Author Johan Op de Beeck interviewed Minister for Energy, Tinne Van der Straeten, and Tom Van Den Noortgaete, Division Director Energy, about the societal challenges concerning energy. Listen to the interview on Sweco’s podcast channel.
The European Union wants to become completely climate-neutral by 2050 at the latest, and obviously this should not be achieved at the expense of energy supply. That is certainly a monumental challenge! That is why we are currently undertaking the largest ever reconstruction of our energy system in Belgium. Energy efficiency, renewable energy, hydrogen and storage technology, interconnectivity, CCUS (Carbon Capture Usage and Storage), ... these terms are not yet part of our daily vocabulary, but they are part of the solution to a sustainable energy transition.
The optimism of Minister for Energy, Tinne Van der Straeten and Tom Van Den Noortgaete, Division Director Energy at Sweco Belgium, is already infectious: "The coming 10 years will be incredibly exciting in terms of energy transition."
When it comes to energy, we can talk in terms of doom and gloom, but Tinne Van der Straeten is mainly positive about the future. "I see a sector of opportunities and of chances," she states with conviction. "We have made two clear choices in the current coalition agreement: (1) the energy transition towards renewable energy, and (2) tackling CO2 emissions based on a clear long-term vision that looks beyond this legislature. To achieve the goal of a 55 % reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, we are taking concrete steps today, based on three clear building blocks: security of supply, sustainability and affordability."
The framework within which the government shapes its energy policy must make it possible for companies and other partners to help realise this transition. We do not only need a tremendous amount of investors, but also top expertise in new technologies.
We find this knowledge, among others, in the engineers, designers and consultants at Sweco, which plays an important role as a specialised agency in the most innovative energy projects in Belgium. From the first floating solar panel park to hydrogen tank infrastructure and even the international exchange of green electricity. Tom Van Den Noortgaete: "Our experts provide technical and spatial solutions for the energy transition in line with our mission statement 'Transforming Society Together'. Sweco is active in the entire energy chain, from production and distribution to users. That is what sets us apart. Hot off the press, we can announce that Sweco is the designer of two large-scale Power-to-Gas installations. It is a difficult process to produce hydrogen from green energy (in this case wind energy) that can be used in a number of sectors."
Green electrons and molecules of the future
Today we are 80% dependent on foreign countries and geopolitics for our energy supply. The steps we take and every wind turbine we install make us a little more independent. The future is green energy, but we will not be able to electrify everything. Industry, for example, has many processes that must operate at high temperatures. There is a greater need for green molecules, such as hydrogen or even biogases. The same applies to the transport sector. There are also plenty of opportunities to make the transition at city and municipal level. One successful project is the study of the fossil-free Muide Meulestede neighbourhood in Ghent, in cooperation with Sweco.
It is necessary to reduce our energy demand by focusing on efficiency measures and sustainable technology in order to achieve a sustainable energy transition. In addition, we can electrify our energy demand in order to make maximum use of renewable sources. Storing that energy in order to use it flexibly at the right time is an important key here. Equally important is the infrastructure to manage and transport all those ‘electrons and molecules of the future'. Can we adapt our existing network to this? And can we reason from a multi-utility context where to connect multiple networks? That will be a big challenge.
Smart charging station
Sweco strongly believes in digitalisation. It is very important that we take a smart look at how to better match supply and demand, and how to optimise storage. The growing number of electric cars, for example, offers many opportunities. They can act as mobile power stations where we can store energy, but in the future will also be able to draw that energy. Soon Sweco will apply this on a small scale by developing a smart charging station for its own fleet of electric cars. A Vehicle-to-Grid system (V2G) in which the cars do not only plug in and take power from the grid, but also vice versa.
The bumpy road to an energy-neutral future is therefore not only littered with obstacles, according to our discussion partners, but above all with opportunities!