Distribution system operator Fluvius will be continuing the DSO Chair at the Energy Centre with Vlerick for another five years. “Vlerick makes us take a critical look at ourselves, and that makes sense. After all, no single energy player has all the answers to the question of how we can keep energy distribution manageable for consumers and the environment.”
“Vlerick is not a technical energy expert.” Donald Vanbeveren (Corporate Affairs Director at Fluvius) makes this clear from the outset. “However, it is a business challenger that makes us think about things such as our role as a DSO, rate models and flexibility. Combine that with the internal Vlerick network of professors and researchers and Professor Leonardo Meeus’ international network and you have a rather unique and valuable combination for a chair partnership.”
For the next five years, the core of the DSO Chair will remain as follows: exploring a topic twice a year that allows Fluvius to change course quickly.
Fluvius has just renewed this partnership for another five years. A remarkable commitment in these uncertain times – when it comes to energy as well, no doubt.
Donald Vanbeveren: “This chair ties in with one of our four strategic pillars, namely future-oriented networks. This is our foundation, our north star, and the reason why we are entering into this commitment with Vlerick today. But if the newly appointed federal government decides that all company cars must be electric by 2026, we will – literally – have to shift up a gear fast. That's exactly why you need this basis of trust.”
Leonardo Meeus: “It works both ways, Donald. A streamlined five-year plan for this chair, with research topics that are already defined, would give Fluvius and Vlerick a feeling of certainty. But I don't have a crystal ball either. What I do know is that Fluvius faces such enormous challenges that it is better for everyone to think about them and work on them together. With Fluvius, we choose two topics every year. Each topic is preceded by a literature study. Our postdoctoral researcher Ariana Ramos then interviews experts from different countries and we organise a workshop on that topic, publish a white paper and conduct research. Given the positive response during and after the recent workshop on open data, for example, Ariana will be exploring data analytics and strategy for distribution system operators in greater depth.”
Donald Vanbeveren: “The other permanent members of the centre, UK Power Networks (UK) and Netz-Nö (AT), also participate in these workshops. For each session, we also give wildcards to companies or organisations that might make an interesting contribution to the topic in question. And let me tell you, these workshops sometimes make us take a critical look at ourselves. The most recent workshop on open data revealed that we tend to be more conservative with our network data compared to other foreign DSOs.”
Leonardo Meeus: “In addition, countries often handle this data in different ways. France applies a default open data policy, whereas in Belgium we protect data as standard and will only release it in certain circumstances. As a result, we started this workshop with the basic question: what do you mean by ‘open data’? This demonstrates the dynamic of these workshops: everyone participates with an open mind.”
Donald Vanbeveren: “That’s right. For the workshop on regulatory sandboxes, we gave a wildcard to the Flemish regulator VREG, for example. In the informal setting of a workshop, you can create understanding for each other's point of view. This is something you can take with you when you end up sitting at the negotiating table.”
Leonardo Meeus: “I can only welcome and encourage this openness. In September, at Fluvius' request and along with our colleagues from the customised programmes, we organised a Distribution Executives Masterclass on campus – it was completely coronavirus-proof, of course. Fluvius brought in a balanced selection of participants who included energy experts from VOKA, Unizo, NGOs, trade unions, political parties and public administrations, among others. The 21 places for the 2 days were immediately filled and everyone turned up. It is just as refreshing for me to receive input from the Fluvius network as well.”
What is the ROI of this chair for the two of you?
Donald Vanbeveren: “Since we always explore topics that are still in an early phase, it is impossible to attach a financial ROI to them. Instead, the focus lies on gaining insights through co-creation, challenging your position, building arguments and being part of an international network of colleagues and stakeholders. However, I also count the many pleasant personal encounters as an ROI.”
Leonardo Meeus: “I completely agree. The current formula with two workshops per year allows us to help Fluvius quickly and provide direction on various topics. These topics also inspire me in my research and encourage me to look into other funding mechanisms, such as those available at European level. That funding allows a PhD student to conduct further research on a topic, for example.”