A forward-looking celebration

On 17 May, 2016, COGEN Vlaanderen in Belgium celebrated its fifteenth anniversary with a workshop titled: It’s time to look forward.

COGEN Vlaanderen (Flanders)à‚ was started in 2001 by 37 founding members as an association to stimulate the use of fuel-saving combined heat and power (CHP) technologies. It has expanded rapidly with currently some 200 members. à‚ A small but very active staff of four people leads the activities from a unique location next to the river Dijle in a former water mill in the historic university town of Leuven.

The University of Leuven was founded in the year 1425 and the whole city breathes science and academic learning. No wonder that COGEN Vlaanderen excels in its activities. They regularly organize short courses on CHP subjects, such as the annual one-week cogeneration technology course and many one-day and evening workshops. Their courses have attracted students from all over Europe. They also regularly publish articles on relevant subjects. Their website contains all necessary information for users and prospective users of cogeneration.

The close contacts with the government and the energy companies have resulted in a proper recognition of cogeneration as a means to improve energy efficiency and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.à‚ 

A benchmark

COGEN Flanders clearly is the benchmark for cogeneration organizations in the rest of the world. The skilful and well-educated crew with its excellent contacts with the different stakeholders is a classic example of how such an organization should work.

The celebrating workshop on 17 May was just another example of excellence. Sixteen speakers highlighted different interesting aspects of cogeneration.

The Chairman of COGEN Vlaanderen, Ronny Ansoms from Ronan bvba, summarised the crucial role of CHP in the energy supply of the future. CHP units are flexible in varying their electricity and heat output, which is required in modern power systems where wind and solar based energy has to be accommodated. CHP units are available in a wide range of sizes, from 1 kW to hundreds of megawatts. They can easily run on renewable fuels. Therefore, cogeneration cannot be ignored.

Roberto Francia, the new managing director of COGEN Europe, gave an overview of the situation of CHP in Europe. The sector already produces 20% of the electricity consumption in Europe and 25% of the required heat. Francia was pleading for more stability in the policies around the legislation on energy supply. Boundary conditions that change all the time hamper willingness to invest in energy saving technologies such as CHP. Policymakers should be better aware of the benefits of cogeneration.

Three speakers from major user sectors highlighted the developments in their business. Tom Quintelier from Fevia represented the food and drinks industry. This sector is the third largest energy consumer in Flanders. Forty-three percent of its natural gas use goes to CHP, primarily at the larger players.à‚  Yet, three quarters of the Fevia members have no cogeneration. The technical potential exists but it is often not economical for smaller businesses.

Joachim Castelain from the Flemish Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship explained why smaller and mid-sized companies often have no CHP. Such companies have no internal energy specialists. External experts often do not properly understand the processes in such companies and focus on typical household energy use such as for lighting, heating and ventilation of the offices. However, the bulk of the energy consumption, 53%, is used in smaller businesses for the production process. The Agency has a website with pages in English: www.vlaio.be.

Koen van Overberghe from Warmtenetwerk Vlaanderen (District heating in Flanders) gave an overview of the possibilities of using cogeneration in combination with district heating. He stated that the subject of heating is generally neglected when talking about green energy and emission reductions. District heating is an excellent method to save energy and accommodate renewable energy sources. The life of modern pipes is more than forty years and the pipes are nowadays equipped with leak detection sensing. District heating is even very suitable to cover the trend in decreasing space heating requirements due to better insulation of buildings but increasing hot water use for sanitary purposes.

Dr Joni Rossi from COGEN Vlaanderen showed interesting developments in the field of fuel cells. Fuels cells have the advantage of a high fuel efficiency and very low emissions of species such as NOx and CO. However, the current technologies still show an undesirable degradation in performance with time and the investment cost per kW is still high.

Jonathan De Mey from Biogas-e revealed the potential for small-scale digestion of biomass, especially that of farm residues. Technical potential exists for units of around 10 kW at, e.g., dairy farms with 60 to 100 cows. Currently, some 75 installations are running in Flanders, with a total power capacity of around 1 MW.

Bram de Wispelaere from EDF Luminus, an energy supplier in Belgium, gave an overview of the changes in the grid connection rules for CHP. The European Network Code as issued by the EU agencies ACER and ENTSO-E will replace the national legislation. As a result, cogeneration installations have to be able to run through typical network faults without disconnecting from the grid. Further, transmission system operators (TSOs) should be able to control the output of decentralized generators.

An inspirational presentation on innovation was given by Danielle Baetens from grant@vice. Small and medium-scale companies can only maintain their current role as the cornerstone of the economy if they focus on innovation. Using and developing cogeneration is one aspect of that. Knowledge sharing and continued education can lead to incremental and radical innovations. Cogeneration installations should be increasingly flexible with respect to fuels and their output.

A new logo

The evening programme began by revealing the new logo of COGEN Vlaanderen. The initial logo was a clown triggerfish, which tends to change its habitat due to climate change. Cogeneration helps to combat climate change and therefore the triggerfish was a nice thoughts-triggering symbol for the goals of COGEN Vlaanderen. The new logo is connected with the so-called Trias Energetica, symbolizing reduced energy use, optimized energy utilization and implementation of renewables.

Dr Filip van den Abeele, an independent pipeline engineer for the oil and gas industry, gave an overview of the consequences of our current and future energy use on the available resources. Without drastic changes all fossil fuel would be depleted by the end of this century, notwithstanding a golden age of gas thanks to shale gas. Filip is the co-author of the book Wat als de olie op is (in Dutch). He stressed that an energy supply solely based on wind and solar energy will be expensive and not easy.

The rest of the evening was filled by short speeches by a number of experts, including the famous professors William D’haeseleer from Leuven and Michel de Paepe from Ghent. All speakers emphasized the benefits of cogeneration but also mentioned barriers such as insufficient recognition of the technology and exaggerated expectations from renewables by politicians and citizen. Integration of all energy needs and system thinking is required to ensure a reliable and cleaner energy supply in the future.

The meeting room was packed with stakeholders during this event. There were good opportunities for networking and the atmosphere was stimulating and pleasant. We from Decentralized Energy magazine congratulate COGEN Vlaanderen and its members with this anniversary and hope that they will continue their efforts in many decades to come.

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