“Spurring the green revolution” by Suzanne Beckman Lapré (3rd Place in NLJP Essay Contest)

NL Japan Relations Essay Contest 2022

Theme: Energy transition in the Netherlands and Japan: how to benefit from each other through cooperation

Suzanne Beckman Lapré | Leiden University | MA International Relations

Full citations and references can be seen here in the essay’s original format

Spurring the green revolution:

How cooperation between Dutch and Japanese smart cities can further economic development, enhance societal life, and help reach climate goals

For Japan, a country that lacks critical natural resources, energy security has been a long-time priority on the national agenda. For much of its history, Japan has largely relied on imported energy to meet demand, whereas nuclear power provided roughly 25% of the total energy supply before the tragic 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident. Sending shockwaves throughout the world, opposition against nuclear energy grew and its production decreased, while the overall demand for renewables started rising. This is particularly so since the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement ratification signed by both Japan and the Netherlands.

The bulk of our energy is consumed in cities, which house roughly 90% of the population in both the Netherlands and Japan. With cities clearly having become the preferred environment to live, renewables the preferred source of energy, and climate change recognised as a serious global issue, there has never been a more critical time to seek out new collaborative partnerships and to boldly explore developing terrains with the aim to further economic development, enhance societal life, and help reach climate goals.

Smart city development is one of the key strategies by the Dutch government in combatting climate change as cities account for 80% of all greenhouse gas emissions. The Netherlands has three high-ranked cities in the IMD Smart City index 2021, being Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam, and ranks 11th on the 2021 World Economic Forum Energy Transition Index, thus signaling its frontrunner position. It is no surprise that many companies and institutes invest heavily in renewables.

For instance, TNO is working on an Ecodistrict planner that serves as a national map to establish target areas for green investments, such as self-sufficient buildings. With a foothold in Japan already, TNO could greatly speed up the process of colouring both Dutch and Japanese city energy landscapes green. Another example is Solliance, a partner of TNO that is active in developing Photovoltaic (PV) solar cells that can be applied to existing applications and products, like windows and curved constructions. In 2021 Solliance teamed up with Panasonic, which may serve as a basis for future collaborations. Meanwhile, Eneco plans to build an energy-neutral environment in Amsterdam with 8,000 sustainably heated and cooled houses via heat extraction of surface water, whereas, in a much-needed move, oil-giant Shell set up the first hydrogen transport refueling station near Amsterdam in 202013 and pioneered with their hydrogen-fueled public transport in Groningen. Again, both these companies have a strong presence in Japan.

As for Japan, specific challenges such as an aging society and declining birth rate have led to smart cities development mainly revolve around ‘Society 5.0’15 aimed at balancing economic advancement and resolving social issues through data-driven high-tech solutions. However, increased environmental concern made companies like Panasonic and Toyota help construct smart cities with a focus on using renewables like green hydrogen and solar power.

Moreover, Japan was the first country ever to adopt a Basic Hydrogen Strategy in 2017 to realise a hydrogen-based society and increase its energy security and economic competitiveness, as well as reduce its carbon emission. This is a groundbreaking move since Japan lacks hydrocarbon resources and thus requires large-scale infrastructural investment. For instance, Fukushima is home to one of the world’s largest green hydrogen research and production centres, Kawasaki heavy industries pioneered with their liquefied hydrogen carrier for mass maritime transportation, while in Kobe hydrogen is already used to power hospitals, sports centres
and trains.

With more countries shifting their attention towards hydrogen power, the Netherlands introduced its first hydrogen strategy in 2020 and declared its European leadership aspirations in this field. However, increasing efficiency in green hydrogen production requires more investments. With hydrogen power being a key point on both the Dutch and Japanese national agenda, and Japan already making great strides in this field, it is crucial to look for ways to collaborate. At the same time, the Netherlands is significantly advancing in smart city development, where the sharing of cutting-edge technologies may ultimately prove to be beneficial for all.

As becomes clear, implementing these innovative ideas on a wider scale and connecting with international partners to share best practices and knowledge would heighten our countries’ efficiency in tackling the shared challenges of transitioning to renewables in the face of climate change. With smart being the way forward, leaders in the Netherlands and Japan should look beyond their national borders, aspire to cooperate instead of compete and spur the green revolution!