Experimentation in energy transition planning: Reflections on the Regional Energy Strategies planning instrument in the Netherlands


  • Martijn Gerritsen Radboud University Nijmegen
  • Henk-Jan Kooij Radboud University Nijmegen


experimental governance, Regional energy transition, Netherlands, place-based experimentalism, Regional Energy Strategy




Experimentalist governance has become more prominent in addressing planning issues at supra-national, national, and sub-national levels over the last two decades. Such experimentalist arrangements grant substantial policy discretion to lower-level planning entities and aim to incrementally improve planning through learning-by-monitoring and recursively comparing approaches across contexts (see e.g., Rangoni and Zeitlin, 2021).

So far, scholars of experimentalist governance have mainly studied the processes through which, and the conditions under which experimentalism occurs. However, the place-specific outcomes that experimentalism can have in space have remained understudied. As a result, experimentalist approaches to sustainability developments and transitions in society have been claimed to lack a form of ‘spatial sensibility’ (e.g., Coenen et al., 2012; Kivimaa and Morgan, 2023, p. 106).

This contribution reflects explicitly on the spatial implications of experimentalist governance. To do so, it presents findings of a research project on the Regional Energy Strategy (RES), a sub-national experimentalist planning instrument implemented in the Netherlands since 2019 (Gerritsen et al., 2022). Through the RES planning instrument, local governments and societal partners plan the spatial allocation of on-land renewable energy generation capacity in designated ‘energy regions’ until 2030. The governance of these energy regions and the adopted strategies are monitored and need to be revised every two years.

This paper offers insights into sub-national experimentalist spatial governance based on an analysis of interviews with key stakeholders, participatory observations of meetings in several energy regions, and policy documents and news items about the Dutch RES planning process in the past four years. The paper claims that the new planning instrument considered insufficiently how the strategies that were drafted would materialize in the regional contexts in which they are being implemented. The RES instrument de facto inhibited developing more comprehensive, longer-term views on the spatial outlook of energy regions by focusing only on the period up until 2030 and by considering only on-land wind and solar generation capacity as viable technological options. Additionally, the instrument overestimated the ‘planning freedom’ of individual energy regions and understated the need for all regions to timely transpose their regional policy ambitions into spatial plans at the municipal and provincial government levels. Next to this, the RES presents a balancing act including a dialectic between political- and societal support on the one hand, and progress and feasibility of the energy transition on the other. All in all, this contribution argues that the call made for a more ‘place-based experimentalism’ (Coenen and Morgan, 2020) also applies to the Regional Energy Strategy.


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Coenen, L., Morgan, K., 2020. Evolving geographies of innovation: existing paradigms, critiques and possible alternatives. Norsk Geografisk Tidsskrift - Norwegian Journal of Geography 74, 13–24. https://doi.org/10.1080/00291951.2019.1692065

Gerritsen, M., Kooij, H.-J., Groenleer, M., van der Krabben, E., 2022. To See, or Not to See, That Is the Question: Studying Dutch Experimentalist Energy Transition Governance through an Evolutionary Lens. Sustainability 14, 1540. https://doi.org/10.3390/su14031540

Kivimaa, P., Morgan, K., 2023. Multilevel governance, sustainability transitions and the experimentalist turn, in: Schwaag Serger, S., Soete, L., Stierner, J. (Eds.), The Square: Putting Place-Based Innovation Policy for Sustainability at the Centre of Policy Making, Science for Policy Report by the Joint Research Centre (JRC). Report from the Joint Research Council of the European Commission, Luxembourg.

Rangoni, B., Zeitlin, J., 2021. Is experimentalist governance self-limiting or self-reinforcing? Strategic uncertainty and recursive rulemaking in European Union electricity regulation. Regulation & Governance 15, 822–839. https://doi.org/10.1111/rego.12309