EPOC 2030-2050, coordinated by VITO/EnergyVille, comprises no fewer than fourteen Belgian research organisations that are working together on an integrated, overarching energy model framework for our country.

Fragmentation and division

These days, it is still too often the case that policymakers commission one study on a particular energy topic from a single academic study group, and a study on another topic from another scientific institution. And even though both studies are conducted according to the same rigorous scientific methods, it is still highly likely that they will be based on different energy models, potentially even with different (but not  necessarily incorrect) assumptions and input data. “This fragmentation and division is also evident in the reporting on all aspects relating to energy, for example,” notes Vingerhoets. “This means that news articles all too easily end up each with different conclusions , simply because the stated results are based on different data or models.”

EPOC 2030-2050 is intended to culminate in the creation of a genuine (perhaps virtual) ‘expertise and data centre’, which policymakers can consult when they have queries regarding the Belgian energy system. “We want to collect and combine the relevant facts and figures, and models related to energy, and then join them with the scientific expertise available in our country,” adds Vingerhoets.

The usefulness of models

Apart from its typically Belgian character, what also makes the project unique is that it covers the entire Belgian energy system, and therefore not just the electricity supply. “The debate has been raging in the media for years now about whether or not to keep one or more nuclear reactors open,” says the VITO/EnergyVille project coordinator. “It’s an important issue, but the challenges of ensuring sustainable and cost-effective future energy provision go much further. For example, heat accounts for more than half of energy demand, and over 80 per cent of our heat demand is still being met by fossil fuels. Road transport is also largely dependent on petrol or diesel, which accounts for a third of energy-related emissions.”

This complexity of the challenges is precisely why we need energy models that take account of all aspects of the energy system. “We use energy models to calculate the most cost-effective way of reducing greenhouse gases, guaranteeing the reliability of energy supply, and at the same time keeping customers’ bills under control,” adds Vingerhoets.