Home Economy Compulsory photovoltaic panels for large consumers, a good idea?

Compulsory photovoltaic panels for large consumers, a good idea?

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Should large electricity consumers be forced to equip themselves with photovoltaic panels, as Flanders recently decreed? Yes, believes Benjamin Wilkin, director of the non-profit association Energie Commune (ex-Apere), who sees a double interest in it, individual and collective.

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On November 23, the Flemish Parliament adopted a decree aimed at obliging, by July 2025, players consuming at least 1,000 MWh of electricity per year to equip their roofs with photovoltaic panels. This measure, which would concern some 2,500 companies in the north of the country, applies to owners, beneficiaries of a long lease or a surface right for the buildings concerned. For public bodies, this obligation applies as soon as annual consumption exceeds 500 MWh – ie around seven hundred sites. A degressive threshold value for the latter, since it will decrease to 100 MWh by 2026. As provided for in the decree, the practical details of which have yet to be defined, the Flemish government will take into account other forms of renewable energy to assess compliance with this obligation.

Forcing large electricity consumers, across industries and businesses, to install photovoltaic panels, good or bad idea?

This measure seems really appropriate to me and all the easier to implement in that it will help its target audiences in one way or another. The recent crisis has demonstrated in particular the Europe’s vulnerability in terms of energy resources. Apart from renewables and nuclear, we have little control over accessibility and price, two elements that obviously go hand in hand. Part of the political class finally seems to have realized this. Regardless of their size, companies must now integrate the cost of energy to their business model. Some, like Colruyt, have been doing it for a long time, even though it is not their core business at all. Furthermore, in a market like Belgium, demand from large consumers pushes up electricity pricesincluding for small players and individuals.

We are at the dawn of other much more coercive measures from an economic perspective.

If some companies have not yet taken the plunge, is it not for financial or technical reasons, in which case a transversal obligation makes little sense?

It seems obvious to me that we must plan for a waiver system for those who would not be able, with supporting evidence, to comply with this obligation. But I think we’re at dawn other much more coercive measures, from an economic perspective and no longer solely linked to the climate crisis. In France, for example, the Senate has adopted a bill aimed at covering outdoor car parks with more than eighty spaces with photovoltaic shade structures. For this obligation, I therefore want to say: let’s go!

Wallonia works mainly with incentives. But the installation of large photovoltaics, which she calls for on car parks and large roofs, is rather slow…

Absolutely. One of the reasons, I think, is that the return time of this type of investment is still too long compared to the time horizon in which most companies project themselves. If it reaches three years, it is already good. The measure adopted by Flanders is therefore really welcome and others are needed. Too bad it does not exist in Wallonia at the moment.

Benjamin Wilkin, director of the non-profit organization Energie Commune. © DR

Should we open the debate on one or the other energy obligation for smaller players, including individuals, or is it premature in a society marked by individual freedoms?

From my perspective, it’s never too early. There is something like a paradox: in Belgium, private property is almost a value in itself, but it does not come with any duties. Therefore, when we face a problem of insecurity or energy dependence, because our buildings are not sufficiently insulated, we do not manage to act on this infrastructure of the habitat, generally private. Before the energy crisis, few people cared about the carrots that Wallonia offered to renovate their property. Until three years ago, an energy-efficient building sold at the same price as another in the market. Ultimately, even the private infrastructure remains collective, since it is transmitted from person to person. Just as a certain level of sanitation is required to rent accommodation, rules must be established for what some call energy safety.

To hear you, however, the conditions are not met to consider obligations in this area…

It is true that one does not start from a system favorable to an obligation. That said, the reflection aimed at impose the energy renovation of properties with mediocre PEB has been going on for a few years now. With the crisis, these EPB indicators, although imperfect, are finally beginning to have value. In Flanders, the obligation to integrate renewable energy into new buildings has existed for a few years. In Wallonia, it is still not transposed, while a European directive already spoke about it in 2008.

In terms of energy transition, the priority is to reduce consumption, before considering technological equipment, the materials of which are also under pressure. Doesn’t a photovoltaic obligation therefore put the cart before the horse?

For companies that can hardly reduce their consumption, this is in any case relevant. For the others, this dimension will have to be taken into account in any derogations. But let’s not forget that the electrification of our needs is underway. Even if we reduce the demand for energy overall, electricity consumption should stagnate, if not increase. As far as photovoltaic panels are concerned, we can therefore go for it without hesitation.

Doesn’t a transversal obligation, despite everything, risk leading to absurd situations such as, for example, the installation of photovoltaic panels on energy sieves?

Having a general framework does not prevent add a little flexibility. There are enough sane people to identify nuances and improvements. Today, we don’t have time to nitpick, including from an economic point of view. If we have 10% failure, whether for this measure or another, it does not matter. To choose, it is better to realize one hundred projects including a few hiccups rather than to carry out five to perfection.

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