One is an architect specializing in green cities, and the other is the CEO of Sibelga. Together they imagine Brussels at a time of energy transition. A meeting between a visionary and a realist.
With the energy transition comes the opportunity to reimagine our cities. Regarding this, the CEO of the Gas and Electricity Distribution Network in Brussels (GRD) Sibelja said, Inside Mertensand international architect Vincent Callebaut They agree.
But because of the positions they hold, One is in the towers of the whole world and the other is in the bowels of BrusselsThey do not deal with the coming revolution in the same way. Hence the urgent need to consult together, starting from the design of real estate projects and urban planning.
“Sebelja can’t make tomorrow’s plan on her own. We need public authorities, the academic world, architects, citizens, and all market players. We are just one link in the chain“, warns Ene Mertens. “We need a large multidisciplinary think tank to design the Brussels of tomorrow,” sums up Vincent Callebaut.
Bringing actors together as their accomplishments continueThis is the common basis between the speakers.
“The more a city expands horizontally, the more it consumes and requires an expansion of the energy grid.”
Professions are more diverse than ever
Vincent Callebaut doesn’t have any current projects in Brussels, but he knows the challenges big cities face. Between Taiwan, Cebu (Philippines), Dubai and above all Paris, the man seeks with his office to implement his vision of a short-circuited, interconnected, autonomous and greener city. “In Brussels, the modern movement underway since the post-war period has created the functional city. That is, we put all the offices in one functional area, we made the city center museum, we put the immigrants on one side, the European neighborhoods on the other, and we divided the population. “All the problems we know today stem from this,” he says.
“What we are trying to do is to imagine a quarter-hour city centered around people and solidarity. That is, a place where all the services that permeate your private and professional life are available, less than 15 minutes from home, within easy reach. This results in a denser, less energy-intensive city. The more a city expands horizontally, the more it consumes and requires an expansion of the energy grid.
Brussels is denser, more vertical and carbon-neutral, as Ine Mertens imagines it. For Sibelja, this has serious implications. “Our historical role is to facilitate the market through meter reading, data processing and delivery to energy suppliers. But today, we must also implement energy policies, ensure our role as a social supplier, coordinate the deployment of charging stations for electric vehicles and support the renovation of public buildings. Now we are interested in what happens behind the counter“, explains the president.
“City under construction” is inevitable
It is clear that the profession has become more complex and expanded, and with this A whole series of difficultieswhich is shared by other City of Tomorrow actors, including Vincent Callebaut.
First, we must integrate renewable energy production capabilities into urban space, which is not an easy task due to lack of space. to Brussels, only 3% of the electricity consumed is from renewable sources“, points out Ian Mertens.
“Thanks to the integration of renewable energies, starting from the design stage, into architectural projects (wind farms, solar sheds, geothermal energy, biomass, biohydrogen, biomethane), we have been able to obtain buildings that produce more than they produce.” “Who will consume and who will be able to redistribute the surplus to the neighbours,” adds Callebaut, who sees this as another reason to diversify GRD, going “beyond the meter.”
“This work allows us to say that we are witnessing climate change adaptation and that we are part of the solution for this generation that is intelligently transforming cities.”
Hence, it is a matter of adapting street furniture and infrastructure to new uses. Charging stations, low-voltage cabins, cables and pipes will inevitably be increasingly added to the landscape. Therefore, our speakers are categorical, It will not be possible to avoid a “city under construction” and its accompanying inconvenienceseven if they both wish to avoid “urban chaos”, in particular by doubling the functions of each element (street lamp charging station, electrical cabinet – urban library, etc.).
There, Vincent Callebaut wants to be optimistic, and says he does not see this as a source of frustration. “This work allows us to say that we are witnessing climate change adaptation and that we are part of the solution for this generation that is intelligently transforming cities,” he smiles. More realistically, Ine Mertens insists on the need for planning. “What you should avoid is playing firefighter. There is clearly a street under construction – although I understand that could be seen as an opportunity – It remains an immediate obstacle“She frowns.
“There is also a time issue. Our investments are for 50 years. Our vision is very far ahead, unlike politics.”
Four obstacles facing the city of tomorrow
We understand that, Hesitation to changeThe phenomenon of NIMBY (Not in My BackaYard, “Not in My Garden” in French) is embodied in all aspects of the energy transition, and is one of the main concerns of our interlocutors. One is because they are on the front lines and face the challenge of reaching out to communities angry about frequent conversions. The other is because the procedures for obtaining permits are complex. Here again, both see good reason to include the citizen at the forefront of thinking.
But in addition to the frustration felt by local residents, there are other obstacles holding back the progress of the energy transition in cities. “For me, there is also a problem Temporal. Our investments for 50 years. Our vision is on a very distant horizon, unlike the vision of politics. “So we will have to balance this short-term vision with very long-term investments.”
“Being able to recruit the right profiles for the energy transition is a big deal for us.”
“For a year, when we have discussed with promoters and industrialists, we see that the problem is…Inflation and high interest rates. Ultimately, in Europe, I find that we have a certain tendency to hide behind successive crises so that we act not the same day, but the next. Meanwhile, the climate does not wait,” laments Vincent Callebaut.
Finally, they both face a phenomenon that affects the entire sector:… Talent shortage. “Managing the recruitment of the right profiles for the energy transition is a big problem for us. Finding technicians in Brussels is a big challenge. We are in competition with many players. Hence there are not enough profiles in Brussels. We need to re-magic the technical profession And its feminization at the grassroots level, in schools,” notes President Sibelga.
The architect points out the need for interdisciplinarity in profiles, which has become necessary with the diversity of professions. “We work on architectural projects that integrate renewable energies, urban agriculture and digital transformation. So, ideally, we dream of a profile of an architect who studied architecture for 5 years and who also graduated as an agricultural engineer for example. We need to reinvent the way,” he says. With which we train young people today.”