In February 2020, Doede Vierstra officially started as chair of the Supervisory Board. One month after that, the lockdown commenced. This period felt unreal. Even so, it was possible to work successfully on the greatest challenge facing Stedin according to Doede: the energy transition. ‘We are entering a phase in which everything will change. We will have to learn as we go along’
A visit to the crisis team in a building that was almost completely empty, a meeting of shareholders with cameras only and all shareholders attending remotely. It was an unusual start to a term of office. ‘Fortunately, I had already started onboarding before this, so I was in fact still able to shake a few people's hands’, Doede says. ‘It is admirable to see how quickly Stedin and all our stakeholders switched over to a new way of working, ensuring that consultations proceeded as usual. As a result, we did not lose any time with regard to talking about the energy transition. Everyone deserves praise for that.’
According to Doede, the energy transition is the greatest challenge for the Netherlands in the years ahead. ‘It is not easy to maintain a balance between all interests and the various tasks that need to be carried out. To that end, the Supervisory Board's role is to connect the parties involved. On the other hand, it is also a sparring partner, using its knowledge and experience to assist these talks in making the necessary progress. Sometimes, you need to push a little, and sometimes, you need to explain more.’ Above all, the challenge is to ensure that everyone moves at the same speed. ‘We can't advance any faster than the weakest link. That requires a huge amount of liaising and coordination.’
Doede, with ample experience on a variety of boards, believes the can-do mentality is typical of Stedin. ‘But so is the pervasive mutual trust. This is not something you'll find everywhere. We are open, we listen to each other and we don't play games with each other. We can share matters with the Works Council in all openness, because this is invariably dealt with in a constructive manner. That is worth a great deal, and it is something we need to cherish.
The four challenges for the years ahead
Doede sees four major challenges for the years ahead: how to finance the energy transition, laws and regulations, making choices and vital employees. ‘Above all, we need people with special competences, for instance in digital technologies. To me, those are the vital professionals. We must train and retain professionals ourselves.’ If you want to understand what is so radical about this transition, says Doede, you need to look at digitalisation. ‘What matters are our options for optimisation. What will we do if we temporarily don't need solar or wind energy? How can we deal with this in an intelligent way? This is hugely complex, calls for extensive digital knowledge and competence and will fundamentally change our infrastructure. That is what we need to prepare for now.’
How to finance the energy transition remains a big issue in this connection, of course. Stedin will need a great deal of money in the coming years to be able to make the investments required for the energy transition. ‘We will call on our shareholders for this, amongst others. It is important to me to show them that this is an investment that will deliver returns. And yes, it will require us to make choices. To be realistic. To ensure our customers are on board, so that they also know what is possible. For instance, endlessly committing to solar power in every municipality will not work. This cannot all be done at the same time, neither in practical nor in financial terms. That is why we want to look jointly at how this can be financed, why we engage in dialogue with the central government and why laws and regulations are so important. At present they are not calibrated to the new reality. Sooner rather than later, an adjustment will be required that takes account of the much higher investments.’
Doede hopes that we will transition to a sustainable energy system that makes optimal use of all sustainable sources at our disposal and in which no energy is lost. ‘That is the grail we are chasing. The way I see it, it is highly worthwhile to contribute to this.’