The Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) is a merger government agency comprised of about 35 former organizations. They carry out projects in a variety of sectors ranging from agriculture to energy, all with a central goal of creating an economically stronger and more sustainable country. We recently sat down with Eric Richters, Senior GIS Advisor at RVO, to discuss how they are using GIS and VertiGIS Studio technology to encourage sustainability and increase access to information in the Netherlands.
How is RVO is currently using GIS technology?
[ER] The main thing that we use GIS for is agricultural subsidies. All European income support for farmers in the Netherlands goes through RVO. Farmers must record information about their properties and the crops that they are growing to obtain subsides and RVO is currently using customized GIS as a solution for obtaining that information.
Something else that I’m working on with GIS involves energy transition. RVO gives plenty of subsidies in the energy sector. We’re trying to support companies that are frontal in energy transition efforts, and we are currently using GIS to help increase access to renewable energy sources. I think that more and more people are getting interested in new energy sources. There’s a huge demand right now for people to see how they can switch to better, more sustainable energy.
What role does VertiGIS Studio play in RVO’s GIS tasks?
[ER] With VertiGIS Studio, we can do things that we couldn’t do before. Essentially, where standard Esri platforms and functionalities stop, VertiGIS Studio begins. VertiGIS Studio provides an easy way to produce complicated GIS functionality and reports that compile combinations of internal data, customer data and all kinds of derived computational data. With this data, we can produce reports and enhanced GIS functionalities geared toward very specific use cases which makes our customers happy.
Could you further describe how you are using VertiGIS Studio in the Energy Transition sector?
[ER] We currently have a Soil Energy Tool that is helping to make soil-based thermal energy storage more accessible. It’s a map centered application so GIS and VertiGIS Studio are at the core. With the tool any user can investigate if a certain spot could be drilled to put in a geothermal heat pump or heat exchanger. As well, the tool allows users to see what rules apply and whether there are any restrictions for drilling. If there are restrictions in a certain area, users can see what those restrictions are and what types of agencies they need to contact before they begin drilling. If drilling is allowed in an area, users can get a cost estimation from the tool by entering their own energy parameters to determine how much putting in a geothermal heat pump would cost.
What impact has your ATES Soil Energy Tool had? How is it helping to enhance understanding of geothermal energy sources?
[ER] This tool makes it more accessible for homeowners to investigate whether a soil-based thermal energy storage systems is feasible for them and helps them to understand what steps they need to take if they are interested in switching to a soil-based thermal energy storage system. The tool is also used by drilling companies. They use the tool to do an initial check to see whether drilling is possible and allowed. If they want to proceed with drilling, then they will need to use other resources to do more detailed calculations. But our tool provides them with an initial source for information. The tool is also used within governments to make soil-based thermal energy storage systems more accessible and lower the bar for switching to geothermal energy. We can see the number of investigations made and we can record that. Municipalities can then use this information to prepare stricter regulations for soil-based thermal energy storage systems in areas with high numbers of investigations.
What was the process for users to obtain relevant information about drilling before you introduced your ATES Soil Energy Tool?
[ER] Users were dependent on energy companies. Many people just stopped investigating because you had to pay these companies to investigate. With our tool they can easily get an idea of whether drilling is feasible. If it is, then they can contact a company to do a more detailed investigation and initiate the drilling process. It also makes it easier for customers to check the rules around drilling and find estimates of the costs. There isn’t currently another accessible way for users to get this information that they need. And before it was much harder to get this information so there’s definitely been improvements.
Do you have any plans for using VertiGIS Studio technology in new ways within the Energy Transition sector in the future?
[ER] Within energy transition we currently have a lot of subsidies, and one emerging use case involves determining the energy delivery area of a new energy corporation. We have a simple viewer based on postal codes. The idea with this tool is that small groups of people can feed power back to the grid. Maybe they’re starting with a small power plant or some solar panels or a windmill. There are subsidies that they can apply to that aim to stimulate local initiatives and support the reuse of locally generated power. The subsidies can help them to create their own energy corporation and stimulate more durable energy.
But for these types of initiatives, you can’t have participants from all over the country. You need to have easy access to information about local participants that are using your locally generated power. That’s where our tool comes in. If you want to determine whether you can create an energy corporation in a certain area, you can insert a postal code and select the area where your participants reside. The tool gives options to choose how to configure postal codes based on subsidy rules and reposition to see what the best overall postal code configuration is based on where the most people are living. With this information, users can put in a subsidy request.
Could you describe some of the success stories that you’ve had with VertiGIS Studio technology in other industries?
[ER] With VertiGIS Studio, we’re able to build products that are more user friendly. Our VertiGIS Studio applications are easier to use and easier to get information from. We can see that customers are using our applications more now. This is really the success of our applications – that our customers are using them more.
One of the popular applications that we’ve built is a tool for checking the risks of foundations of houses. In the Netherlands there was previously a time where houses were being built using wooden foundations. This was an issue because wood can rot which can cause a lot of problems for your house. Our tool checks how risky the foundations of houses are. If someone wants to sell their house or see how much it’s worth, it is now compulsory to include a report showing whether there are risks with the foundation. In certain areas, there are high risks for foundations and as a buyer you would need to be aware of that.
Do you have any plans for new VertiGIS Studio applications in the near future that you’d be willing to share?
[ER] For us it depends on what our customers are doing and what they want. One project that I’m currently working on is for mapping the boundaries of plots for farming shellfish. We are using VertiGIS Studio to create a web application that improves the process of getting a permit and registering a farming plot. Right now, the process involves putting coordinates into Excel and emailing them back, but this process often results in plots that are not topologically correct. Plots are often overlapping and there’s currently a lot of pre-processing requirements for registering plots. The tool that I’m creating is a VertiGIS Studio Web AppBuilder tool with lots of functionality for drawing angles and directions and for automated topology checks. It’s completely geared toward what our customers need and what will help them to draw new plots in a way that’s better than what they currently do. This tool will also make it easier for RVO to check permits and record plots and make it easier for fishermen to do their jobs and figure out which areas they are supposed to be in. I think that this is really a must have tool in 2021.
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