Buurkracht - The Netherlands

A process that supports existing local initiatives in their efforts to save energy, developed by a DNO.

Download the The Netherlands country report with the Buurkracht case or read below:

IEA Task25_D2_Netherlands country report
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Enexis is a DNO operating in the larger part of northern and eastern Netherlands. Like all DNO’s, Enexis is responsible for the replacement of all the electricity and gas meters within their supply area by a smart meter. For Enexis, this adds up to 2.7 million meters or stated otherwise: 2.7 million households. One of the main ideas behind the smart meter is that it will motivate house owners to become more energy efficient. However, Enexis realized that only installing this meter is not enough to reach energy saving goals. In most Dutch homes this meter is placed in small cupboards in the hall near the entrance door. Not the place to visit daily (Interview Buurkracht, 2015).

Additionally, many Dutch houses are still poorly insulated. Despite many campaigns, and despite the fact that most house owners are aware and willing to do something, current energy saving propositions did not lead to a large market uptake. There is lots of room for improvement. But how do we persuade house owners to insulate their homes and change their behaviour

In the summer of 2012, Enexis decided to tackle this challenge. The main challenge was: design a service that will lead to a breakthrough in Energy Saving for house owners thus enhancing the relevance of the smart meter. Enexis created a design team, consisting of mainly external professionals who needed to bring a fresh, new solution to this tricky challenge. The team was convinced that the key to design a relevant solution lied in the understanding of motives, attitudes and behaviour of house owners and other relevant stakeholders. They ignored some very sceptical voices at Enexis, like: “We already know people just don't want to, they are not interested”

The team started interviewing house owners thoroughly on their energy attitude. They created different personas that were researched further by extensive context mapping sessions. This is a method that uses generative techniques to get deeper insights in people’s motives and attitudes towards energy efficient behaviour and insulating homes, in the context of their daily practice. A new proposition was created. A key insight the proposition was built on was: energy efficiency is a goal, but energy-efficient behaviour is a process.

Energy saving is usually a process on household level that takes months, sometimes even years to realize. A process with many opportunities for behaviour change, but nevertheless many people never reach their goals. For example, every year, one receives their energy bill. For most people this bill is a complete puzzle. It takes a lot of effort to decipher. When the bill is higher than expected, this is for some people a starting point to take action. Or, in winter when feet become cold, people start to investigate their options for more comfort of the floor in their homes. Their sources of information are the Internet, and discussions with their next-door neighbour. Some eventually do research on technical stuff, like the variety of materials or installation options (Interview Buurkracht, 2015).

For many people this process is a sequence of frustrating experiences. Receiving an incomprehensive bill is one thing, but most information is very technical, options are difficult to compare and certainly not presented as a solution to their personal problem. Not only is the information complex, it is almost impossible to get a grip on the real value of an energy saving measure. So, to most Dutch house owners, the process of Energy Saving is annoying, complex and time consuming. At the start of this project, most of the people that actually did insulate their homes were either energy saving freaks, or survivors in a frustrating process. The majority of house owners dropped out of their energy saving process before achieving any results.

Current service providers focus on the effect: insulate your roof and save money. Very result oriented indeed, but obviously not very effective. Their propositions ignore the energy saving process. They fail to take the perspective of the house owner into account. Therefore, it is not surprising that their prospective buyers dropped out of the process. Enexis found there is a need for a process approach instead of products, like the next smart device. A process designed to help a house owner with saving energy as the next logical step. Enexis had to shift the focus from the end result to the experience.

The power of communities Enexis also found that there is one specific situation where energy saving becomes a high impact subject and a lot less frustrating. This is when small, local communities (neighbourhoods, streets) join efforts to save energy together or invest in solar energy. Then energy becomes a high interest topic. They found that small local initiatives potentially were very successful. And so they learned that the spirit of local community could help Enexis create a successful solution.

And although they are different in many ways, local communities have one thing in common: they want to feel in control.

All of the local initiators emphasized the need to be able to make their own choices, to be and to stay in control. After all, it is their neighbourhood, their home and roof. They emphasise their autonomy, but that should not be interpreted as if there was no need for support. Enexis decided to harness the power of the communities in voluntary neighbourhood teams, who are guided by a new organization: Buurkracht.

Buurkracht, which literally translates to neighbour power, is a very carefully designed process that supports existing local initiatives in their efforts to save energy. Enexis is the mother at a distance, providing the necessary means to run Buurkracht. Buurkracht has no profit goals. It measures its success by reduction of CO2 as a result of the measures that are taken. A team of nearly 20 community-coaches support local initiators with know-how on insulation as well as how to run a community energy saving campaign. Every participant in the neighbourhood is connected to the Buurkracht platform, where they can see their energy usage patterns, but also the savings they’ve reached with their community.

The users are involved in finding out what measures are required in the neighbourhood. For example, they walk through the street in the evening with a thermal camera to see how the insulation holds and whether there is draft. Consecutively the neighbourhood team selects measures and decides where to purchase them. Buurkracht is convinced the local approach is successful. By now, they’ve built a solid network of supporting local and regional governments, cooperatives and energy foundations (energy touchpoints) who know their locals and who can exert their local influence to motivate the communities to reduce their energy consumption.

As Buurkracht is very successful, Enexis finds itself in some difficulty financing the process. Therefore, alternative sources are being researched. In 2016, Alliander, The second largest DNO in the Netherlands, will join the Buurkracht process. Also, subsidized research must provide some extra resources. Datamining professionals are being attracted in order to provide detailed intelligence on the value of the Buurkracht initiative in terms of CO2 reduction, social cohesion etc.

Sensing user needs

Sensing user needs is taken extremely seriously in the developing phase of Buurkracht. The initiative originates from the idea that old ideas and old opinions on how to solve the ‘insulation’ problem of all the houses didn’t prove to be successful at all. A new perspective was needed and this could be found at the house owners themselves. However, the capability wasn’t well developed within the organisation, hence, there was a lot of resistance towards the approach at first. Therefore, professionals from outside the organisation were hired to fulfil this capability.

The organization also involves users to help with sensing user needs in the community. As it turns out, locals have a more natural feeling for the priorities and problems in a neighbourhood.

This way only a few people have to invest time in understanding the market and social cohesion can persuade other members of the community. Besides this hands-on approach, several instances (educational and public) are involved in more fundamental research on user involvement and uncovering its needs.

In a way, Buurkracht is far ahead of the Enexis organisation and consequently the stretching capability needs development. Enexis still is a traditional, tech oriented organisation where a lot of effort is being put in fulfilling the task of maintaining the grid. However, a few of the Enexis directors were dedicated to bring Buurkracht alive.

Entrepreneurial Journey As mentioned earlier, Buurkracht learned that users have a good sense for the problems in their own community; this makes them a convenient means to uncover some of the tacit needs and specifics of a neighbourhood. For example, in the city of Breda the neighbourhood team noticed safety was an important issue and one of the volunteers noted: “The way I see it is that sustainability and safety are closely related. For instance the windows, you can look at them in two ways: will they keep the cold out and heat in, but also: will they keep burglars out? These are two aspects you can address at the same time” (Buurkracht, 2015). Setting safety as a priority led to the incorporation of a “city marine” in the process. This is a person that supervises the neighbourhood and acts as a personal channel towards law enforcement. The city marine can recommend measures to improve the area’s safety. In the city of Breda the city marine emphasized the value of insulated glazing (double or triple pane) in terms of safety as well. There clearly is room for co-creation in Buurkracht’s business model.

Furthermore, it was learned that various user groups have a different opinion about these types of involvement in the neighbourhood; whereas the elderly tend to welcome this type of local contact other residents, for instance students or young couples, will not be as interested in such initiatives. To accommodate as many user groups as possible the process was kept open and any user can put as much effort in to the programme as he or she likes. In general, the broad variety of needs and wishes of very different user groups that are geographically linked is accounted for as much as possible.

Buurkracht has the orchestration capability well developed; the focus is completely on realizing a coherent customer experience. This resonates not only throughout the business model, but also through the stakeholder network, where essentially any decision is left open for the user.

Buurkracht is highly service oriented. The whole process is tuned to co-creating value with the user. However, as the organization recognizes, not all stakeholders in the ecosystem reason with a similar logic. In fact, there are even user groups who prefer a more product oriented approach, rather than being involved and spending time on the initiative.

Besides that, most competitors and suppliers in the market are product oriented. They are focussed on delivering a product and making a margin. Even Enexis, the mother at a distance, is much more traditional than Buurkracht; a reason for Buurkracht to look for employees outside its mother firm. Many of these stresses in the firm’s ecosystem are not noticed as much by its user. Letting the user take important decisions, such as selecting the supplier, may be a way to work with different business logic in an ecosystem. It seems as though Buurkracht is aware of the different value they provide in relation to the expected value and that their conceptualization skills are well enough developed to counter this.

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