Our power grid needs to be ‘smarter’; it must be able to respond more quickly to fluctuations in supply and demand.

Geert Verbong, employee

I work together with students in concrete projects on how we can overcome barriers.

I’m Geert Verbong, innovation scientist and energy historian. Our society is totally dependent on a reliable and affordable energy supply. But unfortunately, the way in which we meet our constantly growing energy needs at present isn’t very sustainable. Our reserves of oil and gas are rapidly becoming exhausted, we wage wars over access to those reserves, and at the same time we are damaging the climate. In other words, we will have to do things very differently in the future. But that’s easier said than done, especially because energy is so important. It isn’t that there are no alternatives – for example solar power, wind turbines, biomass and water power. It’s more a question of how we can introduce those alternative energy sources in our society, in other words how can we innovate. That’s the subject of my teaching, and in concrete projects I look together with students at how we can overcome the various obstacles that face us. Of course this is a long-term effort, and it isn’t something we’ll be able to achieve overnight.  

My big hobby is Kinomichi, an exercise and art form that originated in Japan, related to the martial art Aikido. The big difference is that we don’t fight against each other but move in harmony. That’s a very dynamic process – in fact it’s like playing with energy, but with a different kind of experience. For me it forms an important complement to all the intellectual work that we do at the university.    

Projects

Smart grids
Solar cells on rooftops and wind turbines may well be ‘green’, but they also have a big drawback: they only produce electricity when the sun shines and the wind blows. That’s a big problem for our power grid. To solve it our grid needs to be smarter, so it can respond to fluctuations in electricity supply and demand. Making that possible will require a lot of changes. For example, appliances that can be switched on and off when power is available or cheaper. We also won’t all be able to charge our electric cars at the same time. The intelligence, in other words the sensors, smart meters and software, is what makes it all possible. Making all this more reliable, cleaner and more affordable is very promising, but putting it all into practice won’t be so simple. We’re researching what this will all mean for individuals and households ­– whether these themselves will be able to play an active role, and if it will be possible and allowed by government. And if that isn’t that case, whether the rules need to be changed. We’re looking in particular at concrete projects by citizens, municipalities and action groups, and trying to help them in those efforts.