Kornelis Blok

Kornelis Blok

Name

Professor K. (Kornelis) Blok

Position

Professor of Energy Systems Analysis at the ESS department (1 day a week) and also director of research (and co-founder) at Ecofys.

Personal life
‘I was born in 1956 and I’m married to Hermien, with whom I have four children and now also four grandchildren. We live in Houten. I’m deeply interested in history and really like reading about it, including novels that touch on the past. I also really enjoy going on holiday in Central and Eastern Europe. Countries such as Poland, Slovakia and Croatia are my favourite destinations.’

Favorite leisure activity?
‘I have a large garden with a mix of ornamental plants and vegetables. I love to garden there after work or at the weekend. You’ll often find me pushing the wheelbarrow in the garden.’


Nicest thing that's happened in your career?
‘The role that I try to fulfil in the world is to show how we can achieve a renewable energy supply or a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. That’s also how I see my role as an author at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the institution that advises the United Nations on climate problems. In 2007, the IPCC won the Nobel Peace Prize for its third and fourth reports. That was a nice form of recognition, but mainly because in the subsequent climate talks in Bali, emphatic reference was made to the results that I’d collated. Another nice occasion was being able to accept, on behalf of Ecofys, the Erasmus Prize for the most innovative company in the Netherlands in 2008.'

Greatest challenge?
‘The transition to a 100%-renewable energy supply. We’ve made a start: we’re currently at 10%. The tricky part, though, will now be to scale up to 50% renewable energy, and even to 100% within 20 years. That will require huge change, not only for the energy system, but also for companies. To give an illustration: renewable energy is still just one part of energy companies’ business at present, but it will soon be their core business. Getting to that massive transformation will therefore be an enormous challenge. In my opinion, researchers have an important role to play here, not only at TPM, but also in other faculties. Collaboration on this will be crucial. In my role within the Delft Energy Initiative, I try to encourage collaboration between all of the professors who are working on energy.’

The best thing about your work?
‘Searching for new solutions to societal problems, particularly when they involve the energy supply and the climate. A few years ago, it became clear that the agreements made by governments would not be adequate to tackle the climate problem seriously. As I like to think in terms of solutions, I then started to investigate who might be able to do this: companies, local government, societal organisations and partnerships between governments and businesses. I mapped out and published the opportunities for these parties to show that there are many things that can be done aside from what governments do.’

Why Delft?
'There are 900 people (FTEs) working on energy in Delft. I’m looking forward to working with many of them within the Delft Energy Initiative. Something that has always particularly appealed to me is that there is such a large Delft Energy Club. It’s incredible that hundreds of students are working on energy! Delft is a great place in which to be working on renewable energy. Technology lies at the basis of every energy issue, and there’s plenty of technology in Delft! I already knew a lot of the people here when I was still professor of renewable energy at Utrecht University, but you do interact differently when you’re at the same university.’

Your best quality?
‘I’m extremely dedicated. When I tackle a problem, I also want to make serious progress on it, whatever field it’s in. What’s more, I’m creative and I’m an all-rounder. When it comes to energy, I know at least something about many things.

Your worst quality? 
‘It’s the downside to my dedication: I like to work on lots of things at once, perhaps too many things. Naturally, there’s an art to limiting this and delegating things.’

In your opinion, what subject should be high on the political agenda?
‘Renewable energy, of course, but a lot of attention is already being paid to this. Even more importantly, I think that standards of living across the whole world, particularly in developing countries, should be improved so that everyone in the world has guaranteed access to food, education and healthcare. Energy is an important factor in this – without energy, there’s no lighting, so also no adequate education or good healthcare – but the development itself is the key thing.’

What inspires you?
‘I’m a committed practising Christian and active in the Church. The Bible is therefore an important source of inspiration for me. I’m also motivated by societal issues. While I was training as a scientist, the first oil crisis broke out and energy became an important theme in the world. That did have an impact on my choice of career.’

Your philosophy of life?
‘Following on from my Christian side, I would say: everything that you have, you have been given, so you are therefore responsible for sharing it out again.’

For this profile of a professor, we also had some questions that came specifically from the Delft Energy Initiative. We wanted to include these questions as well:

Which trends do you see in the energy field?
Prof. Blok: ‘The major trend in the energy field is that of scaling-up. We are emerging from a situation in which renewable energy played a minor role in the energy supply. Now we are seeing an enormous scaling-up, particularly of wind and solar energy on the supply side and electric cars and energy-efficient devices on the demand side. Renewable energy is being transformed from a niche activity into a dominant activity. This is necessary in a societal sense, and has also been shown to be feasible. A huge amount is happening at the moment. I’ve been working in this field for 30 years, and in the last 5 years I have seen more happening than in the previous 25 years. A second important change is that energy use in the Western world is falling. An enormous amount of attention is being paid to energy efficiency, and you can see that the motto ‘energy efficiency is the first fuel’ is starting to bear fruit. One of today’s LED lamps is almost 90% more efficient than one of the old incandescent light bulbs, and today’s fridges are certainly five times more efficient than the fridges we had 20 years ago. Trends such as these are now really starting to come through, which is having an enormous impact.’

What is TU Delft’s strength in tackling these societal trends/issues?
Prof. Blok: ‘TU Delft already has a lot of in-house expertise in these fields. The energy problem is primarily a technical challenge: there is a constant need for new technology. TU Delft has a great deal to offer in the areas of solar energy, wind energy and the bio-industry, and also in the areas of energy-efficient construction and industrial processes. However, the university can contribute even more than this. Sometimes TU Delft is involved in areas where it does not even realise how important they are – Ocean Energy, for instance. With all its knowledge in areas such as civil engineering, electrical engineering, etc., TU Delft can make a major contribution; certainly if there is collaboration in particular areas (for example, ICT and energy), TU Delft’s potential is far from exhausted!

How do you see your role in this as a part-time professor?
Prof. Blok: ‘I will make a contribution to teaching and research, particularly interdisciplinary research. It is essential to establish new connections.’

How do you see the role of the Delft Energy Initiative?
Prof. Blok: ‘The Delft Energy Initiative is a great mechanism as far as interdisciplinarity is concerned: it’s where everyone comes together. One of my most important missions is to strengthen the role of TU Delft in the energy world. The Delft Energy Initiative is already a place where people from many different backgrounds can meet, and it’s great for recognisability. I want to help strengthen this part of its role. One area for special attention is teaching: there is a huge need for more trained people in the energy field. Just think: the global renewable energy sector is worth 500 billion euros, and what’s more, it’s growing by 20–30% each year.’

 

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