A new take on energy – more than one energy solution is needed

Bron: Impact 2030 - De Tijd Connect (30/05/2018)

In the past, private customers and businesses were simply passive energy users. They could only exercise an indirect influence on increased sustainability: through their voting behaviour. Today, things are different: they have additional opportunities to participate actively in the energy market. Consumers can generate their own electricity through solar panels on their roof, or participate in a local wind farm, for example. This decentralised energy model is the start of a promising era in which households will be less reliant on energy suppliers.

“Businesses also spend a lot of money on their gas and electricity bills, but usually do not have an in-house specialist who considers the consumption and purchase of energy,” says Leonardo Meeus, Associate Professor in Energy Markets at the Vlerick Energy Centre. “Particularly at SMEs, this kind of expert is an exception. But there are already plenty of sustainable solutions available to companies too. They can appoint an energy service company, for example, who will tell them how they can increase their energy efficiency.”

European transformation

To make the switch to more sustainable models possible, a facilitating legal framework is required. “We are currently working on the fourth reform of the energy market at a European level,” says Leonardo Meeus. “This already offers greater opportunities for energy communities that want to develop integrated solutions in certain residential districts, for example. Such collaborations can make a difference in the business world too. Through what is known as an aggregator, the purchase of energy can be optimally divided between multiple flexible consumers, for example.”

On the one hand, we are evolving towards decentralised energy models, in which users generate energy themselves. On the other hand, Leonardo Meeus identifies an evolution in the opposite direction. “The larger and larger offshore wind farms and the giant solar farms in agricultural areas in fact result in increased centralisation of sustainable energy generation. The economies of scale associated with this are an economic given. But centralised and decentralised energy models can coexist perfectly.”

2050 energy pact
According to the Belgian energy pact, we must switch to 100% renewable electricity by 2050.  

“Incidentally, it’s not a good idea to be entirely dependent on a decentralised solution based on solar or wind energy. That makes you vulnerable to local weather conditions. So it is better for both models to exist alongside each other. The competition also has a positive impact on pricing for the end user. Perhaps the management of distribution networks will need to be reconsidered as well. The European reform of the energy market is calling for a broader perspective and greater transparency.”

Leonardo Meeus is delighted with the Belgian energy pact between the Federal State and the regions. “The responsibilities remain divided among the energy ministers at four different levels, but there is now a shared vision. The energy pact is a great long-term plan with a clear, progressive vision which is in line with the EU’s vision. According to the pact, our country must have converted to 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2050. The next step is now to turn this objective into a practical action plan.”

‘Power to gas’

In the transition to sustainable energy models, technology also plays a crucial role. Smart electricity networks or ‘smart grids’ can better match supply and demand, for example. “There are already lots of useful innovations in the field of solar and wind energy,” says Leonardo Meeus. “Experiments are also being carried out with new storage possibilities, as an alternative to batteries. One promising solution is power-to-gas: a technique in which electrical energy is converted to a gas such as hydrogen or methane. This is easier to store than electricity.”

“The energy policy needs to create space for testing new techniques in controlled environments.” Leonardo Meeus, Associate Professor in Energy Markets at Vlerick Business School

It is impossible to predict which innovations will eventually succeed, according to Meeus. “But what we absolutely must not do is focus everything on a single solution,” he warns. “In the past, there were high expectations of carbon capture and storage, for example (Ed: the capture and underground storage of carbon dioxide gas that is released by the burning of fossil fuels). Today, this method does not seem as attractive as first thought, but that might change again tomorrow. So we need to be open to a variety of innovations in the energy market. This ensures a healthy dynamic.”

The road is still long and the government will need to continue to stimulate and facilitate these innovations. Leonardo Meeus: “We often see that when a new solution is introduced, old - mostly well-intentioned - regulations need to be adjusted. But legislation is also necessary to prevent certain grey areas. The energy policy must be continuously re-evaluated, but should also create space for so-called regulatory sandboxes: delineated frameworks within which new techniques can be tested in a controlled environment.”

Permanent click

A further shift in mentality among consumers will also be crucial in making the step towards a sustainable future. “To create a permanent click, energy needs to be something we like to think about,” says Meeus. “Not necessarily from an economic standpoint, but more on the basis of social considerations. Because, by using energy sustainably, you can show that you are participating, as a private customer or a company. ‘Behavioural economics’ can also play a role here: looking at your neighbours and trying to do even better can also act as an incentive.”

Related news

  1. Electricity without borders

    Date: 02/06/2014
    Category: Opinions
    The internal European electricity market is the biggest in the world, unmatched by other parts of the world where electricity markets are a more local or regional phenomenon. However, since all market players use the same network infrastructure, this gives rise to energy policy debates. How to develop the necessary electricity transport infrastructure to support this market? And how to share the cost of that single infrastructure now that a lot of investment is needed?
  2. Energy sector needs to embrace change

    Date: 29/04/2014
    Category: Opinions
    “Unlike many other sectors, power systems – and electricity grids in particular – were a model of stability and predictability; this is no more the case!” says Daniel Dobbeni, the chair of the Vlerick Energy Centre. “This industry was and still is also highly diverse,” adds Prof. Leonardo Meeus. This energy sector is now facing all kinds of new challenges as well as opportunities. The liberalisation of the power market has not only undermined stability, but triggered an unstoppable acceleration process. Of all the new trends and uncertainties in the market, there are four that could genuinely cause a fundamental revolution in the sector.
All articles