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Energy transition - challenges in the built environment

July 6, 2021

The energy transition is changing the sources we use to generate our energy. In addition, the role and position that parties in the energy sector will have in the future is also changing. User demand is changing and digitization is supporting the emergence of new business models. As a result, energy parties are searching for their position to be part of the transition. In this article JBR presents its vision of the developments in the energy sector and what they mean for different types of players.

Developments

Society has largely accepted climate change as a fact and is becoming aware of the necessary changes, thus creating support for the energy transition. Politicians are attempting to shape the energy transition and to push it through with subsidies and new legislation (rewards and punishments). However, this approach is lagging behind the objectives and there are still many uncertainties. Europe's objectives are becoming increasingly ambitious. The new American president has also promised his support to the Paris climate agreement. Corona has increased support for a more sustainable energy supply. However, end users and companies are still waiting and postponing their investments. The economic crisis that followed the pandemic will reinforce this wait-and-see attitude.

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Solutions

The design is not yet entirely clear in certain areas, but in the long term we are moving towards more climate-friendly (renewable) energy sources. While other European countries want to partly replace oil and coal with gas in the short term, in the Netherlands we want to get rid of gas as soon as possible. This fixation has arisen mainly as a result of the earthquake damage in Groningen. However, given the installed infrastructure and required capacities, it will be some time before we can completely do without gas. The question is whether this black-and-white view of gas is at all justified. It is clear that the Netherlands must get rid of the low-calorific gas from Groningen, but the more energy-efficient (and therefore more environmentally friendly) high-calorific gas used in most other European countries has often been ignored in this discussion. In most countries this gas is regarded as a green intermediate and gas networks are being expanded.

A combination of wind and sun currently appears to be the foundation of a long-term solution. This electrification requires a different infrastructure technology and adjustments in the way we generate and consume energy (especially timing). Because of the weather dependence of energy sources, energy storage solutions such as (green) hydrogen and batteries are becoming more important. Cities are also focusing on heat networks and investigating how sources of residual heat (such as data centres and waste incineration) can be connected to the network.

In order to reduce energy consumption, massive investments are made in insulation in existing and new buildings. The regulations and investments often do not take into account the source that heats the buildings. The insulation standard and the related investments in buildings connected to a residual heat network, which is climate neutral and does not require additional energy generation, could perhaps be used more efficiently.

The new energy sources bring challenges but also new opportunities. Especially solar panels are very suitable for off-grid and micro-grid concepts. These concepts have emerged in recent years in large numbers and variety. It reinforces the trend of decentralisation. An essential tool for supporting this trend is digitisation. Measurement and control equipment enable smart grids and platforms to connect micro-grids to large-scale networks. Control capacity and buffers make it possible to better match supply and demand.

Role of JBR

For companies that play a role in the energy chain, it is sometimes difficult to choose a good place and an attractive earnings model within the chain. Various questions then arise. Should you focus or should you keep your options open? Develop autonomously or grow through acquisitions. "Niche player" or aiming for an increase in scale?