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How can exploring the future lead to clever thinking in the present? With the so-called future lab ‘Toekomstatelier NL2100’, the The Board of Government Advisors (College van Rijksadviseurs, CRa) is putting the long term perspective once again at the center of the spatial development in the Netherlands. NOHNIK, as one of the three offices, has been asked by the CRa to bring together knowledge about future energy and data networks from expert meetings and desk studies. In parallel, the other offices worked on the themes of water, flora & fauna, people, cargo & commodities. As a synthesis, the offices jointly conducted a design exploration for the Netherlands in the year 2100 during a multi-day workshop. Based on the principle of ‘soil and water leading’ and with a specific focus on the main energy structure. Within this exploration, NOHNIK has sketched a map for 2100, developed a zoom-in for the metropolitan area of Arnhem-Nijmegen and explored various principles for the energy structure and the layer-approach. 

Soil and water leading in occupation and networks. Copyright NOHNIK

Soil and water leading in occupation and networks

The current residential areas and industrial clusters in low-lying polders and the river beds are vulnerable and unsafe in regard to the rising sea levels. When looking at 2100, we have to rethink our basic spatial approach: soil and water as leading principles and not as an organism that can be manipulated. In this way we determine the areas where we can live and work: on high, dry and safe grounds. The position of the network layer (energy, transport, mobility) is then derived from these areas. With sea level rise as the dominant change, a study was conducted for the Netherlands in the year 2100. Within the design exploration, four different levels of sea level rise were used (present, +0.75m, +2m, +5m). The most extreme scenario has been visualised for 2100.

Visualisation of the decentralised energy biotope. Copyright NOHNIK

Design exploration NL in the year 2100, a perspective

In the long term, as a result of a significant rise in sea level, an eastward migration towards higher grounds is inevitable. The rising water level in both the sea and rivers means that the low lying polders in the Randstad will gradually lose their function towards 2100. A rich inland estuary evolves between the row of dunes at the North Sea seashore and the gradient to higher grounds, roughly on the line Groningen-Antwerp. The estuary landscape is a wet and very dynamic nature area, with opportunities for energy production. The major rivers meander in a natural course from east to west through this estuary. In the river system, a distinction is made between rivers for water drainage and rivers for cargo transport. As a result, the river system becomes more natural, can drain more water, longer retain water and serve as a freshwater source for the Netherlands. 

Map of the Netherlands in 2100. Copyright NOHNIK

Cities such as Amsterdam and The Hague are protected as cultural-historical relics, but economic activities are increasingly moving towards the higher grounds in the east and south of the Netherlands. The proximity of industrial-economic clusters such as Eindhoven, Arnhem, Antwerp, the Ruhr area and the Duisburg-Düsseldorf metropolitan region provides a logical basis for reorientation of the current industrial and residential areas in the Randstad. New urban and industrial development is taking place dominantly around these areas. The dune landscape at the North Sea seashore will be preserved as a habitable barrier.

National smart grid with energy biotopes and energy-infra-corridors. Copyright NOHNIK

Parallel to this migration, a national smart grid is being set up with ‘energy biotopes’ and ‘energy infrastructure corridors’ (see explanation of concepts below). Because energy and transport axes such as the current Betuwelijn and the A15 corridor are located within the river system, they are vulnerable for flooding in the long term and will have little future value towards 2100. Due to the dominant urban development by 2100 in the eastern part of the country, the main energy infrastructure must therefore migrate along with it.

Exploring the energy network of 2100: decentralised energy biotopes

In an efficient energy system, energy production is linked as directly as possible to consumption, both in terms of space and time. This saves transport, losses, and (temporary) storage. However, this ideal situation is not yet the case. A step towards the ultimate situation is the ‘energy biotope’. A geographically defined habitat, in which the environmental conditions from soil and water are optimally utilised for a great diversity of renewable energy production, in order to meet regional demand. The energy biotope is therefore conditional for an urban community to settle and develop in it. Various biotopes exchange shortages and surpluses via a redundant network of centralised energy infrastructure corridors.

Visualisation of exploration of centralised energy infra corridors. Copyright NOHNIK

Exploring the energy network of 2100: central energy infrastructure corridors

Large parts of the current energy network are located in low lying polders and river areas that will become vulnerable towards 2100. A future shift of the dominant national economic activities  towards the higher grounds, urges for the realisation of new energy infrastructure corridors. In these corridors energy, data, electric transport and mobility are combined in one infrastructure that connects the various energy biotopes and industrial clusters. The advantages of this central network are for example more efficient energy consumption and use of space. The energy infrastructure corridors steer urban development towards higher grounds and diminish the incentive to expand along old infrastructures in vulnerable areas. They thereby help shape the metropolitan landscape of 2100: ‘energy-oriented development’ based on soil & water as a leading principle. By also combining the corridors with green-blue structures, they gain extra significance as supra-regional ecological connections.

Zoom-in Arnhem Nijmegen region

As sea levels continue to rise, residential and work areas are slowly migrating eastward. Located above the rising sea level and away from the wild rivers, the higher grounds of eastern Netherlands offer a safe place to live and work. Connected to the industrial activities in e.g. Duisburg, Düsseldorf and the Ruhr area, the region is developing into the new Randstad. Like an urban archipelago on the slopes of the higher grounds, surrounded by a natural meandering river system. The design exploration proposes a transition for the four levels of sea level rise. With regard to the water system (separation between water discharge rivers and rivers for cargo transport), the urbanisation of the high ground and slopes, the transformation of forests to ensure drinking water storage, and the development of energy biotopes and connecting energy infrastructure corridors.

Energy system in 2100: connections, dependenties and possible futures. Copyright NOHNIK

The Future of Energy and Data

Based on expert sessions and a desk study, a spectrum of possible futures with regard to energy and data networks has been explored. Characteristics of the physical energy and data system, control and ownership, ethics, and themes such as generation, security of supply, autonomy and geopolitics cannot be viewed in isolation from each other. They are part of a cohesive (value) system. Like a mixing console that determines what our energy and data system will look like in 2100. In this mixing console the dependencies and relationships between the themes are made clear. Storylines of possible futures arise within the mixing console as a result of choices, turning points and dependencies. The results of the studies of future energy and data networks are contained in two files and are summarised in a 5×5 matrix. It contains the most important inconvenient truths, lock-ins, no-regrets, solving concept and knowledge urgencies for both data and energy.

copyright NOHNIK

Towards a new socio-economic narrative for 2100

Exploring a world in 2100 requires a critical attitude towards our current thinking and doing. If we shape the future based on our current actions and habits, nothing may change and we will lock ourselves in. Unraveling our current socio-economic narrative is the basis for revealing lock-ins and inconvenient truths. This allows us to take a position with regard to our current behaviour and to outline a new narrative for 2100. We can ultimately translate this new narrative into a spatial image as outlined in the design exploration.

Check out the website of the Toekomstatelier NL2100
Download our reports of the Energy and Data studies

Year: 2022
Type: futurology, research by design
Client: Board of Government Advisors College van Rijksadviseurs
Status: finished, published
In collaboration with: Board of Government Advisors (College van Rijksadviseurs). Design study in collaboration with HNS and Rademacher/DeVries