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Creating societal business models for new Energy Gardens

Sustainable Cities and Communities; Climate Action; Affordable and Clean Energy


Solar energy plays a key role in the transition towards a fully sustainable energy society. One of the options is to develop fields with solar panels. These solar fields tend to be monotonous and focused on only one function: delivering solar energy, but have the potential to provide a lot more. 

The Natuur en Milieufederaties (the Dutch NGO Federation for Nature and Environmental Protection) wants to explore adding new functionalities to these solar fields. Think of, but not limited to, increasing biodiversity, recreational possibilities, educational options, innovative fieldlabs and citizen engagement in the energy transition. To do so, they launched a project to develop “Energy Gardens” ( These nature inclusive solar parks provide both economic value (through energy production) and societal value (through multiple functionalities).  This requires a societal business case where sustainability, ecology and business models coexist. 

Our challenge 

However, when these functionalities are added, more ground surface is needed. This means less energy production per square meter. Yet, the (commercial) solar park developer generally aims for maximal return on investment. However, the Natuur en Milieufederaties is convinced of the societal added value of multiple use of these areas. This calls for creative ideas to generate additional financial value for societal benefits. The federation challenges you to develop innovative ideas which contribute to a sustainable societal business case. This calls for creative minds. The pilot projects are going to be realized, so you will work on real projects. If in the end you prove our existing concepts for energy gardens are not societal profitable, we challenge you to develop better concepts.

Expected impact

The work of the students will lead to an overview of new societal business models that can be used to financially support societal functionalities in Energy Gardens. This stimulates solar park developers to consider multiple functionalities in their solar parks, increasing biodiversity, enhancing citizen support for these solar parks in particular, and for the energy transition in general.

Target group 

The target group consists of professional solar park developers, local governments who set rules and regulations for solar parks, local citizen groups who benefit from the social functions, energy cooperatives who take part in solar park development.

Student Groups 

The challenge is attractive for students in engineering, design, business and sustainability studies. At least one Dutch speaking student should be on the team. We offer to support 2 student team. The challenge is suitable for a ‘standard’ challenge within ECIU-U.

Deadline for applications : 2021-02-14