Brussels/Kassel. The small Belgian constituent state of Flanders has ambitious plans for its energy supply. Annemie Turtelboom, Deputy Minister President of the Flemish Government and Minister for Finance, Budget and Energy, talks about the future energy supply and advantages of natural gas vehicles in an interview.
Ms. Turtelboom, you believe people in Flanders should cut their energy consumption by 20 percent. How can that be achieved?
We’ve worked with 34 stakeholders to draw up an “Innovation Pact” in Flanders. It focuses on the question of how we can persuade citizens to consume less energy. The first step’s been done. Now we’re starting to put that into practice in the form of new laws. One thing’s certain: The only kilowatt hour that truly costs nothing is one that isn’t consumed. A simple example can illustrate the potential there is: Flanders has around 300,000 buildings that are in a poor condition – 18 percent of the roofs are not insulated and 15 percent of the windows are still single-glazed. Heating costs can be reduced by a quarter solely by insulating the roof.
What role do new technologies play in saving energy?
90 million euros have been set aside for research and development in the budget for 2016. We’ve earmarked a further 410 million for it up to the end of the legislative period. We’re looking for new ways to use heat more efficiently, for example. Test drilling in Kempen aims to answer the question as to whether use of geothermal energy is effective and how much geothermal energy can be extracted from the ground to generate electricity and warm water.
Flanders also has enormous potential to cut consumption when it comes to the use of residual heat, for example compared to the district heating networks in the Netherlands and Scandinavia. That’s why we’re investing 10.2 million euros in projects aimed at ensuring better use of residual heat from a port and industrial complex in future. This heat is much cheaper than “green” electricity and renewable energies – and just as sustainable.
The Flemish government is also strongly committed to sustainability in the automotive sector. What role does natural gas play in that?
The government aims to have 100,000 green cars on the road by 2020. 60,000 are to be powered by electricity and 40,000 are to be natural gas-driven. At the moment there are 2,000 natural gas cars in use in Flanders. That means we have some catching up to do.
Natural gas is already a lot cheaper than the common fossil fuels diesel and gasoline. The extra costs for a natural gas vehicle are roughly 2,000 euros. Calculated over a period of four years, it’s already cheaper now to purchase a gas-powered car. Natural gas also has major advantages for the environment.
What are the greatest challenges for Flanders?
We're a densely populated, geographically small region and don't have space for large expanses of solar panels like Germany. Not least because of that, natural gas is an ideal and important partner as a flexible pillar in a two-track system comprising fossil and renewable energies, in particular to keep supply and demand in equilibrium. The lack of space means we have to be more creative – and we’re fully occupied with doing just that at the moment. I’m also often asked how we’ll manage to achieve our objectives for 2025 in the field of nuclear energy. My answer to that is a clear one: We must achieve those objectives. That’s why we’d do best to get started right away instead of losing time unnecessarily.
What importance do you believe smart grids and meters have?
Of the 28 European countries, 24 are already working to roll out smart meters. It’s therefore not an option for us to claim we don’t need something like that. We definitely need it. That’s why I’ve commissioned a review of who should assume responsibility for rolling out the smart meters: operators of the distribution networks, the private sector or the public sector? We aim to introduce the first smart meters in this legislative period.