Q&A With Florijn de Graaf on his Work Making ‘Hoods Smarter in Portugal

Florijn de Graaf has dedicated his life to engineering self-sufficient communities that combine traditional techniques with modern technology, and he's bringing his expertise to Portugal.

Just over 10 years ago, Florijn spent over half a year helping to build the Aardehuizen, Europe’s first “earthship neighborhood,” a living testament that a neighborhood can thrive while having a minimal impact on the environment while simultaneously looking like something straight out of the shire. As an engineer working to realize the project, Florijn found plenty of room for improvement and has since dedicated his life to reimagining what is possible and to engineering comfortable self-sufficient communities that combine traditional techniques with modern technology— a sustainable alternative to the all too common consumption-driven lifestyle.

Now, as founder and regenerative systems engineer at SmartHoods, Florijn is developing modern eco-villages that can produce their own heating, energy, food, and water, not to mention half of their food, right here in Portugal (and beyond) using both high-and low-tech systems. The self-described drone pilot and philosopher specializes in renewable heat, power systems, and smart building technology.

Alongside this sustainability guru is a growing team of devoted pioneers in sustainability and tech, making moves to showcase Portugal as a hotspot for regenerative developments and eco-lifestyles. I caught up with Florijn to pick his brain about where he sees the project going, to better understand the types of innovations he is testing out, to find out what that could mean for Portugal, and to see how Atlas could help.

How did you zero in on Portugal as a good place to set up Smarthoods?

Portugal came onto my radar somewhat serendipitously. I found myself at a festival here and decided to explore the eco-village scene, which is quite vibrant. Portugal’s appeal for business, especially in project development focused on self-sufficient systems, is significant. The climate, financial incentives, and availability of beautiful land make it an attractive destination. Moreover, there’s a dynamic mix of entrepreneurs, retirees, and people from various backgrounds like the “healing crowd,” which creates a unique and fertile ground for regenerative projects.

What innovations have you created that are tailored to the Portuguese climate and landscape?

In Portugal, we focus on tailoring our system designs to local climates and conditions. The emphasis is often on food production within project developments, unlike other regions where the approach might be different. Our optimization tool for system design is being further developed to provide detailed designs for integrated food, water, and energy systems, considering technical, economic, and environmental factors.

What are your next steps?

This spring, we plan to expand in Portugal and enhance our system design optimization tool. We’re in talks with several project developers to become client partners, which will help us refine our services. Our goal is to secure three partner clients this year.

What skills and/or boots on the ground are you lacking at this stage? How can people get involved?

Currently, we’re on the lookout for a co-founder who can assist with business development, strategy, and company building. Additionally, we’re seeking skilled local consultants experienced in system design and analysis, as well as partnerships with solution providers, project developers, and landscape designers.

Lastly, since Atlas likes to end these interviews on a sweet note, were there any standout restaurants you went to in Portugal that you’d like to recommend?

Espacio Nativo. This community-run restaurant in Almira (Alentejo) is a gem that sources its food from local farmers. They serve delicious breakfast and lunch and also sell local produce. It’s a place with a lot of character and certainly deserves all the support it can get.

More Information

Check out this podcast between Florijn and me, made for the Ireland Portugal Business Network, to hear more about the work he and his team are doing in Portugal. And if you’re interested in learning more or getting involved, check out the SmartHoods brochure here: www.smarthoods.pt.

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