In honour of Belgian national day, which was organised at Expo Dubai 2020 on Saturday 5 February 2022, Chris Peeters, the CEO of Elia Group, attended a lunch with King Philippe; Sophie Wilmès, the Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium; Peter Claes, Belgium’s Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates; and a number of other honoured guests at the Belgian Pavilion. The guests discussed how securing a successful energy transition will require actors from across society to embrace the opportunities that decarbonisation is bringing, including regional and international partnerships.
Elia, Elia Group’s Belgian subsidiary, is one of the key sponsors of this year’s Belgian Pavilion. Elia Group’s consultancy, Elia Grid International, has been working with partners in the Middle East for over a decade.
Chris Peeters answers some questions about the Group below.
What does your company do?
Elia Group is one of Europe’s leading electricity electric utility companies. The Group comprises several divisions, including transmission system operators Elia in Belgium and 50Hertz in Germany; and Elia Grid International, our consultancy branch. Elia and 50Hertz supply 30 million end users with electricity in our home countries, and operate 19,276 km of high-voltage connections.
We are helping to drive the energy transition in Europe and beyond through the integration of increasing amounts of renewable energy into our grid; the integration of the European energy market; partnerships with players from across the energy sector and other countries; and regular publications, which aim to support policymakers in their decision-making.
How many people do you employ?
Elia Group employs around 3,000 staff across all of its divisions. In 2021, our workforce comprised 37 different nationalities - we are, therefore, a truly international Group in terms of the countries we work in and the people we employ. Indeed, increasing diversity in terms of the staff we hire and the skills and knowledge they bring forms an important part of our ActNow programme - an action plan that we published last year which seeks to embed sustainability across all of our activities.
What does your ‘metier’ mean to you? What impact do you think it can have?
On a personal level, when I was a child, I wanted to contribute to something that was bigger than just meeting the individual goals of a company. This is what Elia Group does: we are driving the energy transition by decarbonising the energy sector in Europe - and, ultimately, society. The activities we carry out outside of our home countries (such as through our consultancy, Elia Grid International) are also contributing to ensuring the energy transition is a success. In the Middle East, for example, we have worked on a number of projects addressing challenges linked to the integration of renewable energy.
What is the biggest strength of your company?
Our expertise. Our staff carry a great deal of knowledge and expertise about the areas they work in - from system operations through to grid operations and market facilitation. As an organisation, we understand that this know-how, which informs our activities and our vision, cannot be used or applied alone: we need to form partnerships with players from across the energy value chain and beyond to ensure that the goal of decarbonisation can be reached. We have always carried out two-way dialogues with our partners, and the energy transition is opening up further opportunities for partnerships: from the electrification of society and sector coupling through to building of cross-border interconnectors, energy islands and the sharing of renewable energy.
What is your role regarding the Belgian Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai?
Elia, our Belgian subsidiary, is a proud sponsor of the Belgian Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. As part of this, we have overseen several key events at the Pavilion (including the official opening of the Pavilion last year and national day this year) and have used it to meet with local stakeholders and clients. We also developed a game for visitors to the Pavilion which demonstrates how consumers will play an important role in balancing the grid in future, as the energy system comes to rely more and more heavily on intermittent renewable energy sources.
What projects do you have lined up for the future?
In addition to carrying out our core activities of delivering the infrastructure of the future and operating a sustainable power system, we are focusing on growing the activities of the Group beyond their current perimeter to deliver further value for society and developing new services which will create value for end consumers.
The structure of the Group is such that the experience we gain through one of our divisions can easily be shared and disseminated across our other divisions; at the moment, for instance, we are keen to expand the expertise we have developed in offshore wind development. Our portfolio of projects undertaken as part of Elia and 50Hertz’s regulated activities in Belgium and Germany includes some truly innovative projects, such as the world’s first hybrid interconnector. We are building on this, for example through working on the development of energy islands in the North and Baltic Seas, to ensure that the European Green Deal and associated targets can be met.
What are the biggest challenges that your organisation faces?
Driving the energy transition forward, and meeting international and European climate targets, entails accelerating our activities. This means we need to deliver the infrastructure required to carry large amounts of renewable energy in a much shorter time frame than we have been used to working to in the past. It also means that system-level changes need to be facilitated: the integration of renewables into the system and the phasing out of thermal plants means that the system will need to shift from one under which production patterns follow consumption to one under which consumption patterns follow production. Consumers will play a key role in providing the grid with the flexibility it needs so that the balance between demand and supply can be maintained. Indeed, we are encouraging this shift through the partnerships we have established and through the publication of papers such as our ‘Consumer-Centric Market Design’.
We are able to see the opportunities - rather than just the challenges - that the energy transition is bringing us. Partnerships with other sectors will be key for meeting them head on; these will allow renewables to be shared across borders; for electrification to be spread across society; and for digitalisation to be harnessed as part of smart grids and innovative energy services for energy consumers. Each of these, in turn, will further facilitate the energy transition.
What values and objectives does your organisation have?
Sustainability lies at the heart of our strategy and our ActNow programme, which was developed and published in 2021, sets out our long-term sustainability objectives in concrete terms. ActNow acts as a compass, guiding our each of our activities: our sustainability objectives are embedded across and implemented through our business roadmaps and plans.
Our sustainability objectives are explicitly linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and are each assigned to one of five dimensions: Climate Action; Environment & Circular Economy; Health & Safety; Diversity, Equity & Inclusion; and Governance, Ethics & Compliance.
How has the current pandemic affected your work?
Whilst Elia Grid International’s activities were hampered slightly, the pandemic has not impeded progress on our on- and offshore infrastructure projects in either Belgium or Germany. This truly demonstrates the dedication and resilience our staff have demonstrated in our home countries over the past two years.