BBC World Service: Kees Koolen welcomes US commitment to clean energy

Hengelo, The Netherlands, 19 January 2021

US President elects Joe Biden’s Green New Deal and the new administration’s commitment to long-term investment in renewable energy, efficiency improvements and emissions controls have been welcomed by Kees Koolen, Chairman and CEO of clean energy conglomerate Koolen Industries. 

In an interview with BBC World Service radio, which has a 319 million strong global audience, Koolen said he believes it will make a tremendous difference that the US government, like other governments, is prepared to work with entrepreneurs and companies to make the transition to clean energy happen.

The energy transition will help create new, green jobs and green economic growth, at a time when the world is climbing out of recessions caused by the Covid-19 crisis, and many of these new jobs will be more interesting, according to Koolen.

“We’ll need to do a lot of innovation and a lot of new technology, so there will be good opportunities for young people in R&D.

“There will be a lot of opportunities in new technology, a lot of software will need to be rewritten because the new energy needs a lot more prediction and forecasting. A lot more balancing will be needed in relation to when you use the energy, how you use it, how you store it and how you transport it, so I think it will create a lot of new jobs and also a lot of opportunities for economic growth.”

There will also be new jobs for unskilled workers.

“If you go to part of the new economy, which is hydrogen, we will still need filling stations and these stations will need to be built. The same is true for infrastructure such as the new grid,” said Koolen, who is also the CEO of clean energy research and enterprise campus The Green Box.

“What I’ve seen in my life is that new technologies of course cost a lot of old jobs, but it also creates a lot of new jobs, and if you see it as a whole it creates more jobs than it costs.”

Changes needed

The energy transition will come with challenges that must be addressed.

“One of the challenges is that the current fossil fuel industry is quite cheap, so if you make energy with fossil fuels now it is not so expensive. That, I think, is one of the big hurdles,” said Koolen.

Governments can facilitate the energy transition by offering stimulus and subsidies, as well as by investing in new skills, education and in infrastructure.

“All the infrastructure we have in the world is based on history, and that history was fossil fuels. If we want to transition to clean energy, we’ll also need new infrastructure, and if governments can support such infrastructure, that’s going to deliver a big acceleration,” said Koolen.

President Elect Biden described government investment in the Green New Deal a “down payment”, as he expects it to deliver great returns over time.

That’s not to say the transition should be paid for entirely by governments.

“It should be a combination,” declared Koolen, who believes investors, entrepreneurs and established companies also have important roles to play, as they develop new technologies to deliver clean energy generation, storage, distribution capacity, and new products and services such as solar panels for private homes or transport solutions such as the zero emission hyperloop.

“In my experience, a lot of entrepreneurs and a lot of companies are willing to transition into this world, which provides new opportunities. But at the same time [the transition] comes with general costs, such as infrastructure. I think infrastructure costs should be shared with governments,” Koolen said.

Behavioural change

Ordinary people have a role to play too, though the required changes will actually make people’s lives better.

“We’ll need more sun and wind energy, and off course the sun and the wind is not always there, so we’ll need more storage, we’ll need more flexibility in the grid, and people will also need to change behaviour,” said Koolen.

In the past, for instance, governments would stimulate demand for electricity produced during the night in gas and coal power stations.

“My parents educated us to use more energy during the night than during the day, because electricity was cheaper,” Koolen said.

Such behavioural adjustments helped balance the electricity grid.

“The same principle applies to sun and wind, so maybe we’ll get more incentives to use energy during the day than during the night,” he said.

Listen to World Business Report on BBC World Service.

Click here to listen to the report. Kees Koolen can be heard at 2:00 – 3:25.

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