Successful Development of Decentralised District Heating

Application of a Theoretical Framework

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One of the most important goals for energy transition is to reduce CO2 by turning to renewable energy, such as solar and wind energy. However, the production of renewable energy is not always an integral part of the energy system. Instead, it may have a decentralized basis, even up to the household level. In the Netherlands, this decentralizing trend coincides with developments in/of spatial planning, in which case the government is retreating to stimulate private and business development. Thus, a new kind of arrangement is emerging in the Netherlands, the so-called organic urban development, in which bottom-up trends meet top-down developments. This paper looks into such organic arrangements, especially those designed for district heating, to get a better understanding of the relationship between the energy sector and spatial planning. The main question of this paper is: How and under what conditions can district heating get a more important role in local energy systems in the Dutch context? Based on an extensive literature study on the international best practices of bottom-up energy initiatives, and two theoretical concepts – institutional theory and technical entrepreneurship – we build a theoretical framework for the organic development of urban energy projects that is then applied in two Dutch cases: the municipal heating company of Rotterdam (top-down) and the privately-owned district heating in Lanxmeer, Culemborg (bottom-up). The results of the study comprise of a practical and scientific contribution. First is a useful framework that makes the iterative and complex character of urban development processes clear and shows how urban energy projects can be successful taken into this process. Second, the study identifies a new important tactic as part of institutional theory: utilization, which represents the linking of existing physical and governance conditions to new urban energy projects.