ALUMNUS EXPERIENCE

STan kaal

Energy transition: the best way to make the world more sustainable

Stan has always been fascinated by the topic of energy. So it makes sense that he decided to complete the master’s programme in Sustainable Energy Technology. After receiving his master’s diploma, he happened to find the National Energy Traineeship online. After talking to a friend, a UT alumnus in Civil Engineering who had done the National Water Traineeship, he decided to apply. That’s how he ended up in the construction company Heijmans’s new Energy department, which turned out to be a step in the right direction.

You’ve now started your placement under the National Energy Traineeship. These traineeships are designed for talented young people with substantive knowledge and high-level skills in the field of energy. The kind of talent that is ready to rollout far-reaching changes to the system and accelerate the energy transition. How did you get interested in this topic and why do you want to be involved in this work?

‘I’ve been interested in the topic of energy since I was a kid. I always found it really fascinating to explore how the system that we use for everyday essentials, like heating, refrigeration, lighting and electronic equipment, actually works. I’m also a member of a generation that was taught about the climate problem at secondary school. That’s why it felt like the logical choice to go to work on this problem and make my own contribution to finding a solution.’

Why did you decide to apply for the National Energy Traineeship?

‘The thing that makes the National Energy Traineeship unique is its integrated approach. The changes needed for the energy transition are complex, with many different parties involved and more still coming onboard. During the traineeship I work with other trainees from the entire energy chain. There are people who work for the government, network providers, technical consultancies, the chemical industry, you name it. Every Friday we get together for training sessions, but we also work on projects for these different parties. This way you get to know the entire energy chain and you can construct a strong network. I’m convinced that this integrated approach is essential for accelerating the energy transition.’

You are also working as a trainee at Heijmans. What kinds of things are you involved in there? Is it easy to combine that with your National Energy Traineeship? Are you able to use the things you learned during the MSc SET? And if so, which aspects of your programme are constructive in performing your duties?

‘As an established construction company, Heijmans is involved in creating healthy living environments. They are constantly improving their work, making it smarter and more sustainable. Heijmans saw that their jobs increasingly involved energy solutions. That’s why they set up the new Energy department. This team wants to find answers for all kinds of energy problems, linking up and exploiting the know-how and expertise within Heijmans. The Energy team provides services ranging from design and implementation to maintenance and operation. As a trainee, I have the possibility of developing myself within the team, and I will be working on different jobs in different project phases. Right now I’m working on the realisation of vertical ground heat exchangers (GHE) for individual detached homes. This work easily combines with the traineeship and the two things also complement one another.

The Master's in Sustainable Energy Technology gave me a broad technical knowledge of energy systems that now helps me in my work. In addition, the programme included the social-economic aspects of the energy transition. This is something I also encounter in my work. For example, how do you create sufficient public support for the transition of existing buildings to sustainable energy?’

Where do you see opportunities for the energy transition at Heijmans?

‘As a construction company with various disciplines, Heijmans is well-placed to cover the whole range of options: from neighbourhood development to utility buildings and installations. The Energy department connects the energy systems from all these different areas in an integrated way, with the goal of accelerating the energy transition. This saves the client time and strengthens the sustainability of the system. Besides, it also saves on costs, which is important because we want to make the energy provision of the future affordable. So you can see the approach that the traineeship embraces in the sector as well.’

You recently received your diploma for the Master’s in Sustainable Energy Technology. What do you think makes this programme so unique?

‘The programme gives you handles to develop yourself in the field of sustainable energy. After a broad foundational first year, which deals with both the technological as well as the social-economic aspects, they give you a lot of space to develop your own interests and specialise by doing placements or taking electives. You can do whatever you want to: someone with a background in electrical engineering might, for example, start working on the privacy issues raised by smart metres. This is what I think the energy transition really needs right now: people who are broadly educated who are capable of looking beyond the boundaries of their professional field.’

Did this programme make you curious or more eager to learn about the energy transition?

‘I wanted to study Sustainable Energy Technology because I wanted to find out more about sustainable energy systems and how the different parts of the energy transition are interrelated. Of course, not all my questions were answered and that’s why I’m combining the traineeship at Heijmans with the National Energy Traineeship. One unanswered question, for example, was: How are we going to work together to build a sustainable energy system? I felt that aspect was missing in the programme. So in that sense the programme made me curious about the ‘practical side’ of the energy transition.’

You received training in chemical, electrical, process and mechanical engineering technologies, but also in economics, business development, innovation, supply chain management and social change. How does this all translate into sustainability and the energy transition?

‘The energy transition is a very broad concept that affects everyone in society – from industry, transport, and agriculture to the built environment. In addition, a wide range of stakeholders are involved, each representing a different interest: technical, economic, social, political, etc. Therefore, for every sector a link can be made to sustainable energy. The most important thing is that you use your broad knowledge and have the courage to look beyond the limitations of your own professional area. If you apply this notion to my work at Heijmans, you can immediately see that the question, ‘What is the best type of energy for this neighbourhood?’ is much broader than a simple technical problem. Many different considerations have to be weighed together to find out what is best for the end-user.’

Perhaps you could name some specific courses you took that stimulated your interest in the energy transition?

‘Because of my background (BSc Applied Physics), I always had a big interest in technical courses. For example, Energy from Biomass, Wind Energy, Solar Energy, Energy Conversion Technology and Energy Storage. I specialised within SET in materials science of solar cells, and this was eventually the topic of my final project for the IMS Department under Monica Morales-Masis. In addition, I took two courses on superconductors (technology used in nuclear fusion reactors, for example). These were electives, but they enabled me to get an internship at CERN in Geneva. This was a choice that I look back on with a great deal of satisfaction.’

Were you also engaged with sustainability or energy while you were a student?

‘After the second year of my degree in Applied Physics, I tried to get a position with the student team of Solar Team Twente. I was put to work as Head of Product. Ultimately, we won second place in 2015 in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia. Despite the heavy workload, this was an extremely educational period, which I often look back on.’

During your master’s degree you had a student assistantship with the Centre for Energy Innovation at the University of Twente. Can you tell us which assignments you were involved with there?

‘As student assistant I had a supporting role in forming the UT-wide energy transition strategy. This work was separate from my degree programme, but obviously my studies were very useful. I already knew most of the departments and professors who were working on sustainability and the energy transition. This meant that I could make connections right away and questions could be quickly directed to the right person. It was very valuable to have been able to participate in this process.’

What would you want to say to UT students who are interested in working on the climate problem and energy transition?

‘The energy transition is a very broad concept and students with any kind of background can get involved in the work. So the most important thing is to choose a programme that interests you and that gives you the freedom to try things out. In addition, it’s important that you always look beyond the boundaries of your own subject and keep looking for an integrated approach. That way you can be sure you will make a contribution and together we can accelerate the energy transition.’ 

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