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A visit to TU Delft – learning about Dutch renewable energy

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the research group OTB Managing the Built Environment at TU Delft in the Netherlands. This was especially useful in learning about Dutch energy and housing policies, as these are generally written in Dutch and I’ve had a harder time ‘making sense’ of the Dutch context for our ‘Smarter Homes?’ project. TU Delft is a much more technical and applied University than the University of St Andrews (it’s in the name after all and it seems nearly every unit has ‘engineering’ next to it). In the huge ‘BK City’ building I was based in it was interesting to be surrounded architectural models of housing units, to sit alongside researchers that seek to improve energy performance modelling and students that undertake post-occupancy evaluation surveys. It was a joy to present to this group and really nice to spend a week with others interested in my research experience and projects! However, my conversations about energy policy, renewables and climate change were in many ways discouraging, so in this brief blog post I will also include more positive reflection on the value of visiting other Universities and the benefits (or not) of choosing not to fly in ‘doing’ sustainable development research.

Presenting at TU Delft on my framework of home comfort

NL & UK 3rd/4th lowest renewable energy producers in the EU

Trying to get my head around key policies and the energy context I asked most of the researcher unit what they knew about renewables in NL.

Insights from being a visiting scholar

It was nice to see how another research group operated, there was a lot of efforts to make everyone feel part of a community. Henk was always prompt at noon to suggest everyone stop for lunch (PhDs, masters students and staff) which made it easy to get to know everyone. There were also two things they asked of PhD students that I really liked and again made it feel like everyone was working together and raised their profile within the building.

  • 10 ‘opposable and defendable’ propositions, a sheet at the front of the printed thesis (which are beautifully printed and current PhD students commonly had copies of previous students dissertations that they referred to). This was such a nice way to get an overview immediately of the document and was more informative than flipping through to find the thesis abstract (see pictures for some examples, I want to recommend this to students/write a list for my thesis)
  • A3 poster of each PhD student, personal picture and project (including a note when their viva is). These posters were a really nice way to know who was in the research unit, I would also love to see this in the future, it was nice visibility for students and helpful for me as a visitor to know who is who.

Finally, I thought I’d point out that I had thought quite a bit about sustainable forms of travel to go to Delft in the name of sustainability research. Flying always seems like a contradiction for a sustainable development researcher (see Yolanda, 2014 another visiting scholar reflecting on the internationalisation of academia, albeit she visited the UK from Australia) because there is a sense that for research to ‘count’ and develop, it must be taken to an international audience and acknowledged internationally and yet travelling to another country is generally quite resource-intensive. I was lucky to have Louise supportive of taking the ferry (she also did and has only flown once since I’ve known her!) – which is more expensive than flying. The ferry leaves about 5pm and arrives at 9am both ways, so it is a comfortable way to travel, get a nice rest and potentially do some work. But it is much longer than the 90 minute flight from Edinburgh to Amsterdam. I also thought it would be interesting to experience the Dutch cycling culture and brought my bike over on the ferry. I cycled everywhere, I did not get on a train or in a car the entire time I was in NL. While it was incredible infrastructure – they have segregated cycle lanes and nearly everywhere pedestrians and cars give you priority (including at roundabouts!) – cycling also took a really long time in comparison to taking a train or driving a car. Cycling from the ferry terminal to Delft and back took 6 hours (nearly a full working day!) and I am not sure I could justify spending that much time to travel if I were to do it again. I certainly learned a lot about Dutch housing and energy policy just from being in NL and speaking to researchers there, and there is often arguments pointing out the desirability of more cross-cultural comparisons in energy research (Ozaki, 2002; Sovacool, 2014; Wilhite et al., 1996), but it also raises issues of how we go about conducting this research and collaborating internationally. This was a benefit Louise and I saw in the online diary because you could collect data from householders in different countries at the same time without anyone having to leave their home. All and all, the ferry and cycling were an interesting experiment but I do not seem myself overcoming this dilemma between making contacts, exchanging ideas and encountering new ways of thinking that come from being a visiting scholar (or going to conferences) and the environmental impact of travelling yet!

Now to get back to writing a paper from all of UK and NL renewable heating policy and householders experience of living with these new technologies!


Ozaki, R. (2002). Housing as a reflection of culture: Privatised living and privacy in England and Japan,
Housing Studies, 17(2), 209-227.

Sovacool, B. (2014). What are we doing here? Analyzing fifteen years of energy scholarship and proposing a social science research agenda, Energy Res Soc Sci, 1, 1–29.

Wilhite, H., Nakagami, H., Masuda, T., Yamaga, Y. and Haneda, H. (1996). A cross-cultural analysis of
household energy use behaviour in Japan and Norway, Energy Policy, 24(9), 795-803.

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