copy the linklink copied!1. Towards a circular economy in Groningen, Netherlands

This chapter provides an overview of the circular economy in cities and focuses on the rationale for the circular economy transition in the city of Groningen, Netherlands, by looking at main drivers leading to a shift from a linear to a circular economy, and socioeconomic and environmental data and trends.


copy the linklink copied!Introduction: The circular economy in cities and regions

The transition to a circular economy is underway and cities and regions are at the centre of it. By 2050, the global population will reach 9 billion people, 70% of which will be living in cities (UN, 2018[1]). The pressure on natural resources will increase, while new infrastructure, services and housing will be needed. Already, cities represent almost two-thirds of global energy demand (IEA, 2016[2]) and produce up to 80% of greenhouse gas emissions (World Bank, 2010[3]). By 2050, urban dwellers will still be the most exposed to high concentrations of air pollutants1 (OCDE, 2012[4]). Cities produce 50% of global waste (UNEP, 2013[5]). It is estimated that globally, by 2050, the levels of municipal solid waste will double (IEA, 2016[2]; UNEP/IWSA, 2015[6]). A total of 80% of food is consumed in cities and compared to today’s levels, 60% more food will be required to feed the population in the coming decades (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2019[7]). At the same time, water stress and water consumption will increase by 55% by 2050 (OCDE, 2012[4]). Cities and regions have core responsibilities for local public services such as transport, solid waste, water and energy. As such, they are at the centre of key decisions having a strong impact on citizens’ well-being, environmental quality and economic growth.

There is no unique definition for circular economy, which is now facing a validity challenge period. Although there are many definitions of the circular economy, they all include as a basic assumption the recognition of waste as a resource (Box 1.1). The circular economy is about preventing wasted resources through reusing materials, improving design to increase the durability of goods and products, and transforming waste. In cities and regions, the circular economy should ensure that: services (e.g. from water to waste and energy) are provided whilst preventing waste generation, making efficient use of natural resources as primary materials, optimising their reuse and allowing synergies across sectors; economic activities are planned and carried out in a way to close, slow and narrow loops across value chains and infrastructure is designed and built to avoid linear locks-in, which use resources intensively and inefficiently.

The circular economy is not an end per se, but a means to an end: it provides an opportunity to do more with less, to better use available natural resources, and to transform waste into new resources, while promoting new jobs opportunities and tackling inequalities (e.g. access to sharing services and commodities, form mobility to agro-food, to buildings). As such, while the environmental narrative, whereby less use of materials implies reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, has been so far predominant in promoting the shift to a circular economy, cities and regions are increasingly paying attention to the social and economic aspects as drivers for this transition. According to Blomsma and Brennan (2017[8]), the circular economy is now facing its “validity challenge period” on its way to becoming a robust and consolidated concept, implying a radical shift in consumer behaviour.

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Box 1.1. Examples of circular economy definitions
  • “The circular economy is where the value of products, materials and resources is maintained in the economy for as long as possible, and the generation of waste minimised.” (EC, 2015[9])

  • “The circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design. Relying on system-wide innovation, it aims to redefine products and services to design waste out while minimising negative impacts. A circular economy is then an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose).” (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2018[10])

  • “An economic system that replaces the end-of-life concept, with reducing, alternatively using, recycling and recovering materials in production/distribution and consumption processes. It operates at the micro level (products companies, consumers), the meso level (eco-industrial parks) and the macro level (city, region, nation and beyond), with the aim of accomplishing sustainable development, thus simultaneously creating environmental quality, economic prosperity and social equity, to the benefit of current and future generations. It is enabled by novel business models and responsible consumers.” (Kirchherr, Reike and Hekkert, 2017[11])

  • “The circular economy is one that has low environmental impacts and that makes good use of natural resources, through high resource efficiency and waste prevention, especially in the manufacturing sector, and minimal end-of-life disposal of materials.” Ekins et al. (2019[12]).

  • “There are three different layers of circularity, with increasingly broad coverage: i) closing resource loops; ii) slowing resource loops; and iii) narrowing resource loops. All these explicitly or implicitly aim at addressing the market failures associated with materials use, the failure to address local environmental consequences associated with extraction; or the failure to include the environmental externalities associated with waste generation”. Furthermore, there are economic inefficiencies associated with the inefficient use of scarce resources.” (OECD, 2019[13])

Source: EC (2015[9]), Closing the Loop – An EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy, European Commission, (accessed on 21 February 2020); Ellen McArthur Foundation (2018[10]), What is a Circular Economy?, (accessed on 21 February 2020); Kirchherr, J., D. Reike and M. Hekkert (2017[11]), Conceptualizing the Circular Economy: An Analysis of 114 Definitions,; Ekins et al. (2019[12]), “The Circular Economy: What, Why, How and Where”, Background paper for an OECD/EC Workshop on 5 July 2019 within the workshop series “Managing environmental and energy transitions for regions and cities”, Paris; OECD (2019[13]), Global Material Resources Outlook to 2060: Economic Drivers and Environmental Consequences,

The circular economy in cities and regions is expected to generate a positive impact on economic growth, the creation of new jobs and the reduction of negative impacts on the environment. By 2030, shifting from a linear approach of “take, make and dispose” to a circular system is estimated to hold a potential of USD 4.5 trillion for economic growth (Accenture, 2015[14]). Projections show that, by 2030, resource productivity in Europe can improve by 3% and generate a gross domestic product (GDP) increase of up to 7% (McKinsey Centre for Business and Environment, 2016[15]). Projections at the city level show that for example, applying a circular economy approach to the construction chain in the city of Amsterdam (Netherlands) would decrease GHG emissions by half a million tonnes of CO2 per year. In London (United Kingdom), the benefits from circular approaches applied to the built environment, food, textiles, electricals and plastics are estimated at GBP 7 billion every year by 2036.2 About 50 000 jobs related to the circular economy are estimated to be created in the Île-de-France region.3 Environmental benefits consist of: decreased pollution; increased share of renewable or recyclable resources; and reduced consumption of raw materials, water, land and energy (EEA, 2016[16]). Yet, the transition should be “just” by taking into account people’ social well-being, quality of life and equity.

The potential of the circular economy still needs to be unlocked. Today, less than 10% of the global economy is circular (Circle Economy, 2020[17]). Unlocking the potential of the circular economy in cities and regions implies going beyond solely technical aspects and putting the necessary governance in place to create incentives (legal, financial), stimulate innovation (social, institutional) and generate information (data, knowledge, capacities). It would also mean looking at the barriers for businesses to “close the loops”, by re-thinking business models (e.g. leasing and sharing) and analysing the economic instruments that could support the transition in several sectors, including waste, food, built-up environments and water. The circular economy implies governance models based on multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral approaches. For the circular economy to happen, policies need to be aligned, stakeholders informed and engaged, legal and regulatory frameworks updated and in support of innovation.

copy the linklink copied!The drivers for the circular transition in Groningen, Netherlands

The circular economy in Groningen, as an opportunity for innovation and sustainable waste management, is a policy priority. According to the OECD Survey on the Circular Economy in Cities and Regions (OECD, 2019[18]), the words that the city associated the most with the circular economy are “raw material”, “zero waste” and “innovation” (the bigger the word in the figure, the higher the importance) (Figure 1.1). This reflects the intention of the city to combine innovation (e.g. in design and planning) with a more sustainable waste management approach that is able to minimise waste production and transform waste into resources (OECD, 2019[18]). This echoes the municipal council’s political commitment: in June 2018, it took the unanimous decision of making the circular economy a priority for the city (Chapter 2). The transition from a linear to a circular economy entails providing space for experimentation, sharing knowledge, leading the co-ordination among stakeholders and defining a circular economy framework (Groningen Municipality, 2018[19]). Importantly, a vice-mayor with responsibilities regarding the circular economy took office after the elections in November 2018 (Box 1.2).

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Figure 1.1. Tag cloud on the circular economy in Groningen, Netherlands
Figure 1.1. Tag cloud on the circular economy in Groningen, Netherlands

Note: The respondent had to choose the top 5 words most often associated with the circular economy. The answer is based on the following question: “Please indicate the top 5 words from the list suggested below you most often associate with the circular economy in your context, ranking from 1 (most important) to 5 (less important)”.

Source: Own elaboration based on the city of Groningen’s answers to the OECD (2019[18]) OECD Survey on the Circular Economy in Cities and Regions.

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Box 1.2. The institutional organisation of local governments in the Netherlands

The municipal council

The municipal council is an elected body with administrative, legislative and budgetary powers. The size of the municipal council depends on the size of the municipality: from 9 (municipalities with less than 3 000 inhabitants) to 45 seats (municipalities with over 200 000 inhabitants). Municipal council representatives are elected every four years. The municipal council oversees the municipal executive by critically assessing its performance. It is responsible for controlling the mayor and the vice-mayors. The mayor chairs the council but has no right to vote; vice-mayors are not allowed to be members of the municipal council. Full council meetings and committee meetings are open to the public. In order to encourage participation in local politics, municipalities offer citizens the opportunity to intervene in committee meetings and sometimes also during plenary sessions.

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Figure 1.2. Institutional map of Groningen municipality, Netherlands
Figure 1.2. Institutional map of Groningen municipality, Netherlands

Council clerks

Council clerks are the most important advisors to municipal councils and play a vital and supporting role for council members, political parties and council committees. They are appointed and dismissed, if necessary, by a vote of the municipal council. They work alongside members of the executive, in particular, the mayor.

The executive (or board): Colleges of mayors and vice-mayors

Executive power is wielded by colleges of mayor and vice-mayors. The colleges are responsible for governing municipalities and leading the public administration. They are accountable to the council. The internal distribution of tasks differs according to the local circumstances in each municipality.


Mayors chair municipal councils and executive colleges. They act as intermediaries between the parties and ensure continuity. Therefore, they do not usually propose regulations or policies. The mayoral term lasts six years. This term may be renewed on the recommendation of the municipal council. Mayors can be reappointed, although it is rare for mayors to serve for more than two terms and exceptional to serve for more than three.


Along with mayors, vice-mayors are the other administrators of local government. The number of vice-mayors depends on the size of the municipality (from 2 to 9). In Groningen, there are seven vice-mayors. Like ministries at the national level, they are each responsible for a specific policy area.

City managers/town clerks

City managers or town clerks are employed by the college of mayor and vice-mayors. Therefore, they are not elected. City managers have a dual responsibility: they are senior advisors to the colleges of mayor and vice-mayors and are also responsible for the implementation of policies and decisions. They act as directors of the municipal civil service.

Source: Information provided by the local team in Groningen.

copy the linklink copied!Socioeconomic data and trends

The city of Groningen is the 6th city of the Netherlands, the biggest city of the Northern Netherlands region and the urban centre of a prevalently rural area. Groningen is part of the Groningen-Assen metropolitan area that hosts approximately 500 000 inhabitants distributed in 11 municipalities, of which Groningen is the biggest. In 2015, the city had a population of 230 000 inhabitants. It is the capital city of the homonymous province. Around 185 000 people commute every day into Groningen from the metropolitan and regional areas (City of Groningen, 2015[20]). In January 2019, the city of Groningen merged with the small municipalities of Haren and Ten Boer adding 27 000 inhabitants4 (Box 1.3).

Groningen hosts the youngest population in the country. Half of the population of Groningen is under 35 years old, making Groningen’s population one of the youngest in Europe on average. The renowned universities (e.g. the University of Groningen, the Hanze University of Applied Science and the University Medical Centre Groningen) attract each year 60 000 students (Groningen Municipality, 2017[21]). As such, students represent one-third of the population. In 2015, the city of Groningen recorded the highest level of satisfaction regarding the provision of education and training in the European Union (EU) (Eurostat, 2019[22]).

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Box 1.3. Demographic, administrative and economic structure of the Northern Netherlands region

The Netherlands is composed of 4 regions and 12 provinces. Groningen is located in the Northern Netherlands region, which includes the provinces of Drenthe, Friesland and Groningen (Figure 1.3). Groningen is the largest city and the biggest functional urban area5 in the region, which hosts 775 000 inhabitants. The Northern Netherlands region is defined as a “frontier region”6 alongside the North Holland region, which includes Amsterdam, and the South Holland region, that includes Rotterdam and The Hague. The region’s industrial cluster, formed by 31 companies and organisations in the provinces of Drenthe and Groningen, has set the goal to become Europe’s most sustainable industrial area by 2030 (Groningen Seaports, 2018[23]).

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Figure 1.3. Map of Groningen, Netherlands
Figure 1.3. Map of Groningen, Netherlands

Source: Groningen Municipality (2018[24]), Demografische ontwikkelingen gemeente Groningen, (accessed on 30 April 2019).

Source: OECD (2018[25])OECD Regions and Cities at a Glance 2018; Groningen Seaports (2018[23]), “The Northern Netherlands aims to be Europe’s most sustainable industrial area by 2030”, (accessed on 30 April 2019).

Groningen is the only city in the Northern Netherlands region expecting population growth in the next two decades. The population in the city of Groningen grew 12% from 2004 to 2018. It is foreseen to grow within the next 15 years from approximately 230 000 in 2018 to almost 250 000 (Figure 1.4). Surrounded by a mainly rural region in which the majority of the municipalities are experiencing population decline, the average annual population growth is expected to be 1.3% from 2018 to 2023 and 0.6% from 2024 to 2038 (Groningen Municipality, 2018[24]). Population growth generates the need for new houses by 2030 (20 000) that can be potentially built according to circular principles. The municipality aims to put in place the necessary conditions to create 5 000 new jobs in the next few years by linking the health, information and communications technology (ICT), energy and creative industries to the circular economy. Also, more circularity can be introduced in daily production and consumption activities, from retail to mobility, while contributing to reaching two additional long-term objectives set by the municipality: to become CO2 neutral by 2035 and to separate and reuse all waste by 2030.

Population growth and the increasing number of students are the main drivers of Groningen’s demographic changes. The actual birth surplus will continue during the 2018-38 period while mortality will simultaneously increase at a faster pace due to population ageing. In the next 2 decades, the city expects, on average, an inflow of nearly 20 800 immigrants per year (mostly students) and an annual net migrant population surplus of 1 000 people. The main cause of this trend is the continuous inflow and outflow of foreign students. In 2018, the number of students enrolling at the University of Groningen increased by 20%. In the coming years, the presence of foreign European students is expected to double, while the presence of non-EU students will grow by 30%. Nonetheless, almost 3 500 students, aged between 25 and 30 years old, leave the city after finishing their studies, reducing the net population balance (Figure 1.5). In 2017, only 28% of international students remained in the city after finishing their studies. However, to reverse this trend, the city is putting in place several initiatives, such as communication campaigns to showcase the job opportunities available to stay in the city after graduation (Groningen Municipality, 2017[26]; Groningen Municipality, 2018[24]).

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Figure 1.4. Population trends in Groningen, Netherlands, 2008-38
Figure 1.4. Population trends in Groningen, Netherlands, 2008-38

Source: Groningen Municipality (2018[24])Demografische ontwikkelingen gemeente Groningen, (accessed on 30 April 2019).

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Figure 1.5. Net migration rate in Groningen, Netherlands, 2008-17
25-30 year-olds
Figure 1.5. Net migration rate in Groningen, Netherlands, 2008-17

Source: Groningen Municipality (2018[24])Demografische ontwikkelingen gemeente Groningen, (accessed on 30 April 2019).

The population group older than 65 is expected to double by 2038. Within 2 decades, the population group aged 65 or higher is expected to experience the highest growth compared to 2018, doubling in size, while the population group aged 25 to 39 will grow by 20%. (Figure 1.6) (Groningen Municipality, 2018[24]). These figures express two contrasting trends affecting the city: an important share of the youth population that does not settle in Groningen after finishing studies and, at the same time, a sustained increase in the senior population.

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Figure 1.6. Population trends in Groningen, Netherlands, to 2038, by age group
Figure 1.6. Population trends in Groningen, Netherlands, to 2038, by age group

Source: Groningen Municipality (2018[24])Demografische ontwikkelingen gemeente Groningen, (accessed on 30 April 2019).

The expected population growth will require an expansion of the housing stock. The city government plans to build 20 000 new houses by 2030. This plan is considered a necessary condition to meet the growing population of 230 000 inhabitants by that time (Groningen Municipality, 2018[24]). This represents an opportunity for the city to ensure that the new housing stock is built in a circular way, advancing in the reduction of the city’s carbon footprint (see next section). In November 2018, the city was designated a European “lighthouse city”7 aiming to become a Smart Zero CO2 City in the next two decades.

Groningen is a digital city and knowledge hub for the region. The city’s research facilities are increasingly specialising in cyber safety, big data and blockchain. Since 2017, Groningen has been hosting the largest international blockchain hackathon, gathering 6 000+ participants from all over the world. The University of Groningen hosts the Digital Business Centre to support new talents and entrepreneurs in starting their digital company. It also allows connections with big firms already located in the city, such as Google and IBM (University of Groningen, 2019[27]). The growing digital sector specialisation led to defining Groningen as the “new silicon valley” (DVHN, 2018[28]). The city ranks second for the number of online companies in the Netherlands and it is the country’s 2nd Internet city, currently rolling out 5G technology.8

There is a vibrant business and innovation scene. A total of 20 000 companies (e.g. in agro-food, energy, healthcare, chemical industry and digital society sectors) are based in Groningen and 400 of them are international firms. The city has been classified as the 2nd tech city in the Netherlands during the last 5 years based on the presence of a high number of fast-growing start-ups. In 2018, Groningen hosted 8 of the 50 fastest-growing start-ups only surpassed by Amsterdam (Deloitte Fast50, 2018[29]). The city’s economy is driven by the education, care and services sectors, employing a total of 145 000 people (Groningen Municipality, 2017[30]). The firm creation rate in the Groningen Province stands between 10% and 12% and the number of patents registered per million inhabitants is between 70 and 140. Both figures match Amsterdam’s levels (OECD, 2018[25]). In the Groningen Province, the main activities are related to the industry, business sector, mineral extraction and ICT. Groningen Province represents almost 4% of the Dutch GDP (EC, 2019[31]). On the other hand, the contribution of the provinces of Drenthe and Friesland to the national GDP and labour productivity growth are among the lowest in the country (OECD, 2016[32]).

The economic activity in the Northern Netherlands region has been decreasing markedly in the last decade but it is expected to recover gradually. Between 2012 and 2015, the Northern Netherlands region was one of the 6 EU regions that suffered the biggest contraction in economic activities from a total of 38 regions analysed. The regional GDP decreased at an annual average rate of 3.1%, below the Dutch average which increased by 1.5% in the same period (EC, 2019[33]). In Groningen Province, the GDP per capita decreased by 31% between 2007 and 2016 (Eurostat, 2018[34]). This trend is mostly explained by the restrictions on natural gas production applied by the national government from 2013, which led to a 50% reduction in gas extraction by 2017. In 2017, Groningen was the only Dutch province reporting economic shrinkage (CBS, 2018[35]).

Since the early 2000s, Groningen Province and municipality have shown one of the highest unemployment levels in the Netherlands. The provincial unemployment rate rose from 4.5% in 2008 to a peak of 8.5% in 2015 and decreased to 5.1% in 2018. In 2016, Groningen Province registered the highest unemployment rate in the country with a rate of 7.2%. The municipality of Groningen has experienced a similar trend but at even higher rates. The unemployment rate almost doubled between 2008 (5.4%) and 2015 (10.5%).9 After reaching this peak in 2015, the rate of unemployed workers fell markedly to 6.6% in 2018 (Figure 1.7). Unemployment in Groningen continues to be above the country levels. In 2018, the national unemployment rate (3.8%) returned to pre-crisis levels after experiencing a peak in 2014 (7%) and is expected to reach 3.5% in 2019 (EURES, 2018[36]).

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Figure 1.7. Unemployment trends, 2003-18
National, regional, provincial and municipal levels
Figure 1.7. Unemployment trends, 2003-18

Source: Own elaboration based on CBS (2018[37]), Arbeidsdeelname; regionale indeling 2018, (accessed on 2 May 2019).

The Northern Netherlands region expects employment growth in the coming years. This is mainly due to the creation of an increasing number of vacancies in the technology, engineering and ICT sectors as well as in education, health, transport and logistics. The digital economy is the fastest-growing sector in the region. A total of 7 300 jobs are related to the digital economy and projected to grow in the future, as there is a demand for 400+ ICT jobs to be filled (Groningen Municipality, 2017[38]). Employment is increasing mainly in the private sector, healthcare and temporary employment arrangements. In Groningen, citizens show a low level of satisfaction in relation to employment (27%) and housing (47%), compared with health services (95%), public spaces (94%) and education services (88%), which instead score very high (Eurostat, 2019[22]). It is not yet clear exactly how the transition towards a circular economy will affect the employment rate by sector in the city. However, the municipality aims to put in place the necessary conditions to create 5 000 new jobs in the next few years linking the health, ICT, energy and creative industries to the circular economy. Questions remain on the type of skills to be developed for future jobs in the circular economy. Both low- and high-skilled jobs will be needed, stimulating the demand for new training and educational programmes.

copy the linklink copied!Overview of environmental data and trends

Groningen is taking action towards reaching ambitious environmental goals, such as energy neutrality. Following the municipality’s goal of becoming energy neutral by 2035, new forms of energy have recently been tested. The production of green electricity, from solar and wind sources, the advances in renewable heating (from biomass, soil energy and biogas) and hydrogen are examples of the new energy mix that the city aims to achieve. In 2017, the city accounted for a share of 5.9% renewable energy out of the total energy production, compared to the national average of 6.6% (CO₂ Monitor Groningen, 2018[39]). The municipality plans to increase the renewable energy production share to 9.4% by 2023 (Groningen Municipality, 2015[40]). The city is paying specific attention to the energy transition following the Dutch national cabinet’s decision to phase out gas production by 2022, for which the region has been the major supplier in the country for the last 60 years (see section on energy transition).

The phasing out of natural gas extraction is creating opportunities for renewable energy in the region. For the past 60 years, the North Netherlands region has been a major supplier of natural gas. In 2015, 56% of the total gas production in the Netherlands was generated in the Groningen field (Evert van de Graaff, van Geuns and Boersma, 2018[41]). However, since 2013, natural gas extraction has been reduced by 50%. In 2018, the Dutch national cabinet decided to scale back gas production and, for the first time, the Netherlands became a net importer of natural gas (CBS, 2018[35]). This decision came after pressing requests from the population living near the gas fields and suffering earthquakes induced by the extraction of natural gas (Bourne et al., 2014[42]; Grasso and Wittlinger, 1990[43]; Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij BV, 2013[44]; Wetmiller, 1986[45]). The 3.6-magnitude earthquake in 2012 near Huizinge led to a 50% reduction in natural gas extraction. However, only after the 3.4-magnitude episode in 2018 did the government decide on phasing out by 2022. There is a momentum for the city of Groningen and for the entire region to rethink their role as key players in the energy sector. As such, new forms of energy (e.g. hydrogen, biomass) have been tested in recent years (Groningen Municipality, 2015[40]).

Groningen is transitioning from being a major player in the natural gas sector to becoming a green energy front-runner. The municipality launched the “Groningen Energises” Programme 2015-18 in order to accelerate the city’s energy transition from a historic natural gas producer to a “green energy city” focusing on energy transition and bio-based economy opportunities (Groningen Municipality, 2015[40]). The city also recently published the roadmap “Groningen CO2 Neutral 2035. Strategy 2023 and final image 2035” towards becoming CO2 neutral by 2035 (Groningen Municipality, 2018[46]). To secure heat demand during the energy transition, the municipality developed a map that establishes which city districts will become totally electric, which areas will receive energy through a heat network and which neighbourhoods will experience hybrid solutions (a combination of electricity and green gas). By 2035, according to the roadmap’s goals, the city will replace gas, gasoline and diesel as energy sources by using sustainably generated electricity (especially produced from wind and solar sources). The industry sector will use sustainable electricity in at least half of the heating processes involved in the production chains (the remaining required energy will be provided by biogas and green gas); and all cars will be fossil-free and emission-free (1/3 electric, 1/3 hydrogen, 1/3 biofuel) (Groningen Municipality, 2018[46]). The following alternative energy sources are used or will be in the future:

  • Hydrogen: Groningen is the only city in the region that foresees hydrogen in its future energy plans. The New Energy Coalition, a group created in 2018, formed by knowledge and educational institutions, key companies working on the energy transition and governments, favours the experimentation with hydrogen, because of its capacity to store energy and the potential of using the existing natural gas infrastructure. In 2019, the city developed a New Economic Plan for “green hydrogen”. “Green hydrogen” is foreseen to be produced using electricity from renewable sources (electrolysis of water). Some issues to be addressed include the requirement of high levels of electricity to generate hydrogen, in addition to safety and infrastructural aspects.

  • Solar: A total of 700 000 solar panels are projected to be installed in Groningen by 2023. Solar energy has been increasing at the household level: in 2017, in the city, almost 30 000 solar panels were installed in private houses (46% more than in 2016). That same year, 3 parks accounted for more than 50 000 panels: Vierverlaten near Hoogkerk (7 777), Woldjerspoor (43 000) and Zernike (1 700) (Groninger Internet Courant, 2018[47]).

  • Wind: A total of 274 wind turbines produce energy in the Groningen province (34 at Delfzijl; 90 at Eemshaven and 150 at the Gemini offshore wind farm). The Gemini offshore wind project, one of the largest offshore wind farms in the world, is located 85 km away from the coast in the North Sea with a total capacity of 600 megawatts, meeting the annual energy needs of 1.5 million people and reducing the annual CO2 emissions of the Netherlands by 1.25 million tonnes (Northland Power, 2019[48]). The goal of the region is to produce 855.5 MW by 2020. At the same time, wind energy has generated some resistance to the installation of windmill parks from communities in different regions of the Netherlands.

Green electricity production has grown in the last five years, although it is still relatively low. The production of green electricity (from solar and wind sources) within the municipality grew by 500% in 5 years (from 5 million kWh in 2012 to 27.4 million kWh in 2017) (Figure 1.8). The production in 2017 alone represented the electricity required by 12 000 households, avoiding 12 kilotonnes (kt) of CO2 emissions (CO₂ Monitor Groningen, 2018[39]). While solar energy production has grown steadily between 2012 and 2017, wind energy has declined during the same period. This can partly be explained by the existence of subsidies on solar energy, conflicts driven by land property and the so-called “Not In My Backyard” (NIMBY) attitude regarding the installation of wind energy turbines.

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Figure 1.8. Green electricity production in Groningen, Netherlands, 2012-17
Figure 1.8. Green electricity production in Groningen, Netherlands, 2012-17

Source: Own elaboration based on CO2 Monitor Groningen (2018[39]), CO₂-Monitor Groningen, (accessed on 29 April 2019).

Renewable heating consumption has tripled in five years and this trend is expecting to increase. The total production of renewable heating in 2017 was 327 TJ, almost 3 times the production registered in 2012 (approximately 110 TJ; Figure 1.9). This volume of production provided heating to 8 700 households and prevented 18.3 kt of CO2 emission.10 Biomass, coming from wood residues, manure and waste from the food processing industry, along with soil energy are the most common types of heating sources in Groningen. The Netherlands is at the bottom of a ranking of a group of 34 EU member countries in terms of the share of renewable energy gross final energy production (European Environment Agency, 2018[49]).

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Figure 1.9. Renewable heating consumption in Groningen, Netherlands, 2013-17
Figure 1.9. Renewable heating consumption in Groningen, Netherlands, 2013-17

Source: Own elaboration based on CO2 Monitor Groningen (2018[39]), CO₂-Monitor Groningen, (accessed on 29 April 2019).


[51] 5Groningen (2019), Homepage, (accessed on 30 April 2019).

[14] Accenture (2015), “The circular economy could unlock $4.5 trillion of economic growth”, (accessed on 21 February 2020).

[8] Blomsma, F. and G. Brennan (2017), “The emergence of circular economy: A new framing around prolonging resource productivity”, Journal of Industrial Ecology, Vol. 21/3, pp. 603-614,

[41] Bourne, S. et al. (2014), “A seismological model for earthquakes induced by fluid extraction from a subsurface reservoir”, Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, Vol. 119/12, pp. 8991-9015,

[36] CBS (2018), Arbeidsdeelname; regionale indeling 2018, Statistics Netherlands, The Hague, (accessed on 2 May 2019).

[34] CBS (2018), Trends in the Netherlands 2018,

[17] Circle Economy (2020), The Circularity Gap Report,

[49] City of Groningen (2018), CO-monitor Groningen, (accessed on 8 November 2019).

[20] City of Groningen (2015), Groningen Cycling Strategy 2015-2025, (accessed on 2 May 2019).

[38] CO₂ Monitor Groningen (2018), CO-Monitor Groningen, (accessed on 29 April 2019).

[29] Deloitte Fast50 (2018), “8 companies from Groningen in the Deloitte Fast50 › Founded in Groningen”, (accessed on 30 April 2019).

[28] DVHN (2018), “Noord-Nederland ontpopt zich tot het nieuwe Silicon Valley”, (accessed on 30 April 2019).

[31] EC (2019), Province of Groningen - Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMES, European Commission, (accessed on 29 April 2019).

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← 1. Concentrations in air pollutants refer in particular to Particulate Matter (PM10).

← 2. Amec Foster Wheeler - See focus area profiles in this document: (pp. 20-30) (2015).

← 3. For more information, see

← 4. There are 380 municipalities in the Netherlands. The number has been reducing over the past years due to a merging of small municipalities in order to improve policymaking and service delivery.

← 5. A functional urban area (FUA) consists of a densely inhabited city and of a surrounding area (commuting zone) whose labour market is highly integrated with the city (OECD, 2012[55]).

← 6. A frontier region is defined as the top 10% of regions in GDP per employee. These are regions with the highest GDP per employee until the equivalent of 10% of national employment is reached (OECD, 2015[54]).

← 7. “Lighthouse” cities are part of the EU Horizon 2020 project SmartEnCity which aims to develop a highly adaptable and replicable systemic approach for transforming European cities into sustainable, smart and resource-efficient urban environments. Other cities involved in the project are: Sonderborg in Denmark, Tartu in Estonia and Vitoria-Gasteiz in Spain (SmartEnCity, 2019[51]).

← 8. Launched in 2017 by the Economic Board Groningen (EBG), 5Groningen is an initiative by which entrepreneurs and non-profit organisations test 5G applications in five specific sectors: health, energy, traffic, agriculture and living environment. These pilot experiences vary from 5G applications for use in arable and livestock farming in north Groningen, to solutions for the ageing population (5Groningen Website (2019[52]); Economic Board Groningen Website (2019[53]).

← 9. Partially, the increase in unemployment between 2013 and 2015 can be attributed to administrative matters. Until 2013, people receiving unemployment benefits were responsible for extending their registration before the Employee Insurance Schemes Implementing Body (Uitvoeringsinstituut Werknemersverzekeringen, UWV) and sometimes failed to do it. After 2013, the municipal government started to monitor this issue resulting in a partly artificial increase in the number of unemployment benefits beneficiaries (Groningen Municipality, 2017[38]).

← 10. A kilotonne (kt) is a mass unit (1 000 tonnes or 1 million kilograms).

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