“The living temperature should be lowered”… Energy Policy from 1974

A little bit of history this time, especially about the Dutch Energy Strategy of 1974. In the period leading  to that bill, we had two moments in history where we had taken the wrong turn . In the 19th century with coal and oil: which was understandable, there was much less known about the effects, and something more prosperity could hardly be called luxury at that time.

The next moment was in the early sixties, with gas and nuclear energy. By then we already should have known, the effects of fossil fuels and the disadvantages of nuclear energy, and not much later one after the other publication followed, as well as unrest in society: Students protests, oil boycotts (1973), club of Rome 1972, silent spring (1962), WWF is founded, holes in the ozone layer in the early seventies, and so on.

Actually we should now go back to the beginning of the sixties, to do it all over, to take another turn there. To avert the worst disasters, and from there start building carefully again, but with the knowledge of today: to do it ‘vegetarian’ , in everything.[1]

I was thinking about that during holiday, when I realized that indeed we actually soon realized that we had taken the wrong turn, and had to change things: It was in 1974. That year the minister of economy Lubbers, Who died last year, published the Government’s Energy Strategy . Note that he was from the catholic conservative party KVP ( But he himself was from the left wing) . Wikipedia reports on this:

An important achievement during his term as Minister of Economic Affairs was his Energy Strategy from 1974. Energy was no longer seen separately from the environment and spatial planning. Lubbers commissioned the energy research center in Petten to not only focus its research on nuclear energy. The possibilities of savings and alternative energy also had to be investigated. Moreover, according to Lubbers, the pace at which natural gas supplies were used had to be reduced. Two years later he pleaded in his ‘Memorandum on selective growth’ to give energy-saving and environmentally-friendly measures a prominent place in Dutch investment policy.

Well, energy saving, selective growth, you don’t hear that everyday now. But what was it like again, what was in that energy policy Strategy?

In the summary of the energy note I read:

Since the beginning of the 1960s, energy consumption has increased significantly both per unit of gross national product and per job. In addition, the energy consumption in the households increased rapidly; the growth rate increased from approx. 3.5% per year in the period 1950-1960 to approx. 9% per year between 1960 and 1970. One explanation for this is the strong increase in central heating and an increase in the average temperature. Partly as a result of low energy prices, little has been done to insulate homes and the like in our country. In the household sector, electricity consumption has also risen sharply with – in the sixties about 10% per year.

And a bit further:

Against the background of using energy as efficiently as possible, the idea is obvious to try to give low-energy branches a relatively more important place through selective growth policy.

Even for today that are strong commitments. He therefore comes to the necessary policy intentions:

Until about 1985, the undersigned regards as a priority in domestic policy:

– an energy consumption that is as economical as possible;

– a slower depletion rate of natural gas reserves;

– the formation of a strategic natural gas reserve;

– the most efficient use of petroleum and petroleum products,

where these products should only be used in as much as possible

those cases in which they are indispensable.

Followed by a list of measures, including, indeed, nuclear energy:

the operation in or around 1985 of three nuclear fired power stations of 1000 MW each;

But the most striking:

achieve that the average living temperature (the temperature reached by firing) decreases.

Please read that again: the living temperature must drop! The opposite has happened: more and more spaces were permanently brought to a warm level, there seems no restriction. And now we want to deep retrofit those houses as a whole so that we can heat them in its entirety. The best measure, selective space heating, and at a minimum temperatures, is not even discussed today. More than 40 years after the first energy policy strategy, we still miss the point….

It was also the time that the predecessor of later Novem and now RVO was founded: the Dutch Energy Development Company, NEOM. Which had to deal with:

New energy sources and technologies: as fossil fuels will succeed less in meeting the increasing demand for energy, alternative energy sources will need to be available. About the technological possibilities for serving energy from sun and wind, on the other hand, needs no doubt.

And in the relevant chapter we also read:

When developing alternative energy sources, attention should therefore also be paid to the development of new or improving existing energy transport and storage systems, only then other then conventional sources of energy can actually make a real contribution.

If we indeed would started developing those at the time … There were initiatives, but we became too rich. It was , to be fair, political and economic availability that underlies all this. Whe it comes to global warming, only one line is devoted to that: More or less saying that it is ‘not impossible’ ….:

This also involves global effects such as possible climate changes. These may be due to the thermal contamination of the water and the atmosphere as well as the increasing levels of carbon dioxide and dust in the atmosphere. A effective approach to these interregional and global environmental problems obviously requires good international cooperation, but does not exclude the national responsibility of the highly industrialized countries in particular for this issue.

It has therefore been established for more than 40 years that the Netherlands must take responsibility, and yet we still see the argument frequently used that the Netherlands has only minor influence on climate change and therefore should not invest. And even the Government today is fighting a lawsuit about the CO2 reduction requirement. After having lost two times, the judge ordered more CO2 reductions, the government even went to the high court now. One is stubborn and hardy. If only Lubbers was still young ….

Incidentally, of the two concrete alternatives, Nuclear energy and alternative sources, the first quickly was dismissed in the following years, mass protests caused the state to abandon nuclear power. However, we also not succeeded in creating a break through for the other alternative in that period: wind and sun. Not even after concrete goals were set in the environmental policy plans in the 1980s.

The perhaps most advanced example the past 40 years was not even realized through government programs but as an initiative of a private person: In 1993 in Woubrugge the family Kroon realizes the first zero energy house in Europe! [2]. From then, it will still take another 20 years before wind and sun, and zero energy houses are taken seriously, it seems.

Or will in about 40 years, around 2060, a columnist look back to the climate negotiations of today, and conclude that we knew already back then, but did too little in the years after ?



[1] Gebroken kringlopen, Ronald Rovers, uitgeverij Eburon ,2018 isbn-9789463012034 (in Dutch)

[2] https://www.energienulhuis-kroon.nl/ (recently 25 years old!)

Author: ronald rovers