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What if….we are all energy producers?

Every year all the first years students of the Masters Department at Design Academy Eindhoven work collectively on a ‘real’ commission in their third trimester (April-July). The idea is to confront the students with amongst others a ‘real’ case study, with a ‘real’ client, with ‘real’ deadlines, with ‘real’ presentations and pitches, and with working together in teams.

This year we received the assignment from the Communications Department of E.ON Benelux to do a study on the future of their corporate communication. E.ON is one of the largest energy companies in Europe that operates worldwide, and within the Benelux a player in providing mostly energy to businesses, with an annual turnover of 12 billion euro. E.ON Benelux not only delivers energy, they also generate it in large plants for example on the Maasvlaakte (NL) and in Vilvoorde (BE), but it is also involved in alternative and sustainable source of energy. They employ about 900 people.

The Communication Department of E.ON Benelux asked the Masters Department to do a design study into their future communication strategy. It seems like such a straightforward question. But the energy market is a changing market in a changing world. The communication strategy depends very much on the future of the ‘product’ energy.

In the here and now we see major transitions taking shape. From a centrally organized fossil energy supply, there is a shift towards a sustainable market that is aimed at small and private initiatives. This is a future in which – instead of a few large energy power plants – a situation might occur that besides wind mills also our streets, our homes, our rubbish, and our things could produce energy for our own use and that of others. No longer are we passive consumers of energy. We are all becoming producers.

The Masters Department decided to take this new situation, when we are all producing energy, as its starting point for the assignment. What is the new role of the energy company in this future? Will it take upon itself the transfer of knowledge of energy rather than producing it? Or will they sell energy guaranties? What are the consequences for the identity of an energy company when the consumers are producers? How will an energy supplier communicate in this future?

On 2 April we organized a kick-off programme for the Masters students on site. We visited the large E.ON power plant on Maasvlakte and had an inspiring day with Gijs Bakker, Head of the Masters Department, Joost Grootens, head of the Masters Department Information Design, Paul Kwakkenbos, Senior Manager Corporate Communications E.ON and Sytse Jelles Strategy Manager E.ON. We delved into the workings of a plant, talked about efficiency and energy future, questioned sustainability and wrapped up the day with some inspirational examples of ‘New Energy in Design and Art’ presented by curator Annemartine van Kesteren from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.

In the coming weeks our students will work in three teams, guided by mentors Koen Kleijn, Rianne Makkink and Simon Davies, on assignments related to the overall question. During the kick-off input was given by speakers such as Ebel Kemeling (Spring Associates), Willy Ahout (MTT), Eric Peterson (Van Ganzewinkel), Marco Vermeulen, DUS Architects and more speakers are planned in the coming weeks.

We are very excited to be working on such a highly actual topic. It is one of the big questions our society is facing today: how will we make the transition from fossil to sustainable. To be able to work with a big energy companies allows us to think and work on all levels of this transition process. From the point of view of the three master departments it is interesting to think about how to define and map this future and how to develop a language that is needed in this new world. To think about the future is something that is natural to designers. We are always looking for new materials and new techniques, or try to come up with ideas that reflect on new habitats and new relations. Often these ideas are based on speculation. To be able to work with real data and knowledge allows us to go beyond personal assumptions.

On Monday 2 July the Masters Department will present the final proposals within this assignment to E.ON Benelux and a new issue of the Masters publication SOURCE will be dedicated to the research and outcomes of this commission. It is due to be released in September 2012.





Published: 02-May-2012 15:07
  • E.ON What if.... energy

    E.ON center

  • E.ON What if.... energy

    E.ON scale model

  • E.ON What if.... energy


  • E.ON What if.... energy

    DAE students (left) and Gijs Bakker (right) at E.ON center

  • E.ON What if.... energy

    presentation of E.ON

  • E.ON What if.... energy

    presentation of E.ON