(c) The Hague City Council

Collective action in the energy crisis

“I was always looking for something useful to do in my neighbourhood,” says Jelle de Jong, who is a sustainable property consultant in The Hague. “As I had done a lot of work on my own home to make it more energy efficient, I really liked the idea of being a volunteer energy coach, which is about energy education and also connecting with people.” 

“It is really rewarding visiting neighbours in their homes and sharing my knowledge. While we focus on simple energy-saving measures, I can also connect them to other city services if they are really struggling. People are very motivated to take action and thankful for the help.”  

The initiative that gave De Jong the opportunity to give back to his community in such a tangible and valuable way is the Energy Crisis Taskforce, a novel, holistic response to the energy crisis that had its beginnings in the city’s Resilience Department.

It’s also seen the city recognised internationally as a shortlisted best practice for the Eurocities Awards, taking place this year during the Brussels Urban Summit.

“We are usually looking at the major challenges of the day and thinking about how we can make systemic, long-term change, but we had to quickly adapt to deal with rapid changes being caused by the energy crisis,” says Jesse van Velzen, the city’s Resilience Policy Officer and Taskforce member.

We are usually looking at the major challenges of the day
— Jesse van Velzen

A cross-sectoral impact analysis informed the framework for the approach the city decided to take.

“The energy crisis was clearly going to affect citizens in many ways and it wasn’t going to stop with high energy bills,” says Van Velzen. “It could lead, for example, to more violence in the home and fewer children going to school.” 

The analysis also highlighted that the municipality was going to have to brace itself for problems ranging from power supply issues and skyrocketing energy bills to the protection of local employment, leisure facilities – effectively the city’s entire way of life.

Only a comprehensive and integrated approach to the city’s crisis mitigation actions was going to address all these issues with the urgency required.  

Crisis as catalyst

“There needed to be more of a link between different topics and different municipal departments, from sport to social security and energy, and this is where the idea for a taskforce came in,” explains Van Velzen.

“We recreated the way we do governance so that instead of constantly checking between departments we had one body with one task and a direct reporting line to the city’s directors. This boosted the flow of information from the departments and accelerated decisions which we could then move up for execution.”

We recreated the way we do governance
— Jesse van Velzen

The Hague also recognised the need for more of a direct link between the city and its residents and businesses, so that their feedback could pinpoint where help was needed most and form the basis of the interventions the taskforce put into action.

The exceptionally broad range of interventions expected to emerge from this process meant there was also a need to make connections that hadn’t existed before with utility companies, health insurers and social enterprises.

With this approach agreed, the Energy Crisis Taskforce was launched in September 2022 with the aim of helping people and organisations reduce their energy consumption and assisting those in financial need. The city also took the opportunity to accelerate the energy transition by promoting the use of new sustainable solutions and renewable energy.

The initiative kicked off with a communications campaign that spread the word via letters to 130,000 households and 12,000 businesses alongside webinars, brochures, posters, flyers and media coverage and the city’s network of neighbourhood offices.

Simultaneously, the city reached out to residents through social workers operating in the neighbourhoods and more than 50 district talks.

Tools for saving energy presented in The Hague

“Employees from the municipality joined these meetings so there was a two-way interaction, with the needs of residents and practical solutions from the city coming together quite quickly,” says Van Velzen.

At twice-weekly taskforce meetings, experts from different sectors and specialists in participation, strategy and execution created synergies between all the incoming information so that every intervention was precisely targeted. 

Stepping inside people’s homes

The taskforce speedily launched a dedicated website, in eight languages, bringing together in one place information about how the city can help with reducing energy consumption and accessing support, for everyone from families to students and landlords to entrepreneurs.

Here, people were signposted to help with paying their energy bills and preventing their power being turned off and to the city’s 30 helpdesks where they could talk to someone face-to-face about their energy or money worries.

Residents could also see what financial support they might be eligible for, such as the national energy assistance allowance and grants from a temporary emergency fund that paid part of the energy bills of those most in need. 

People don't have the money to invest in major energy saving measures
— Jelle de Jong

While the website and the community meetings introduced the initiative and key energy-saving concepts, it was the energy coaches who were able to tailor support to individual residents’ circumstances and homes. The Taskforce received 12,000 applications for their help. 

Engaging residents on energy use in the Hague
Engaging residents on energy use in the Hague

Coaches were trained to discuss different ways of reducing energy use, to talk through the initiative’s five-step plan for small energy-saving measures such as draught strips, radiator foil and LED lighting, and to supply and fit these for free on the spot.

“The five-step plan is very smart because people don’t have the money to invest in major energy saving measures and even if they do it’s hard to find a tradesperson to come and install them,” says De Jong.

“So for most it’s best to reduce their energy bill by focusing on things they can do themselves with no or very little cost, such as moving a sofa half a metre away from a radiator or unblocking airlocks in radiators.”

For all households, and older residents in particular, who daren’t turn on their heating for fear of debt, the initiative established 51 places around the city where they could go to warm up when their own houses became too cold.

From windows and waste to warm pools and kind hearts

In its support for businesses, the Taskforce took a slightly different tack, focusing on funding for those in the greatest need, free energy scans and longer-term sustainability solutions.

One particularly inspired idea saw the municipality promote collective purchase opportunities for things like heat pumps and sustainable terrace heaters. In one deal alone, 230 businesses bought high-insulation windows to reduce their energy bills.

When it came to sports and leisure facilities, one of the most compelling facts to emerge from the impact analysis was that swimming pools are the biggest users of power. The city responded with one big smart quick win.

we found a temporary solution... that uses residue heating from sewage
— Jesse van Velzen

“We couldn’t let residents swim in cold pools, so we found a temporary solution to reduce energy use while costs are so high that uses residue heating from sewage,” says Van Velzen. “Everyone has warm pools and no-one minds where the heat comes from!” 

The municipality itself set a challenging target to reduce its energy use by 15%.

Man standing with items from energy kit in the Hague
A suite of energy saving tools

It got off to a great start, slashing bills by turning the temperature down in all its buildings. Among a raft of other actions, it replaced 20,000 bulbs with energy efficient LED lighting, implemented a smarter building management system and followed the same energy-saving tips as residents and businesses. 

With its collaborative approach and focus on a shared problem, it’s perhaps not surprising that there was a definite feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’ in the city during the Energy Crisis Taskforce initiative. 

This was most marked when residents in one of the city’s most affluent areas were inspired to give part of the energy compensation they received from the government to a food bank, donating 100,000 in the process.  

The next crisis

At the end of its six month term, the Energy Crisis Taskforce was deemed to have been a resounding success. It had helped thousands of people coping with energy stress and debt, reduced the city’s energy consumption and spread knowledge in a way that will help pave the way for the energy transition.  

The city is making sure its legacy will live on.

We said wow, we can actually do things differently
— Jesse van Velzen

While the taskforce is being scaled down, the city plans to sustain its energy support efforts for a longer period of time using the municipality’s regular organisational structure.   

The new governance model pioneered by the taskforce is to be embedded within the municipality, as a way of ensuring resilience for the future.    

 “We saw decisions and change happen very fast and we said wow, we can actually do things differently,” says Van Velzen. “So we intend to prolong this way of working to speed the energy transition and to replicate it for the next crisis.” 

Tiphanie Mellor