We have all heard about the energy transition. But is it really 'the' energy transition, or 'an' energy transition? Are many different energy transitions possible? Who gets to decide?
From 10-12 October 2023, the Rotterdam neighborhood of Bospolder-Tussendijken (BoTu) hosted a three-day participatory 'Energy Festival' to discuss issues around energy-saving, the transition from gas to district heating and electrical cooking, and the role of residents, housing companies, the municipality and the energy industry in this process. Alongside practical short-term questions - How can we keep our energy bills down this coming winter? How do you cook dinner on an induction stove? - the festival was also a forum to discuss and imagine the ways that we engage with and understand 'energy' in our daily lives, both now and in the future.
At Huis van de Toekomst (House of the Future), residents, artists, activists and social designers presented their ongoing project to develop a local energy commons (energiemeent) and energy community (energiegemeenschap) in and around the historic Prof. Oud housing block as it awaits renovation.
This initiative asks how people can come together to rethink the way energy is generated, distributed, consumed and shared at the local level. For example, how can the power of the human body be better harnessed in everyday life? How can traditional knowledge and practices of (for example) the Turkish or Moroccan communities in this neighborhood be brought back into contemporary life in the way we bake, share, dress, and make use of domestic spaces? Can the energy we generate by collectively baking bread also heat the water of a communal bathhouse and for washing the dishes after a shared meal? And if a community was to generate its own solar or wind power, what challenges and limitations would it face from the housing association and the energy company, since it does not align with the energy transition as they are implementing it across BoTu?
We were introduced to the actors and practices that hope to find a space at Huis van de Toekomst in the coming 18 months: a shared kitchen for baking bread, community soup evenings, and bulk food cooperative; a textile studio for repair, alteration and repurposing of clothing and textiles; a wool workshop for processing local wool for use in blankets, clothing and insulation to minimize heating costs; collective gardening in the courtyard of the building; and more.
These initiatives at Huis van de Toekomst suggest that the energy transition is not a fixed, technocratic model to be imposed from above. By utilizing local knowledge, artistic methods, everyday life practices, and a collective, participatory approach, they show that other transitions are possible, and that residents can have a greater say in both what their neighborhood is transitioning towards, and how that transition is decided and managed. The CoNECT team in the Netherlands will be participating in and documenting this journey over the coming months and years.
For more photos of the activities and a report of the three days (in Dutch), see the website of Huis van de Toekomst.