International Energy Forum
International Energy Forum - Key perspectives on energy and climate
Dear Secretary General McMonigle,
Dear Ambassador Simonnet,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Picture this. We’re in 2030. You stand in front of the open window in your office, looking down on the city. Clear skies, no smog. The smell of fresh air tells you that spring is coming. You hear birds chirping, as electric cars, busses and trucks drive quietly through the streets.
You vaguely remember that only a few years before, you would have never opened the window during rush hour. Because the air was too full of dust from diesel and exhaust gasses, and the sound of motorized vehicles was so loud you could barely concentrate. You vaguely remember that the insufficiently insulated windows made either the heating or the air conditioning your best friend – depending on the weather.
And you realise: the energy transition has changed our lives. We barely noticed it while it was happening. But now you know that it is about so much more than an imperative to fight climate change. It is about comfort. It is about health. It is about the quality of life. The energy transition, with its integration of different technologies, has made our lives better.
Ladies and gentlemen,
2030 is now. If we want this image to become reality, we, policy leaders, need to act now. We need to invest today in the energy infrastructure of tomorrow.
Remember what happened in 1945, at the end of the second World War. People had hope and believed in a better future. In Europe, this was the moment we built infrastructure such as harbors, airports, highways, electricity and gas networks. This public spending is the bedrock on which we have built a prosperous society and we continue to reap the benefits of it.
In 1951, in the wake of the Second World War, a crucial decision was made: the creation of the European Coal and Steel community. Belgium was one of the six founding countries. This cooperation was considered as nothing less than a real peace treaty.
What happened in 1951, is also happening today. In 1951, we introduced coal and steel. With the Green Deal, we are living a paradigm shift from a fossil driven energy to a technology driven one. Clean and affordable. Yet again, energy is serving as catalyst for change: In 1951 with coal and steel. In 2020 with the Green Deal.
The big difference with the past is that the battlefield is now laying in front of us. It is even more dangerous and global: it is climate change. Once more energy will play the leading role in overcoming this challenge.
When the COVID-crisis will have passed and economic activity picks up at full speed, do we go back to “business as usual”, or do we make use of this crisis to push the “fast forward” button? Do we choose to implement faster structural changes in the way we produce and consume energy to invest in our comfort? Will we step up investments in renewable electricity production and look for more sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels? Will we develop the necessary network infrastructure and smart technologies?
I think the answer is clear.
No matter how we toss or turn it , there is no escape: we need to invest massively the coming years. While our doctors and health workers battle the pandemic, it is our responsibility to lay out the framework for a sustainable, green recovery. A green recovery is the vaccine for our economy.
So how can Belgium, as a small country, contribute?
Belgium's strategic advantage is not the presence of raw materials. We don't have mountains for hydropower, or oil or gas fields in our subsurface. But we have something else: we are a land of pioneers. We have expertise, and passion. We are not afraid to use it and we are not afraid to innovate.
We are the 4th country worldwide in offshore wind. I had the opportunity to go at sea and see for myself the assembly of a wind turbine. Dedicated teams worked hard, in difficult circumstances due to the COVID 19-crisis, to finish our most recent offshore wind farm.
This is only the beginning. We will double our installed capacity and we will be looking for additional capacity, in our waters and beyond.
As part of the Belgian post-covid recovery plans, we will create an energy island in the North Sea. This island will serve as an energy hub, opening up a whole range of different possibilities: from linking electricity interconnectors with other countries, such as the envisaged interconnectors with Denmark or the UK, to hosting 5G antennas or being a production hub of green hydrogen.
In short - the North Sea has the potential to become one big renewable energy plant.
If we think about the sea, we inevitably think about water. Water, the most abundant element on earth. Here is when hydrogen comes in: a clean, non-polluting fuel from water.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The energy transition is not based on green electrons only. Green molecules will be part of the deal too. Hydrogen will play a crucial role in decarbonizing energy intensive sectors.
We have in Belgium a strong industrial base, with the second largest petro-chemical cluster worldwide. The manufacturing industry is the backbone of our economy. These industries are crucial partners for the transition, and therefore it is crucial we support them in the transition to a carbon neutral economy.
Renewable hydrogen as an industrial feedstock is one of the solutions. Without it, there is no chance that we can cut the emissions to zero.
So if we want renewable hydrogen to make a real contribution in 2030 we have to start now. To succeed, we need to cooperate with our partners across the globe.
As I said earlier, Belgium’s strategic advantage is not the presence of raw materials. We are not the most sunny country either. Even if the potential of sun in our country is relatively high, a photovoltaic panel on a Belgian roof will never yield as much electricity as one that is bathing in the Middle-Eastern sun. Imagine the amount of electricity or even hydrogen that could be produced in the region around the Red Sea, where sun and water come together.
So it is clear that energy offers new opportunities for cooperation, not only within the EU but also with our neighbours in Northern Africa and the Middle East. We have been trading fossil fuels for decades. Belgium will, also in this energy transition, still rely on import. Only, it is time for our trade cooperation to undergo the energy transition, and move from fossil fuels to renewable energy such as hydrogen.
In turn, Belgium can offer expertise and technology in the field of renewable energy, be it for off. Furthermore, Belgium is located in the heart of Europe, at an energy crossroads. My aim is to create a hydrogen backbone in the heart our industrial clusters and those of our neighbouring countries. This backbone will be the foundation for international connections. With our offshore energy hub, and our on-shore port of Zeebruges, Belgium is the gate to the Northern and Central European energy markets.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Belgium was part of the founding countries of European energy cooperation. We have shown that, when we join forces, we can achieve almost anything.
This is precisely what we need to do today: join forces, by forming strategic partnerships.
Every step in the societal evolution until today is accompanied by changes in energy commodities. From kindling fire to peat and coal, over oil and gas. Energy is the lifeline of our society, of our welfare, the driver of our industries. We all know that the Stone Age didn’t end because of lack of stones. The Stone Age ended because there were new and better technologies available.
So let’s invest in alternatives before we’re out of resources. Let’s invest today in our energy infrastructure of tomorrow. Together. With the European Commission, with other EU countries, partner countries around the globe and with our industries and companies. Because 2030 is now.
I thank you for your attention.