Sustainable energy production can be a valuable addition to landscapes and nature, as the Dutch Nature and Environment Federations (Natuur en Milieufederaties) and Wageningen University & Research aim to show with the Energy Garden project. In these energy gardens, large-scale renewable energy production will go hand-in-hand with nature development, recreation and education. This approach makes it possible to address multiple interests while working towards the National climate goals (Nationale Klimaatakkoord, 2019).
The energy gardens are designed and realised together with local residents and other landscapes users, the municipality, landowners and other stakeholders. They may consist of solar panels, small wind turbines, hydropower generators, energy storage or biomass production. These energy technologies can be combined with bicycle paths, footpaths, food forests, vegetable gardens, picnic areas or viewpoints, as well as wooded banks, flower meadows, bee hotels or wildlife passages. The project goal is to increase public participation in the co-creation of energy landscapes and to encourage the further development of local energy initiatives.
Energy gardens throughout the Netherlands
The first three energy gardens are sited in Assen, Montfoort and Wijhe. These are large energy gardens, varying in size from 20 to 80 football fields. The long-term aim is that energy gardens will be realised throughout the Netherlands. The project has been made possible thanks to a grant from the National Postcode Lottery.
Research through designing
The energy gardens do not have a standard layout and set of ingredients, but are site-specific and individually developed during the design process, leading to distinctive identities for the different gardens. Sven Stremke, Associate Professor in Landscape Architecture at WUR, and his team are responsible for the development process, known as ‘research through designing’. Important components of their approach include activating stakeholders, respecting different perspectives, exploring many alternative possible design solutions and learning from previous experiences while taking into account existing rules and regulations.
The Energy Garden project is part of a larger programme: the WUR Solar Research Programme. This programme aims to develop new concepts for solar fields that take into account landscape and spatial quality, biodiversity, soil quality, governance, agricultural production and technological innovation.