Post-COVID relaunch: challenges and opportunities for the energy system


Late 2019, the Green Deal was presented, the plan with the ambition of making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Soon after, the world was hit by COVID-19, which triggered a crisis in many sectors and also had a clear impact on the energy system. EnergyVille wrote a paper on the impact of the corona crisis on the energy system, focus areas for research and regulation, and lessons for the future, and VITO subsequently organized a roundtable discussion with some thought leaders.


Flexibility: What has the corona crisis taught us about our future energy system?

The corona crisis already taught us interesting things in several areas. Due to the temporary drop in demand and some periods with plenty of wind and sun, electricity production was dominated by renewable energy sources more than ever before. A kind of preview of the future, then, because in the coming decades the energy system will have more and more renewable sources. To keep the system in balance, there is therefore a need for flexibility, both on the production side and on the demand side with all kinds of storage in between.

Philippe van Troeye, Engie: “Today there is a need to create a stable framework, especially when you look at the evolution of the Central-West European energy market. In France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, 90 Gigawatts of controllable capacity will disappear in ten years.”

International setting

For the economic relaunch after the corona crisis, it is extremely important to make sustainable and forward-looking choices. That is why Denmark stated in a call for the Green Deal’s basic principles to guide a sustainable economic relaunch after the corona crisis. Already 19 countries in the EU endorsed this demand, Belgium is not yet among them. Still, with the Green Deal, Europe can create the stable framework in which sustainable policy choices are made.

Véronique Goossens, Belfius: “This can be a tipping point, the European direction is leading the way. The European direction of march is very clear and offers opportunities to take our economy to the next level. We also clearly see that the investment zeal of the market has not dried up, so that makes me positive.”

Cooperation within Europe should not be forgotten either.

Tomas Wyns, VUB: “We are in one of the largest industrial regions in the world: Rotterdam, Antwerp, Dunkirk, Nordrhein-Westfalen. If you aggregate that, it’s comparable to the largest Chinese industrial regions and we’re going to have to work together, although there will also be competition between them.”

Future of fossil fuels

Fossil fuels will play a role as a transition fuel, but a complete phase-out in the coming decades will be inevitable. It is important to keep in mind the time horizon and that current investments will last 20 to 30 years.

Bram Claeys, ODE: “We have not yet had a single era where an energy source has really disappeared. We still have biomass, coal, petroleum. These have to disappear and they will because the alternatives are more attractive, better and more comfortable. Phasing out fossil sources will require a huge effort from industry, companies, research institutions and government.”

Role of experts

During the corona crisis, the scientist emerged in a positive light to support decisions, and public interest in the scientist was also positive. It is clear that even the energy transition cannot do without multidisciplinary knowledge to support the complex choices and capture advancing insight. Research institutions play a crucial role in this regard.


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