PhD student within the E-market team of VITO/EnergyVille

The energy issue is a complex puzzle. The European electricity landscape has been evolving rapidly in recent years, partly due to the sharp increase in the share of renewable energy and technological developments such as smart meters, heat pumps, etc. Within EnergyVille, the E-market team does research on renewable energy and intelligent energy systems. One of the masterminds in the research team is doctoral student Niels Govaerts.

Top-level innovation

EnergyVille is a top-level European innovation hub in the field of energy. When Professor Erik Delarue asked engineering student Niels Govaerts to carry out his doctorate within the E-market hub of EnergyVille, he did not hesitate for a moment. Niels Govaerts: "Actually, my interest in this matter grew gradually. In secondary school, I was strong in maths, so an engineering degree was pretty much a logical step. My parents had both studied in Leuven, my grandfather is from Leuven, so I went to Leuven. Sometimes life is that simple". (laughs)

Particularly topical

Niels: "In those first years, you taste different aspects; electro technology and more specifically everything related to energy fascinated me the most. This interest led me to choose the techno-economic specialisation for my master's in engineering, mainly because of the multidisciplinary aspect, with attention also being paid to the economic aspect of the energy story. Moreover, the energy theme is not only very topical, it will become even more important in the future."


Niels' thesis dealt with distribution network tariffs. At the end of 2017, Niels was able to start as a researcher within EnergyVille. Together with the E-market team, he studies, for example, the impact of different tariffs on consumers' investments. Niels: "It's complex, of course, but it comes down to this: what investments are customers willing to make to keep their bills low. The tariffs influence the investments of households in sustainable technologies such as solar panels and heat pumps."

Future-proof tariff structures

The link with ecology is made. "Tariffs not only influence the investments themselves, but also the behaviour of households, for example when they charge their electric car. By working out good network tariffs, we can ensure that there are fewer consumption peaks, and thus avoid expensive investments in the electricity network that would otherwise be needed to integrate large numbers of electric vehicles, solar panels and heat pumps. So we need to work on future-proof distribution network tariff structures, taking into account their impact on - the behaviour of - customers, distribution network operators and the challenges of the energy transition, in both the short and long term," Niels says.


Niels may be linked to VITO, but he only comes to Mol a few times a year. He divides his time mainly between Leuven, where he now lives with his girlfriend Loes, and EnergyVille in Genk. Niels: "Loes and I live in Leuven. Corona means that our focus is now very much on Leuven and the surrounding area. It's a cliché but I also bought myself a racing bike, just like many other Belgians I suppose? (laughs)


Niels likes to cycle a lot, with friends, family and colleagues. Another outlet in Corona times is, how could it be otherwise, walking. Niels: "Loes and I discovered the GR trails around Leuven. We love long walks and now we're really getting to know Leuven. When you're a student, your focus is definitely elsewhere. (laughs)

Career plan

Niels' doctorate comes to an end in 2021. Niels: "I really enjoy what I'm doing now, it's interesting and relevant. But I'm not really looking any further. I have always been guided by what I like to do, and I will continue to do that. A real career plan is missing, you might say, but that has never bothered me, on the contrary. I'm very curious to see what will come my way, I'm looking forward to it!

Watch the video below in which Niels explains his research