Flanders takes energy efficiency very seriously. In 2012, the Flemish government established Vlaams EnergieBedrijf (VEB) specifically to reduce the public sector’s energy footprint. According to CEO Dirk Meire, the public sector’s energy expenses per year (including energy consumed by schools, hospitals, public transport and government administrative offices) totals around €700 million, or 2% of the region’s total budget. He says, “The public sector is the third-biggest energy consumer in Flanders, so VEB is working to reduce both usage and costs.”
Reaching this goal is a challenge since the public sector in Flanders is quite decentralised. VEB developed an unusual business model: one contract, one tariff, everything in line with public-procurement rules. Signing up with VEB is easy and advantageous for customers since they don’t need to go through the complex tender process. VEB is the only energy supplier in Flanders which applies the ‘Open Data’ principle and publishes all its data.
Changing buildings and people
The most difficult task for VEB, according to Dirk Meire, is to reduce energy consumption, especially since the company must work with existing structures as well as with consumers who may not be geared towards energy savings. He says, “We change buildings by implementing new technologies and sometimes structural upgrades, and we work to change the habits of the people in the buildings. We also indirectly create jobs.” VEB’s work is paying off; at one medical facility where the company had a contract to reduce energy use, VEB’s efforts resulted in a 30% drop in energy consumption.
VEB’s model is definitely a success story. The company had a quick start and had reached around 8% of its target group at the start of 2015 and around 12% one year later. Dirk Meire hopes to boost that percentage to 100% within five to six years. He points out, “Customers did not know what to think of VEB at the beginning since our approach was so new, but we are steadily gaining a strong reputation and credibility.” VEB is also front-runner and accelerator for e-invoicing in line with EU guidelines.
Dirk Meire is very positive about Flanders’ energy development. He anticipates more energy storage, more electric cars on the roads, and greater energy sustainability five years from now. He explains, “Handling energy well requires a long-term vision, not short-term policies and hype. The goal is long-term stability and energy cost reduction.”