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Skip to 0 minutes and 12 seconds The next and last topic is called hybrid energy systems. And of course, that sounds very exciting. But what do we mean by that? Well, essentially what we mean is that the kind of innovation that we might start to see doesn’t mean that the old energy system will go. First of all, yes. It’s quite likely that we will start to use more renewables in this world. Also, it is quite likely that with using more renewables, we will also use more options that are based on decentralised energy production. That does not mean that the old system changes fundamentally directly.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds First of all, fossil fuels will remain important, not necessarily only in the first 10 years, but quite likely for a lot longer than that. Second of all, what about buffering? What are we going to do when the renewables are not necessarily available at this moment? The wind doesn’t blow. The sun doesn’t shine. How will we actually cope with that? And maybe again, fossil fuels are important also in that sense. And what we also have to realise is that the existing institutional frameworks that are there– how the economy is now organised, the big multinationals that are out there, they will quite likely also stay.

Skip to 1 minute and 19 seconds And we have to kind of try and see how we can connect those to the new emerging options that are there. So it’s going to be something like the combination, where the word “hybrid” also pops in. If we start with the idea of buffering, then what we know is that there are some technological options. Maybe we can use car batteries in the future as one of those places where we actually store the energy. Maybe it is possible to have other solutions on a household scale, or maybe on a bigger scale. There are definitely such options. And we also start to see these options emerge in some places. In Germany, for example, power to gas is now being experimented with.

Skip to 1 minute and 55 seconds But space might also again matter. Space might matter if it comes to this buffering question. First of all, because if we use combinations between existing land uses where people are now living, where now companies are, where they for example use their own energy production for their own energy consumption, they might also be from a behavioural perspective more easily changing their behaviours. They might, for some reason, say OK. I understand that now. There’s a little bit less energy, so I might consume a little bit less, because they own the energy more themselves.

Skip to 2 minutes and 30 seconds And another way that might be possible is that if we specialise in every landscape, in every area, on the things that are available there, you will see a big differentiation of the kind of things people will use to produce energy. Sometimes it will be biomass. Sometimes based on agriculture, or based on municipal waste. Sometimes it will be solar. Sometimes it might be geothermal. And as a consequence, you will see a very differentiated landscape where if the sun doesn’t shine, there might still be other options available that still do work at that moment. Therefore, spatial differentiation is a good basis to also diversify the energy production, and therefore create less need for buffering.

Skip to 3 minutes and 11 seconds Spatial differentiation can of course also be taken to a higher spatial scale. You can, for example, imagine that in places like Scotland or Norway or the Netherlands, you would use wind energy more often than you would use solar energy. Whereas in Spain or in Morocco, you could use solar energy. These kind of changes with regards to the spatial circumstances and climate conditions can, for example, also partly compensate buffering. But the idea of scale is important also for another reason.

Skip to 3 minutes and 38 seconds If we for example look at the idea that there might be more decentralised energy systems popping up, where indeed people use solar panels for example, on company buildings or on their own roofs, and they use the biomass available in their direct vicinity. There might be networks with regards to residual heat. There might be networks also with regards to biomass and biogas, for example. These things could actually create a solution that is largely local. But they need backup, because not necessarily will there be energy available at all time. And energy security is a very important issue. So the larger scale, the regional scale and also the international scale, might be crucial simply to create these kind of buffers.

Skip to 4 minutes and 22 seconds And within these kind of buffers, natural gas could be a very important means to actually create support and guarantee energy security. Not necessarily as your main fuel, but maybe as the fuel that helps to create energy security. Oil might be similar. Or power to gas might be one of those solutions. The key issue is, however, that the existing fossil fuel-based energy systems, but also the existing infrastructure that is more international in nature, will remain important. Not necessarily only because fossil fuels are still very important for us, but also because even in a more renewable based energy system, they are there because we need them as buffers. If we then go to the two things we need.

Skip to 5 minutes and 2 seconds First of all, spatial design for innovations need to be positioned within the existing system physically. So new and existing infrastructure and land use functions. Central and decentralised solutions. Fossil fuel-based systems and renewable fuel-based systems. This is what an integrated energy landscape looks like. But next to spatial design we also need institutional design, because innovations need to be positioned within the existing economic and institutional system. Top down and bottom up. State and market. State and civil society. This is also how integrated energy systems look like. Finally then, we come up with this hybrid system where on the one hand, we have the flexibility for innovations, decentralised, new things and solutions that fit the local and specific context.

Skip to 5 minutes and 53 seconds But on the other hand, we also have the robustness of the existing fossil fuel-based energy system, the existing regulations and system and economic contracts that provide certainty and that provide a good basis for these new flexible innovations.

Hybrid energy systems; robust & flexible

In this video, Christian explains that a shift towards a more sustainable energy system poses challenges for the existing energy system. Not only does he argue that we, at least for now, cannot do without this existing system, he also argues that accommodating more renewables needs both increased flexibility in the existing system without losing the capacity to safeguard energy security and legal security (robustness).

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This video is from the free online course:

Solving the Energy Puzzle: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Energy Transition

University of Groningen