherlands to increase the speed of the energytransition: Energycooperatives. According to Wikipedia, a cooperative is an association of people trying to reach a common goal with a jointly-owned enterprise. A good overview of different regional and countrywide cooperatives that aim to make green electricity can be found here. We want to quickly present three of them: Deelstroom Delft, De Windvogel and Zuidenwind. Typically you first need to become a member of a cooperative which allows you to take part in the assemblies where you can decide over the different subjects by using your right to vote. If you additionally have some spare money, you can often invest in new projects, like solar panels or a wind turbine. Then you can also benefit financially. This is not the focus though, the focus is rather that you want to support the aim of the cooperative.
At Deelstroom Delft they build solar panels together on roofs in Delft, such as on gyms. When you invested in a project, you can benefit from the postcoderegeling. This means the produced electricity is set off against the amount you use and you effectively pay a lower price for your electricity. Your investment is paid back within 15 years, so this mainly makes sense if you can not place solar panels on your own roof and if you plan to live in Delft for the next 15 years.
A bit different is the case with the two other energycooperatives we want to present here: Zuidenwind and Windvogel. They both have as a goal to build on-shore wind turbines, which is currently one of the cheapest source of electrical energy together with large scale PV systems, as shown here. Additionally it should form one important pillar in a fully renewable energy mix of the future. Still, you might have heard how difficult it has become to plan new wind turbines. Often projects are delayed by protest which is driven by local people, who are not well enough involved in the planning and personally only carry the negative effects of a wind turbine nearby. And here comes the local cooperative idea into play. As any one can become a member of the cooperative, they allow people to actually decide over projects and benefit from them directly. But more importantly the local cooperatives have an interest in involving the surrounding by taking their concerns seriously and by giving back some of the profit to the local community. At Zuidenwind this works via a so called omgevingsfonds. For each MWh of electricity that is produced, the fund is stocked up by a certain amount of money, which amounts to thousands of euro per year. The money has to be used according to certain criteria, such as environmental friendliness, but in the end the locals decide what the money is used for. And this actually works, so Zuidenwind managed to build 5 wind turbines, since their start, 6 years ago. For us, this is an amazing example that if you seriously involve the local people, it is possible to realise new wind turbines in a very short time. Windvogel as a countrywide and big cooperative has shifted a bit more towards supporting local cooperatives with infrastructure and knowledge, but still is busy building new wind turbines.
Also here it is possible to contribute financially, when there is a new project. You can lend the cooperative money on which they pay some interest. The interest rate is not fixed, but is yearly decided by the members based on the profit from the last year. But even if you have no spare money, you can still become a member, contribute to the cooperative and vote in the assemblies.
As already mentioned, the idea of the cooperatives is not to make a lot of money, but to actually take part in making a change. But if you don’t find the time for this, it is also possible to invest your money directly in environmentally friendly projects. There are several possibilities, you could for instance ask your current bank if they offer a green fund. You should watch out though, where the fund actually invests in. Often these funds are not as green as the name suggests and you have very little insight where the money actually goes to. Often the criteria for the funds to invest in a company are not as strict, as you might think and you find companies in the funds, that you wouldn’t expect in there but find in the big stock market indices. So make sure, to study the background information carefully, before you invest in one of those. But there are also funds, which fulfill certain criteria and are thus accepted by the government as a groenfonds, which might even give you a tax benefit on the money you invested there.
Luckily, there are also alternatives, that give you more insight, what your money actually does. One organisation which offers several funds to spread the risk a bit is meewind. You can find very detailed descriptions on their website, which projects are supported with their money. If you want even more control where your money goes, you should have a look at crowdinvesting, which is possible via different platforms such as zonnepanelendelen, duurzaaminvesteren.nl and oneplanetcrowd.com . Here you can browse through different projects, that are currently looking for investors and choose the one that you want to support. But for all of these investment possibilities, there is a general rule: They are typically high risk (and therefore they offer high interest rates) so you should only invest money you can afford losing.
We hope you found some new ideas in this summary and wish you good luck in taking your next step towards a more sustainable future.