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In truth, Auke wanted to talk about something else today, but overtaken by current events, we simply cannot avoid the subject. The Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Why should we depend on undemocratic states for our energy supply? Let’s use this to accelerate the green transition.”

Auke applauds Germany’s decision not to start using Nord Stream 2 in the foreseeable future. This is the gas pipeline that is supposed to bring Russian gas to Europe, among other things. But this was before the invasion of Ukraine. Now he is calling for tougher measures against Russia. “What is happening here is not just an attack on the people of Ukraine, but a direct attack on democracy. This is a small group of rich oligarchs who are afraid of losing their rights. We need to crack down on them. Freeze their accounts, seize their villas and private yachts. Find ways to take away all their toys and pleasures. By doing this, you may also hit a few innocent oligarchs financially, but that’s something we will just have to accept.”

Good time to step away from fossil fuels

According to him, it is a good time to step away from gas from Russia or oil from Saudi Arabia altogether. “The problem is that we need Russia to get through the winter, which creates a certain dependency. Do you really think anyone wants to buy gas from Putin? I don’t think so. The same goes for dubious regimes like Saudi Arabia where everything is amiss in terms of human rights. But we take their oil anyway because we have to.”

So this needs to change, in Auke’s opinion. “If we stop buying fossil fuels from these kinds of regimes, we can hit them hard. Russia earns a lot from their gas exports. The situation right now makes it clear that we need to switch to alternatives even faster. Preferably sustainable ones, of course.”

The fact that stepping away from fossil fuels is actually possible is demonstrated by a major retrospective study on renewable energy that Auke is co-authoring. Auke has just read the first version and is enthusiastic. The conclusion? “It’s not so bad at all with the sustainability of our energy network. More and more is being published on the subject. An increase of about fifty percent between 2020 and 2021. Over 700 studies that show that 100 percent renewable energy is actually possible. Both in terms of technology and cost-effectiveness. And there’s more and more research coming out all the time!”

Why is it so important that we know this?

Auke frowns and points his finger at the camera: “It’s all a load of nonsense. That green technology is immature and we can’t do without fossil fuels for the next fifty years. It can’t be done at all!”

In his view, this is how plenty of people still think about green energy. “Lots of people would very much like it to be possible. If they knew it could be done, they would jump out of their chairs with enthusiasm. I have news for these people: It definitely is possible! It would be good if we showed that as much as we possibly can.”

He compares it to how he used to think fifteen years ago. Auke was also fairly pessimistic about climate change back then and was convinced that the world would only take action when it really couldn’t do anything else. Until he started reading about the rapid development of sustainable technology like solar panels. “Hey wait a minute! I also saw this in battery technology, electric mobility and other kinds of technology. This made me look to the future with renewed confidence. I wish other people would as well. I want to show as many people as possible that it is entirely feasible to generate our energy in a sustainable way. We have the means and together we are facing an incredibly wonderful challenge to shape a world that we ourselves want.”

Cooperation and making models better

After tweeting about all these studies, Auke soon received a message from a French researcher who wants to get to work comparing and complementing all the different models that appear in the studies. “Just because I exclaim that 100 percent renewable energy is possible doesn’t mean it will actually be accomplished. There are also plenty of models involving nuclear, gas power plants and biomass. All those different models in turn come with their own strengths and weaknesses. So, it’s not about which model works better or not. The idea is to explore the route ahead more thoroughly. We want to make it stronger by working together.”

Auke sighs deeply, “You know what I’m so tired of? So many researchers are working against each other and are discounting each other’s work. Like, ‘how dare you make a model using only solar energy? And why not use nuclear energy?’ While there are so many different options, let’s put our heads together for goodness sake! Then I’m happy with this Frenchman who is coming to the Netherlands next week to sit down and work on this. So that all of those tweets of mine are useful after all.”

But in the meantime, energy prices continue to rise, how will ‘ordinary people’ benefit from this?

“That’s partly because we are still dependent on countries like Russia for our energy supply. But if we make progress, that will no longer be necessary. However, I dare not say when prices will start to fall again. I only know that for every wind turbine and solar panel that is installed or laid, you won’t have to import as much gas. My expectation is that the price of energy will drop again, but when that will happen exactly, I honestly don’t know.”

“But I also have no desire at all to tell people what they should think. It’s not for me to say that nuclear power is bad. If that’s what we all want, why not? We just have to realize how much choice we actually have. It’s just being presented at the moment as if that’s not the case. As if it’s all hands on deck and everything has to be grabbed hold of now. It’s not going to be fun and there’s a meteor heading towards the earth.”

Auke shakes his head, “That’s not how it is at all. I disagree wholeheartedly with that. It is an incredible moment in the history of humanity, we are faced with the choice to do things completely differently. I’m really 100 percent sure that with all these options, we will definitely achieve net zero for the electricity system by 2050.”

Read previous instalments of this column here.

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