Energy-Up: What’s not to like about Holland?

02 March 2017

Blog by Tom Elliott, Energiesprong UK Market Development Team

Making our way from Utrecht Central to the Energy Up conference through an industrial estate, we have been advised to keep an open mind in preparation. Just as we turn a corner, we spot a chicken crossing the road and that helps to set our minds for the day – this conference won’t be your usual conference and it will get you thinking.

The dated exterior of the Werkspoorkathedral building where the event is being held catches us off-guard into thinking that the building is past its best. Far from it, the interior has been brought back into use via an impressive retrofit, utilising modern technologies whilst maintaining the industrial equipment once used to manufacture steel for trains and bridges back in the 1960s. How fitting that this National Energiesprong conference is being held in a mid-19th century building which has been brought back into the 21st century using creativity and craftsmanship.

In addition to the impressive venue, the initial crowd and atmosphere is also striking and all participants are actively engaged in positive and productive conversation, instantly highlighting the positive attitude of all stakeholders. Attending are representatives from Energiesprong Holland, France, Italy and UK.

Interactive Energiesprong learning sessions in an inflatable igloo

Having looked at the Dutch Energiesprong journey exhibited in a very creative way and fuelled by coffees and pastries, we then head towards the first of our interactive Energiesprong learning sessions in an inflatable igloo, hosted by Ron van Erck, Head of Energiesprong International development. After a short and unexpected power outage resulting in an impromptu team building exercise to hold up the slow and comical deflation of the igloo, power is restored and Ron begins to present the practical journey of Energiesprong in Holland. What’s instantly clear is just how much work, analysis and learning has been achieved by the Dutch E=0 programme. On the surface, the concept of Energiesprong is so simple, but beneath the intriguing name is a complex web of information which has been used to further develop and improve the approach to ensure that all project deliverables are achieved – contract management, resident involvement, project management, supply chain training etc. These marginal yet important and continuous steps towards improvement remind of the concept of marginal gains, which transformed and revolutionised the Team GB Cycling Team. After all, we are in Holland where bicycles outnumber humans!

Onto our next session, where we are discussing the technological improvements used for Energiesprong. Taking the lead is Sjoerd who had worked as a senior manager at BAM for 15 years and has now begun advising local contractors how best to evolve and develop their business practices in order to ensure that they are ready for Energiesprong – oh, and yes he has started his very own Factory Zero as well! There is no doubt that the supply chain have done a great job of collaborating to ensure that quality control is maintained and automation used where possible, helping to drive down costs and improve the customer experience. Laser surveys, CNC machining and pre-fabricated facades are just some of the innovation now employed on the Dutch projects.

Collaboration, collaboration, followed by collaboration

Before lunch we have one final lecture, this time on how to create the right match between housing association and supplier. The key messages to come across here are collaboration, collaboration, followed by collaboration. A large part of the success experienced by Energiesprong seems to be down to the fact that housing partners and industry have worked hard not only to understand each other but moreover to build a strong, trust-based collaboration in order to derive the best outcome for all involved. The strength of the relationship between the two parties is highlighted when, with a big smile, the client tells us to expect some failure but ensure that this is used as a learning experience. We leave the session feeling enthused by the rare evidence of such a positive relationship between client and contractor, and head off to the mini-bus which is taking us to our site visit to view a completed Energiesprong project.

What is not to like about Holland

After a short drive through Utrecht we exit the mini bus onto a residential road and for a moment can’t quite seem to figure out where the Energiesprong units are. I assume that we are a shot walk away from them until Arno from the UK Market Development, points to the houses just across the road. The similarity of the surrounding non-Energiesprong facades initially makes it hard to realise which are which, as the exterior brick work, roof pitch and window positions are exactly the same. It is only when we take a step back and notice the impressive PV array running from one end of the terrace to the other that we are able to distinguish. For me, this highlights the true brilliance of Energiesprong – the mechanism to upgrade the performance of a building to net zero energy standards, upgrading the façade without transforming or even altering the physical appearance of the surrounding community. It’s hard not to admire the achievements made so far by Energiesprong and really does show what can be achieved by the model, at the heart of which is industry and housing partner collaboration to develop comfortable homes for residents.

Feeling inspired and excited to be part of the Energiesprong team, we head back to the main event for a final closing speech followed by drinks and a chance to network. This was a truly excellent trip to a great country which is taking the lead on net zero energy buildings. What is not to like about Holland – cyclists seem to outnumber cars, the people are friendly and welcoming and they have Government thinking to the future. Perhaps this is why the rumours are saying that America First, but Holland second.

Tom Elliott, Energiesprong UK Solution Developer

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