09 April 2013
Energy Matters: a summary of the conference

The e-harbours conference Energy Matters drew a large audience to the city center of Zaanstad, March 21/22 2013. The conference marked a new step in the development of the e-harbours program, shifting the attention from research on the advantages and possibilities of smart energy systems to practical application of those systems.

One reason to make this step is that the theoretical foundation for smart energy systems is getting more and more robust. The e-harbours research teams in Hamburg and Antwerp have showed convincingly what gains a smart energy system can bring, and which business models are available to realize those profits. The e-harbours program also made an overview of the obstacles that hamper development of smart energy systems in daily practice, analyzing juridical, organizational and economic problems. Now the question is: in what ways can we overcome the obstacles, and start realizing the benefits of smart energy systems? Download the full report here. Click here for the Energy Matters movie.

Flexibility as a commodity. Flexibility is a key word in the e-harbours program. To make the transition to renewable sources of energy successful, we must find ways to cope with the intermittent and variable nature of these sources. One way to do that is find flexibility on the demand side. When consumers of energy can shift their consumption to favorable time-slots, where a lot of power from wind and sun is available, it becomes much easier to balance the grid. Producers of energy (for example Combined Heat and Power plants) that can shift production to time-slots where less power is available from renewables help stabilizing the system, too.

Business. The e-harbours project has made convincingly clear, that many businesses and organizations are still not aware of the potential importance and economic value of flexibility. One reason is that the market value of flexibility is still modest. To all expectations, this market value will rise steeply in the coming years. Companies and organizations that can adapt in time will face much lower energy costs than their slower competitors.

Directors’ seat. But who will start investing in smart energy systems now? During the Energy Matters-conference (that was held in a film theater), the same metaphor popped up several times: who will take the directors seat and steer all partners in the desired direction? In many cases, the smart energy system will be a local answer to local problems and opportunities. The conference stressed the important role of municipalities and local port authorities: they know the local situation and businesses, they make the plans for (re)development of areas, and they can organize access to support from (inter)national bodies. Municipalities and port authorities are the stakeholders that get things going, they should take the directors seat.

“In Europe, we have been subsidizing renewable energy for some time now – and successfully so. The share of renewables in the energy consumption has risen strongly in most European countries, up to the point where the electricity grid has problems coping with the new energy sources. Now it’s time to shift attention to solutions that help balancing the grid: to demand side flexibility and smart energy systems. When we do not realize that shift, we cannot profit fully from our investments in renewables in the last decades.” Jef Verbeeck, Vito.

Read the full report and download presentations at

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