Solar Magazine – Energy sharing slowly away from the starting blocks in Flanders: ‘Business cases surrounded by uncertainties’

From this year onwards, everyone in Flanders – individuals, organizations and companies – can in principle supply solar energy to third parties, either for free or at a price of their choice. However, being allowed to do something is not the same as doing.

The network operator Fluvius is still working hard on the technology required for this. Professor Thierry Coosemans, Vice-President of the Department of Electrical and Energy Engineering (ETEC) at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and co-director of the research team EVERGi, also doubts whether this will happen soon, at least on a large scale. ‘Revenue models are still uncertain.’

Inspire and gain experience. It is Energy Minister Zuhal Demir’s motto to put energy sharing into practice in Flanders. In this context, she asked the network operator Fluvius to start up 3 pilot projects. They are still being prepared, she told the Flemish parliament in early May. A pilot is working on an energy community in an apartment building with a solar energy system on the roof in Antwerp. In Toy Champ, a distribution center will probably share the surplus solar energy with stores in Limburg and later via charging stations for electric cars. Otterbeek site Mechelen is in the picture for the experiment ‘social housing area with 72 housing units’; a civic cooperative wants to install solar panels and share the energy with a nearby apartment.

Technical and financial
Meanwhile, the minister, along with his colleague Bart Somers from the Home Office, convened 25 mayors for a day focusing on energy sharing for and by local authorities. A key element was the presentation of 4 ‘paper’ inspiration cases. The first involves the sharing of solar energy between properties owned by a local government; an assembly hall and a sports hall. The second is about sharing solar energy that is produced on a government building and shared with a (social) residential area. Cases 3 and 4 zoomed in on energy sharing in a residential complex and peer-to-peer trade between companies.

Multi-engineering
The experts from EVERGi from Vrije Universiteit Brussel signed for the calculation and presentation of the inspiration cases. ‘We are examining the energy transition in all its facets,’ says Coosemans. “We do this from a systems approach, we develop and test integrated models regarding the use and multi-engineering of renewable energy systems, including PV, e-mobility, electrical and thermal storage … We look at both the technical and economic nature, also as an incentive to make it legally possible. This is also a very complex issue in the case of energy sharing. ‘

Create space
First and foremost, Coosemans supports the value of sharing knowledge about energy sharing with local authorities. They are usually not familiar with the matter, certainly because it is a new fact. It makes unloved, while energy sharing is basically simple for them in a technical and organizational sense. He also supports the value of it, for example from a point of view of bringing solar energy to households without their own or suitable roof and creating space for more solar panels in a sustainable energy system. At the same time, he talks about major uncertainties when it comes to offsetting the necessary investments in the possible returns, ie profitability. ‘

Read the full article in the June 2022 issue of Solar Magazine here.

Alex Polfliet: ‘Flanders is hopelessly late’

Head of the study and consulting company Zero Emission Solutions Alex Polfliet, follows the development within solar energy sharing in Flanders with a critical eye. He was one of the entrepreneurs who submitted proposals for the pilot projects starting this year, but who ultimately decided not to participate.

In the update of the European Clean Energy Package from 2019, it was stipulated that the member states should make the sharing of solar energy possible from 2021. Polfliet looked with regret at how Flanders exceeded that deadline.

‘It should have been possible to share solar energy from the beginning of last year. It was not. At the end of March, the Flemish government announced that it would be phased in from 2022 for various target groups through 2024. In doing so, we were in fact going against European rules for the second time. It was therefore logical that the minister was recalled by the judge in November. This presupposed that it had to be done once for private individuals and energy collectives, from January 2022. At present, however, no Flemings, neither private nor business, share its solar energy. So we are hopelessly late. ‘

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