14 October 2019 • Martijn Tamboer
Inaugural lecture by Energy in Transition professor – Back to the Future
On 16 October, Sander Mertens, Professor of Energy in Transition, will be giving his inaugural lecture entitled ‘Back to the Future’. “We need to take action now, otherwise we will literally be up to our necks in water.”
Your research group focuses on the energy transition, which is a hot topic at the moment.
“A lot is happening at an international level. There is an incredible amount of business. The transition to sustainable energy is a new revenue model. Huge amounts of money are being invested in for instance the construction of solar and wind farms all over the world. The deserts of Australia and Saudi Arabia are literally being filled as we speak. Oil-producing states will become sun nations and their energy will continue to be an export product.”
The energy transition is also high on the political and social agenda in the Netherlands.
“There is a lot of shouting and a huge amount of squabbling. However, we really need to get on track with this. If we don’t do anything, we will fall behind the rest of the world.”
But aren’t huge investments being made in solar and wind farms already?
“It’s not smart to continue without a long term plan. We don’t always have sunshine or wind. There is a clear mismatch between the supply and the demand for energy. We use most energy during the evening, while the sun shines during the day. The same applies to the seasons. Over time, there will be excessive peaks in the electricity grid. That doesn’t work, as an ordinary power plant cannot just be switched off for six months and then switched on to deal with those peaks again.”
What is the solution?
“We really need to find the balance. Not only in terms of the differences in the various energy systems, but also the use of raw materials, social inequality and CO2 emissions. This will become the century of balance. It will be a time in which everything has to become circular and energy choices will need to be tailored to the demand and supply.
What does our ideal energy mix of the future look like?
Hydrogen is an important storage medium for the longer term, to span the seasons. Hydrogen is the building block of all fuels and it can be very effectively deployed as a carrier of energy. For instance, you can turn it into a gas and use the existing infrastructure to transport it. Alongside hydrogen, heat and electricity are the basic carriers that will facilitate the energy transition. Electrifying everything will not work. Residual heat from all kinds of (industrial) processes is also an important source of energy for the future. At the moment, we are often literally throwing that energy into the river. It’s a shame, as we should put it to good use in a heating grid.”
Will the energy transition solve the climate problem?
We are all facing a race against the clock. When it’s foggy, we don’t overtake in a car. However, in terms of the climate, we are still driving in the overtaking lane at full throttle. This is very tricky. We are heading straight towards irreversible processes in nature. The number of disasters involving extreme weather across the world continues to increase, year after year.”
So, is it time to roll up our sleeves ?
We really need to take action, and take action now. Here at THUAS, everyone is trained to become a global citizen. That is good, because the issues that are unfolding in the energy and climate fields are global. They affect everyone. Our mobile phones come from China, which means that we are also responsible for pollution on the other side of the world. That is why we should work together as much as possible. We should make choices together which determine our future.
It would be amazing for us to see each other again after some time and go back to the future we are now creating together.
You can register here for the inaugural lecture by Sander Mertens.