10 sustainable gift ideas [infographic]

Holiday season is here! For many people, it’s the most special period of the year: celebrating together with family and friends, is there something better than that? And let’s admit it: we are looking forward to the presents as well. Receiving one is fun and exciting, but finding it for a someone who is dear to you can be a daunting task. Leave the junk and go for practical and fun. And why not find something that has a minimal footprint and helps the person you want to surprise to live more sustainable?

If you are looking for a tangible gift, find some inspiration in the below. Links for all the ideas are included below the infographic. But don’t forget that all stuff leaves a footprint. Giving an experience, like a ticket for a concert or visit, can end up being both better for the planet and highly appreciated ;) Happy holidays!



Europe’s updated Renewable Energy Directive [infographic]

Coincidence or not? Soon after I gave a presentation on my vision for the European Renewable Energy targets for 2030, the European Commission announced its energy winter package last Wednesday. In total, eight new or revised pieces of legislation were proposed. Ranging from new energy efficiency goals as the centerpiece of Europe’s energy transition -for sure the most renewing part of the package- , over adaptations to the internal energy market design, to an update of the Renewable Energy Directive, which dates back from 2009.

In the light of my previous article, I thought it would be good to investigate the Renewable Energy Directive update in more detail. To save you from the boring legislative texts the European Commission provides its citizens with (trust me, I’ve read them), I summarized the most important points for you in the infographic below. You’re welcome!



A renewable energy future for Europe

Two weeks ago, I presented my vision on the European renewable energy targets for 2030 at the European Utility Week in Barcelona. More in particular, I outlined the three key action points which I believe need to be addressed to achieve a sustainable energy transition. With my presentation I won the Young! Initiate talent award 2016, which guarantees me a ticket for next year’s conference. You can now read the abstract in which I outline my vision right here in my blog. Just continue reading =) I hope you enjoy it and I am more than happy to hear and discuss your thoughts!

2020: 20% renewable energy. 2030: 27%. 2050: 80%. Just a matter of cranking up the number of wind turbines and rooftop solar panels? I didn’t think so. Smarter people than me will explain you in much detail what enormous challenges an increase from 20% to 27% means for our grids. But honestly, I am more than confident that those same smart people will come up with solutions in terms of storage technologies, balancing systems, thermal grids, and demand-side management apps. Bluntly put, the technology side of the transition towards a new energy future for Europe is the last of my concerns.

What does trouble me is, well, basically all the rest. To start with, the 27% has been defined on a European wide level and has not been translated into national targets, as is the case for the 2020 goal. In itself this is a good thing, since those targets are based on GDP and diplomacy, rather than the renewable energy potential of a country. In the end, some member states are simply more lucky than others when it comes to renewable energy sources. On the other hand, the EU members will still have to decide how they are jointly going to achieve the 27% target. In one way or another, the efforts will need to be divided.

Since the Commission has not come up with a plan so far, allow me to make my own suggestion. Why not ask all countries to exploit a fixed percentage of their total pool of renewable resources? Once the wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and tidal energy potentials have been estimated for each member state, it shouldn’t be too difficult to calculate that number, such that we end up at 27% for the whole Energy Union.

Such system would not only make more sense, it would also create a shift in the mind-set of the population, which in some regions got rather sick of Europe’s unstoppable waves of (expensive) targets. Investing to crank up renewable energy generation to yet another level imposed by the EU, is probably being perceived as a difficult and expensive homework. On the other hand, if one starts thinking from the whole renewable energy resource pool one has available in its country, Europe is de facto asking to only exploit a limited part of it. This might be perceived as something more easily reachable and hopefully motivates to do better than what is strictly necessary.

Besides a proper effort sharing mechanism, I also believe we need a unified support scheme. The current plethora of subsidies, feed-in tariffs, market premiums etc makes it difficult for companies to build a business case that can be applied over the whole European continent. In addition, national schemes are prone to politic fluctuations, while a European wide scheme would ensure long-term stability. This is an important condition for companies to invest in R&D and innovation.

But it should, of course, not stop there. A truly new energy future for Europe is one where the power is back in the hands of the people. Literally. Wasn’t it one of the original objectives of Europe’s Climate and Energy package to provide more affordable energy to its citizens? Too bad that for many countries the energy prices actually have gone up, partially due to the high burden of the support schemes.

If you ask me, (part of) the answer lies in energy democracy. Via citizen participation in decision making and renewable energy cooperatives, the common man will be involved again in the important issue of energy provision. It can bring people closer to the energy topic, but also to one another. In the last years, many successful cooperatives have sprouted up around the continent. Energy is the driver of our modern society and it would be a pity if its future will be decided solely by a select group of big cooperations and engineers, no matter how smart they are.

To allow smaller players and bottom-up organisations to become active in the energy sector, one pan-European and centrally regulated grid is needed that takes away barriers for new entrants. The electricity grid should become something one can connect to as easily as registering at your municipal library, as a way of speaking. A lower administrative and regulatory burden allows more competition and distributed renewable energy resources will highly benefit from this new playfield.

These three things -a fair distribution of efforts between the member states, a unified support system, and regulation that embraces citizen participation- are the key to a new energy future for Europe. It is about so much more than just the number 27. Not just a renewable future, but a truly sustainable one, technically, economically and socially. That’s the future I dream of; that’s the future I want to work for.


COP22 in Marrakech: key outcomes

In the early morning of last Saturday, negotiations at COP22 in Marrakech came to an end. If it’s unclear to you what exactly came out of this year’s UNFCCC climate conference –or worse, you were unaware that one was happening– you have come to the right place. In this article I summarize what happened, and what didn’t. So without further ado, let’s dive into it.

If you would ask me if I am enthusiastic about the proceedings of COP22, my spontaneous reaction would probably be ‘meh’. It has to be said: it was supposed to become the COP of action, where the actual implementation of the applauded Paris Agreement would take shape. Indeed, the conference started with very good vibes (more…)


Climate conference in Marrakech: COP of action

photo: UNFCCC

It is November, and that means it is time for the yearly Climate Conference known as the COP. Short for Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (in itself abbreviated to UNFCCC). I guess the person who came up with this name hated journalists. Anyway, Monday the 22nd COP kicked-off in Marrakech, Morocco. We start this year’s edition with positive vibes since the Paris Agreement entered force only last Friday. Where it took eight years to for the Kyoto protocol to be activated, the legacy of COP21 kicks into action less than one year after its conceiving. One couldn’t wish for a better start. Which doesn’t mean this year’s climate summit is going to be a walk in the park.

Our work is far from done. This is a new phase for the international climate process. Early entry into force of the Paris Agreement is a clear cause for celebration, but it is also a timely reminder of the high expectations that are now placed upon us all. – Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change



Turning CO2 into ethanol: is this the new hydrogen?

Last week my facebook feed nearly overflew with shares of an amazing discovery: a group of US scientists of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tenessee had accidently stumbled upon a catalyst that turns CO2 into ethanol. For those of you unfamiliar with catalysts, they are materials or substances that speed up or slow down the rate of a chemical reaction by providing a ‘reactive site’. The catalyst itself is not altered during the process (don’t run away, the article won’t get more complicated than this ;) ).

Well well, I thought. It’s about the fourth or fifth time this year I read about a new technique to suck CO2 out of the air. This one sparked my interest more than previous discoveries, though. (more…)