Hubert Lemmens

Interview with Hubert Lemmens, Chief Innovation Officer, Elia Group, Belgium

Do you think that a 45% renewable energy share target for 2030 is feasible and if so how does the energy industry need to prepare for this?

A high share in renewables for power generation will require huge investments in R&D and new infrastructure. The pace of evolution will depend on the evolution of the economic situation, and worldwide commitments to share the burden over all the players in an equitable way. With low gas prices in the U.S., European companies could see a competition disadvantage if European energy prices rise. The answer thus depends on different factors.

If we look broader to the global energy consumption, I think in the first place we have to economize energy consumption in buildings, and make use of heat and cold storage to make power consumption for heat pumps and HVAC more flexible. In transportation, cars could shift to electricity as high performance batteries emerge at affordable cost. For trucks some ideas to go to LNG are emerging, but the distribution of fuel requires a completely new infrastructure. This is not renewables of course, but it could lower CO2 emissions and pollution. Clear roadmaps with incentives to reach the targets are needed to motivate industry to take the risk of new developments.

What are your biggest challenges related to renewable energy integration and what needs to be done to overcome them?

Variability of RES in-feed is a real challenge for system stability. In order to cope with this challenge, RES have to participate in the delivery of system services, consumers have to be incentivized to concentrate power consumption when it is available, storage has to go down the price curve, and for the periods with low RES, biomass and gas fired plants have to fill the gap. In order to connect all these resources at European level, strong trans-European grids have to be built. Public acceptance of all these infrastructures (generation, storage, transmission and distribution grids) and affordability for the EU economy are additional challenges.

Will we need to keep conventional power plants as backup in periods with almost no renewable electricity generation?

I’m afraid there is no alternative: storage solutions are rather short term (days to 1 week), while biomass is questioned to be harvested in reasonable amounts. Power to gas might give relief if conversion yields can be improved.

What role do you foresee energy storage to play in the near future?

As I already said, storage can play an important role in the short term system balance: it offers flexibility and can cover supply gaps of several hours to days. Seasonal storage is only conceivable through gas or biomass. In the latter case one stores the fuel and not the electricity. Batteries can play an important role in combination with PV in the case that the price of batteries can dramatically decrease.

Hubert Lemmens will be presenting on Tuesday 15 October on “Accommodating a growing share of electricity generated by renewable energy sources” at European Utility Week 2013.

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