‘A significant leap’: Energy top of agenda in Flanders this month


Flemish energy minister Bart Tommelein has been busy this month, as a guest speaker at a European energy forum, appearing in Leuven as it broke ground on one of the region’s most innovative plans ever to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and launching a new four-year energy-saving contract with businesses

Power to the people

In the wake of recent news about Belgium’s dependency on its nuclear power plants and pollution levels in Brussels, energy – from powering our manufacturers to fuelling our cars – is a hot-button issue.

But it’s one that European countries should not be facing alone, according to Flemish energy minister Bart Tommelein (pictured), who was in Lithuania earlier this month for the Vilnius Energy Forum. “Energy security is an excellent example of a challenge that needs a multilateral approach,” Tommelein told attendees in one of two speeches that he delivered at the Forum.

Not only must the EU “search for a common European approach to guarantee energy security,” he said, “all countries must do their fair share in promoting energy efficiency policies, reducing the overall demand for energy and promoting renewable energy installations in a smart and flexible way.”

As Flanders is a global frontrunner in renewable energy, Tommelein’s presence at the European conference was crucial. Flanders’ use of wind energy per square kilometre is one of the most impressive figures in Europe, and it is in the number one position for solar power worldwide, at 190 kilowatts per square kilometre.

“As renewable energy prices begin to fall, I believe we can – and must – make a significant leap in the years to come,” he said, proceeding to hit on points that every European country had to address to reach EU energy goals.

Leuven puts stop to carbon footprint

Those include energy efficiency, both in industry, governmental concerns and households; focusing on renewable energies; flexibility, meaning switching to systems that are demand-led rather than supply-led; and governance, with governments not only needing to set an example in their own buildings and use of vehicles but in supporting innovations across sectors.

While in Vilnius, Tommelein also visited Lithuania’s electricity grid manager, together with the country’s energy minister, Zygimantas Vaiciunas. It is one of several visits to other energy ministers and grid managers in Europe this year, the next being the Netherlands next week.

In Flanders, meanwhile, the minister spoke during the groundbreaking of the region’s first “cold network” last week. The pilot project will see about 100 households in the Janseniushof planned residential area in the city centre breaking free of their gas-heated boilers and warming their homes with groundwater.

This project is absolutely an example of how Flanders can use innovative techniques to drive down CO2 emissions

- Energy minister Bart Tommelein

The cold water will be pumped up and warmed by a heat pump, after which it will be used to warm households. Excess water will then be allowed to cool off before being returned to the ground. The circular system is, therefore, much more sustainable than gas boilers.

A co-operation between the city of Leuven and property developer Resiterra, the project rids the area of carbon dioxide emissions generated by gas-fuelled boilers. The cold network produces no carbon dioxide emissions whatsoever. “This project is absolutely an example of how Flanders can use innovative techniques to drive down CO2 emissions,” said Tommelein.

If the project is successful, it will be expanded to some 500 households in Leuven and to other cities. “The goal is to implement these kinds of cold networks in cities across the region.”

Energy Policy Agreement extended

And more positive energy news this week was the extension of the EnergyBeleidsOvereenkomsten (EBO), or Energy Policy Agreement, between the government of Flanders and more than 325 companies. The agreement sees the companies – all from industries with an historically significant use of energy – getting support and advice on reducing their energy consumption.

First launched in 2015 by Tommelein and innovation minister Philippe Muyters, the four-year agreements end next year. Now new agreements will be made for the 2018-22 period with new companies. The first EBO period saw a reduction in energy use of 3.6%. “We expect to reach the same level of energy savings in the second round,” said Tommelein.

Photo courtesy Sarah Schotte/Twitter