The Trias Energetica is one of the generic guidelines that has a wide adoption in the Netherlands since the nineties: it states that, in order of importance: 1 reduce energy demand, 2 use renewable energy 3 use fossil fuels as effective as possible. But is this still valid?
First some history. As a ‘three step approach’, the approach already existed for a number of years, at the end of the 1980s. Its a fairly logical division, used by many, and was primarily used in education at the beginning. The first to make this approach more widely known was professor Cees Duyvestein at TU Delft, in one of their publications. Then it was picked up by Novem, The Dutch agency for energy and environment , which brainstormed over a catchy term for it, and came up with Trias Energetica . This was then promoted by the organization , in publications and at trade fairs. At the time I was already on a somewhat broader track, the Trias Ecologica. Because of course it does not only apply to energy. But more about that later.
First lets have a closer look at the energetic requirements: Is that correct? The first step, ‘reducing’, over the years has been limited to technical reduction, in construction especially by insulating for example. But reducing is more: it is limiting, avoiding, preventing: that there is any demand at all, for example. Say, the difference between avoiding demand and reducing usage. In fact, these are two separate steps: 1 restrict demand, 2 reduce use.
For example, under 1, the surface to be heated can be restricted. In that case there is also less need to insulate under step two. There seems to be a taboo on this, but thats not the issue to discuss here.
Step 2, in fact now step 3, use renewable energy, still applies. (Although the three steps also apply separately to these renewable energy conversion devices: reduce the need for renewable energy devices, , because these are products in itself, with their impact , for which th three step strategy applies as well )
And then the original step 3: efficient non-renewable energy use: Which we now can obviously eliminate: in line with avoiding global climate change we want to get rid of fossils, so the efficient use of fossil fuels has become superfluous, a non-issue. At best, this step could be ‘efficient use of renewable energy’. But no more fossil. (how is again another question) . So the contemporary variant of a Trias Energetica would be as follows:
1 avoid demand
2 reduce use
3 provide renewable energy efficiently
But without fossil fuels and only relying on renewable energy: it is not self-evident anymore to reduce a lot, technically (2 from above). After all, (operational) energy (for buildings) is no longer a problem, but the materials are, to reduce energy use (insulation, double glazing, etc. ) as well as to convert (renewable) energy (PV panels, wind turbines, etc). Solar panels are in fact building materials, that ‘accidentally’ happen to also deliver (free) power: it is all about the lowest material input to arrive at a for instance a 0-energy situation. ( regarding operation of buildings)
The Trias Ecologica, which consisted of a Trias energetica, a Trias materia, and a Trias aqua, the closing of 3 cycles, now can do without Trias energetica, and is therefore limited to the Trias Materia and the Trias Aqua (of which the Triass Aqua has its own characteristics , which we leave aside here for a moment). And for materials the same applies as what we derived above for energetics: With again the additional first step:
1) Avoid demand, and then
2) reduce use, followed by
3) applying renewable raw materials efficiently
An example of step 1 is , as I see nowadays happen in some projects, , not to built an extra extension to a house, to realize additional PV panels surface. That is double material use and the wrong direction. Avoid demand for PV panels and the knife cuts on two sides: No materials for construction, fewer PV panels.
Step 3 involves applying renewable materials, in that sense mass does not differ from energy. It is two of the same: energy can be seen as rest mass, or materials as rest energy. And if it is not renewable, and renewed, exhaustion is ultimately the result. While the focus is now entirely on (technical) energy management , this translates naturally into more material use.
What remains is a the original step 3 in energy : to use non renewables efficiently, translated as : efficient use of non-renewable materials (non renewables are by prevailing definition finite resources). Here, too, the aim is exclusively for renewable materials, and this step can therefore become superfluous in time for materials as well. At the very most, this step can be replaced by re-using or recycling material (with the addition of renewable energy). By the way, recycling or reusing energy is hardly possible, it is difficult to top up energy with the addition of more energy…* Just some (limited) cascading, or downcycling of increasingly less qualitative flows).
Including that last step, its not a Trias anymore , but: the Tetra Materia.
1 avoid demand
2 limit or reduce use
3 use renewable material
4 reuse and recycling of both renewable and non-renewable materials.
From Trias energetica, which has done its job for operational energy, we now have arrived to focus on the Tetra Materia**. A new focus , and very useful as a generic approach. However, not yet the complete story. About that next time.
* Though it does happen in some sense: Thanks to depleting stocks and CO2 emitting use of fossil fuels, nowadays there is more (fossil) energy input in agriculture, as comes out in the form of calories .
** This is for buildings. The industry is a separate case. What we do not use in the building sector does not have to be produced by the industry and therefore will not create an impact. But as long as we use industry products, and the materials for products are still processed with fossil energy, the old trias energetica still applies to the industry …. So what applied to the building sector before , now applies to the production phase of materials and products. First of all : limit the demand and reduce use of energy for extraction and production. And change to produce with renewable energy.
But what if that industry will soon work with renewable energy, then what?
In that case energy is also no longer relevant here, but again the materials, to built renewable energy technologies, for example.