A shift in thinking, not a battle of technology
It’s already technically and economically feasible to make the transition to renewable sources of energy, but the will – and the framework – for implementing it is now the important theme, according to presentations and discussions at the Erasmus Energy Forum 2017, hosted by the Erasmus Centre for Future Energy Business (ECFEB) at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) recently. A full report of the event at the World Trade Center in Rotterdam is now online.
Pex Langenberg, deputy mayor for the City of Rotterdam made the opening address to the international audience of investors, regulators, innovators and academics, saying cities, like Rotterdam, can make the transition. “If you want a sustainable future for your city, you need the people to think along,” he said. Progress in Rotterdam and the Port of Rotterdam fitted the theme of the Forum, Accelerating the energy transition – paths to zero carbon energy.
The transition might be driven by climate change and growing demand for energy but it is also seen as a way to create economic opportunities, said Dolf Gielen of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), on the condition that policy frameworks are in place. Europe leads in renewable energy but, Gielen warned, it must be a global transition.
No room for business as usual
Other speakers described the transition progressing at different rates in different parts of the world, the role for politics and politicians to create stable policies, and how investors need a strong financial case for making the long-term investments required to finance renewables.
They included Maria van der Hoeven, Senior Associate Fellow of the Clingendael International Energy Programme, who said there is no room for business as usual.
A dance between supply and demand
Professor Wolf Ketter Scientific Director of the Erasmus Centre for Future Energy Business at RSM said those working for a sustainable energy future should be fearless, despite recent fear-inducing headlines. He described the current state of evolution of energy landscape; markets are complex, there are wicked problems to solve and data can help. Passive end customers of the past are now prosumers who both produce and consume electricity.
Ketter described his research to model the effects on the market of more renewable energy. “Market volatility is a dance between weather-dependent supply and demand.” Renewables need to be added to the energy mix in a way that markets don’t crash, he said.
The product is free
“The future of the energy industry is zero carbon,” said Felix Zhang, group executive director at Envision Energy, a large and global active smart energy management and investment company. Zhang said two issues need to be addressed: the cost of energy, and the cost of synergy. He said big data, robotics and communication – and the Internet of Things ‒ are evolving very fast. What’s needed is ‘smooth trading action’.
“Energy is no longer going to be a commodity, it will be free. It will be integrated in energy contracts,” he commented and said financial investors ‘freak out’ when they are told energy is free, but the value is in the back end, in the transaction.
No one person can stop this transition
Jan Rotmans, Professor of Transitions and Transition Management at Erasmus University Rotterdam is still optimistic after 25 years of observing the energy transition, saying ‘the biggest barrier is between our ears’. Differences between China, the USA, Germany and the Netherlands are not based on technology, but on vision, and on pressure from society and might take decades to change. The transition is about building an entirely different energy system. “It will become free but we need to invest massively in the new system,” he explained. The transition is more than a battle of technology, it’s a shift in thinking, he said. “No one person can stop this transition any more.” Preparing young people and preparing a strategy for zero carbon, circularity and for becoming more bio-based is the vision for 2050.
Members of the audience joined one of five simultaneous workshops and two series of round table sessions, each led by an expert. Discussions followed an introduction to the subject and brief examples. A pattern emerged identifying a need for collaboration, but varying motivations to do so. You can read more about the workshops on the Erasmus Energy Forum webpage.
Big steps, bright outlook
Panel discussions moderated by ECFEB Advisory Board chairman Volker Beckers covered the enabling effect of policy – as a missing piece in the jigsaw of transition, and included contributions from industry speakers plus RSM’s Prof. Eric van Heck and Sharon Dijksma, Dutch Minister for the Environment, who said many politicians look only to the next election. It takes courage to make longer-term policy decisions and there is opposition, she said but there are also many allies. Christopher McLachlan, co-founder of pear.ai, a Silicon Valley start-up said the finance industry should look at energy from a different perspective. “People underestimate progress of technology,” said Ab van der Touw, CEO of Siemens.
A beckoning perspective
A second discussion included the audience’s reactions into their debate about business taking the lead in the energy transition. A majority thought the European energy mix in 2050 would feature mostly wind and sun energy, with a complete transition to sustainable energy in around 2060. Panel member Ab van der Touw said he welcomed conferences like this one that play a part in presenting new perspectives in a way that people understand. “You need time to re-educate; social innovation is a prerequisite. There’s no other way than taking your time with social innovation.”
Most of the audience agreed that the energy transition is a beckoning perspective. Members of the panel continued to debate the question, agreeing that there’s a vision but we need a common path – a ‘dot on the horizon’ to aim for.
The Stedin Erasmus Energy Awards
Towards the end of the afternoon, the Forum audience was invited to help pick the winner of the Stedin Erasmus Energy Award. Three shortlisted finalists were invited to make one of the shortest elevator pitches ever ‒ just 60 seconds each to explain their innovative and sustainable energy concepts on stage. A jury of energy experts had already made their choice, and the combined results from the jury and the audience voting decided the winner of the Stedin Erasmus Energy Award was Solarus. Watch the video about the winner’s and runners-ups’ concepts here.
Keep the conversation going
Concluding the Erasmus Energy Forum, Professor Wolf Ketter said: “We need these fora continuously. I like to keep the conversation going – and I like the word conversation, because it is a conversation.”
Full report now online
A full report of Business Day at the Erasmus Energy Forum, including the speakers’ presentation slides, workshop summaries, photographs, award winners and reactions on social media, alongside our report of Science Day at the Energy Forum, can be found on the Erasmus Energy Forum 2017 report webpage.
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