Designing a Municipal Heating Transition Vision

12 July 2021 - Published by Deirdre Buist
The energy transition is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Government authorities play a major role in translating the international climate agreements (Paris) to both a regional and a local level through Regional Energy Strategies (RES), municipal heating visons and district implementation plans. Everyone will be affected by the energy transition - sustainable coalitions with local and regional stakeholders (including housing corporations, service providers, businesses and citizens) are absolutely key to the whole process.

On 7th July Stronghouse partners from Roeselare (BEL) and Noordenveld (NL) met online with a representative from the  SHIFFT 2Seas project in Bruges (BEL) to exchange experiences on designing a vision for the heating transition . Roeselare is just getting started and is keen to compare and share practices, not just about creating a heating vision but also about the follow through and  alignment with other sustainability goals.


Jaap Lobberzoo and Roy Stavenga presented the situation  in Noordenveld. "In the Netherlands, the municipalities are directly responsible for the take-up and implementation of a heating transition for the built environment. Together with property owners, residents, network services and other authorities, we are obliged to complete a vision by the end of 2021," Jaap explains. "This must include proposals for sustainable heating without the use of natural gas."

The national Heating Transition Vision offers guidelines and a roadmap for using a neighbourhood approach, providing some degree of direction for all parties involved in the planning. It includes:

  • A start analysis from the Dutch Environment Assessment Agency Plan Bureau Leefomgeving (PLB) showing, nationwide, the costs for the different heating options that can replace natural gas on a neighbourhood level.

  • A handbook to support further analyses on a local level (using additional local data) from the Heating Expertise Centre (Expertise Centrum Warmte – ECW)

In Noordenveld, the heating transition vision forms part of a strategy towards  becoming  a climate neutral municipality by 2040. "We want to achieve this together with the inhabitants," says Roy. Noordenveld started with a full local analysis of the required  heating  capacity, potential savings, available sources and opportunities to link with other sustainability goals. This was  validated  by the Environment Assessment Agency (PLB). "We see the heating vision not as a dictate but rather a compass that provides direction for the district implementation plans."


Bruges continues to expand the existing municipal heating network (from 1972),  fed by the IVBO central incinerator. Lies Debbaute, representing the Interreg 2Seas Shifft project, presented their current approach to the citiy's future heating.   "We are also finalising our climate plan towards 2030 and the communication campaign for our 'Zorgen voor Morgen… Start vandaag' programme. One of the guidelines in the climate plan is ‘fossil-free heating’. We've now almost finalised a feasibility study for district heating in the inner city on this theme. The historical context (narrow streets, monumental buildings) makes it extra challenging but, leading by example,  the city nd is already preparing the furnace rooms in municipal buldings so that they are 'heatnet-ready'."

Just as in Noordenveld, Bruges designed their heat zoning plan for 2050 using the current heating requirements,  plus the additional dwellings and savings potential. Available energy sources were also identifiedl. There are two options for Bruges: a collective system (with a lot of waste heat) and an individual system whereby  heat pumps will have a leading role. At least 50% of the city's heat must come from collective solutions but Bruges needs more different sources.Considering the well known Trias Energetica with regards to energy sonsumption, the heat demand has to decrease first. With this in mind, the City is working closely with Roeselare on a one-stop-shop concept to support and unburden citizens during their home energy-renovation process.


Meanwhile, our Stronghouse partners in Roeselare have just started developing their heating vision. While technically the implementation isn’t a problem, the City considers this to be more of a societal and financial challenge. The current property market (with many privately owned houses) and spatial planning are the problem now. “Roeslare has a flexible attitude in terms of what must happen first – whether that be energy renovation and then the connection to renewable energy sources, or vice versa,” says Project Manager Ine Lobelle. “Our initial approach is the same – we’re analysing the local data. In the neighbourhood where the Stronghouse pilot is being implemented, Roeselare is now creating a district heating transition plan and aligning this with other policy fields and urban regulations. There is a relatively large heating net connected to the city’s waste incinerator, which offers even more potential.”  


Discussion & learnings

The three municipalities have similar approaches to the design of a heating transition vision.

  • Sources: The differences in available heat sources is interesting. The waste incinerators in Flanders are partly a temporary solution but the infrastructure can also be used for other sources.

  • Ownership and exploitation: The construction and ownership of the heat networks in Roeselare and Bruges are different, leading to different tariffs. Noordenveld does not have a network. In the Netherlands, the Municipality cannot be a supplier but requires an operating company.

  • Prices and affordability: In the Netherlands electricity is about 1.5 times more expensive than gas, and rising. In Flanders it is 4 times more expensive, making it less affordable. The costs for heating in the Netherlands should be about the same for gas or electricity.

  • Municipal approach: A top down approach to the energy transition is unlikely to work. Europe, followed by national governments, have set the goals, but the municipalities are responsible for implementation. National authorities have yet to profile themselves strongly as co-initiators - they could and should provide a more guidance. Some degree of pressure can be put on new builds and renovations requiring planning permission – but there must be a balance. In Flanders, changing regulations and conflicting national policies exasperate the situation.

  • Anticipating for the future: Noordenveld sees there is much to be gained by anticipating for the future heating infrastructure when carrying out major groundworks (e.g. the replacement of the sewer pipes) in a neighbourhood. Close cooperation with public utility services is key. Inter-departmental cooperation on future issues is common practice in Roeselare.

  • Awareness and engagement: There is still much to be gained in terms of awareness raising in all regions. Bruges is working in two neighbourhoods on creating ‘ownership’. One successful tool is ‘the energy party’ – a throwback to the Tupperware parties. Roeselare and Bruges are planning a fully guided energy transition pilot for 100 houses with a ‘one-stop-shop’ service for these homeowners. All three municipalities are investing heavily in the creation of energy communities and are allowing neighbourhoods to organize their own activities too. A number of districts have formed their own neighbourhood committee. 

Comparing & sharing

At the end of this online session, the Stronghouse partners agreed that they had benefitted greatly from this exchange of practices and the comparison of context and methods when creating a heating transition vision. Moving forward, our approaches may differ slightly but, ultimately, we’re all headed in the same direction.


Read more about  Sustainable Heating: Implementation of Fossil-Free Technologies SHIFFT Interreg 2 Seas