World Energy Outlook

World Energy Outlook

Tinne Van der Straeten op de World Energy Outlook

Dear Dr. Birol,

Dear Secretary of State Thomas Dermine,

Madam Director-General,

Dear hosts,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Also from my side, I would like to welcome you all to the presentation of the results of the 2020 World Energy Outlook. Over the years, this event has become a milestone in the agenda of all Belgian energy professionals, both for the public,  private and academic sector. And with more than 500 participants, it is clear that the COVID crisis has not managed to alter this success, even though – or maybe even because - we had to revert to an online event.

Ladies and gentlemen,

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 economy, 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.

Fast forward to the 20th century: The second World War was a terrible experience but in 1945 people had hope and believed in a better future. 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, a crucial decision was made: the creation of the European Coal and Steel community. As you know, 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. 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.

But this is not all. There is not only the battlefield in front of us, we are in the middle of another one: the COVID19 crisis.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Corona-virus luckily never put our security of supply under pressure. Yet, the worldwide impact of the pandemic on the energy sector has been considerable.

In 2020, there has been a drop in global energy demand by 5%. Energy-related CO2 emissions have reduced by 7%, and there has been a decline in energy investment by 18%, both in renewable and fossil fuel.

Also in Belgium, gas and electricity demand reduced by 10 to 15% and the consumption of transport fuels has seen a staggering fall of almost 50% compared to previous years.

This year’s edition of the World Energy Outlook report therefore asks the right question: Once the COVID-crisis has 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 “reset” button? Do we choose to implement faster structural changes in the way we produce and consume energy in order to stop the emissions trend for good? Will we continue to invest in an energy sector that is bound to disappear sooner rather than later; or will we step up investments in renewable electricity production, will we look for more sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels, will we develop the necessary network infrastructure and smart technologies, will we enhance the flexibility of our energy system, will we enable consumers to fully and easily participate in the market at affordable prices?

I think the answer is clear.

The energy transition has already started. For the first time in the EU, electricity supply from renewable sources surpassed electricity produced by fossil fuels. But we need to do more.

In this context, the International Energy Agency reaches out to public authorities to take the lead, and I quote: “Governments have the capacity and the responsibility to take decisive actions to accelerate clean energy transitions and put the world on a path to reaching our climate goals, including net-zero emissions.”

It is exactly this objective that Belgium, together with the other EU Member States, has set. 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’s my and our responsibility to lay out the framework for a green recovery. A green recovery which is the vaccine for our economy.

So,  what will we do? Allow me to zoom in on some of our plans for the coming years. Our focus will be on infrastructure, for electrons and for molecules.

In Belgium, we are not afraid to pioneer and we are proud of our expertise.

We are the 4th country worldwide in offshore wind. I had the opportunity to go at sea and see for myself the assembly of the last 2 windturbines. Dedicated teams worked hard, in difficult circumstances, to finish the last offshore windpark.

This is only the beginning. We will double our installed capacity and we will be looking for additional capacity.

Just this Friday, the Belgian government approved the different projects that will be financed under the post-covid Recovery and Resilience Plan. One of those projects is the creation of an energy island in the North Sea. It will serve as an energy hub, opening up a whole range of different possibilities: it could be the link to the interconnector with Denmark or the UK , we can create an offshore data center, even think about the production of green hydrogen. The North Sea can become one big energy plant.

The energy transition is not based on green electrons only. Green molecules will be part of the deal too. Here is when hydrogen comes in.

Hydrogen will play a crucial role in decarbonizing energy intensive sectors. It is a clean non-polluting fuel from the most abundant element on earth: water. 

But if we want renewable hydrogen to make a real contribution in 2030 we have to start now.

 We have in Belgium a strong industrial base. We have life sciences, steel production and the production of non-ferro metals, we are a global leader in the recycling of precious metals.

These industries are crucial partners for the transition. They provide resources, like steel or basic chemicals. They provide products, such as batteries and insulation material. And we need millions of tons of those. The manufacturing industry is the backbone of our economy. It is crucial we support them in the transition to a carbon neutral economy. Hydrogen as an industrial feedstock is one of the solutions. 

As I said, my focus is infrastructure. Remember what I said before about the years after the second World War, and how, back then, the government invested in infrastructure and the benefits it has had for our society. Today, we will do the same.

Today, we will invest in the infrastructure for 2030 and 2050. We will create a hydrogen backbone in the heart of Europe, at the heart of our industrial clusters. This backbone will be the foundation for international connections.

In the framework of the Recovery and Resilience Plan, we also allocate budgets to support these developments.  This will become the basis to support further development of hydrogen backbones across Europe and will allow for import of green hydrogen in the future. 

To conclude, let me say this: 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 also a land of compromise and cooperation. Our country was part of the founding countries of European energy cooperation, and is also physically located at an energy crossroads. We have shown that, when we join forces, we can achieve almost anything.

I will conclude here. Although energy has always played a central role in any societal transformation, and will continue to do so, our Belgian Recovery Plan consists of course of much more than energy projects alone. So I am pleased to give the floor to our Secretary of State for Recovery, and my esteemed colleague in government, Thomas Dermine, who will tell you all about it.

I thank you for your attention.