Kornelis Blok - A lifetime of energy transition

News - 11 May 2023 - Webredactie

Kornelis Blok has devoted himself to the energy transition for many years. On the 24th of May, he says farewell to the TU Delft before his retirement, although he certainly will not sit still. We spoke with him about the past and the future. How does he look back on his career and his years at TU Delft?

Can you briefly tell us about your career at TU Delft?

My career actually started in Utrecht, where I did research and taught about various aspects of the energy transition. I have worked in all kinds of areas, both in systems and in policy development. In addition, I also started my own company Ecofys, a research and consultancy agency for energy conservation and sustainable energy applications.

It was only about nine years ago that I was asked to exchange the one day per week I worked at the University of Utrecht for one day per week in Delft. I ended up liking it so much that I started working full-time at the TPM faculty at TU Delft.

What made you love it enough to work here full time?

What I like about TU Delft is the technical environment. The large number of people working on all kinds of aspects of the energy transition. Here, it all comes together: geothermal, heat, electricity systems or building efficiency. Not only the technical side, but also the policy angle and ethical aspects; a real multidisciplinary approach. This makes it a very interesting environment for me.

Looking back, what memories stick out the most?

Something I am very proud of is my contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Scientific assessments of climate change are released every seven years to inform policy makers. In 2007, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the IPCC. I now have a beautiful memento of it hanging on the wall.

I have also always been involved in the Delft Energy Initiative, the last four years as chairman. Currently, there are four energy research institutes where 4 to 6 faculties collaborate and work together. This enables us to take on major projects and thus contribute to innovations in the energy sector, along with the business community, governments and students. I love that.

What also stayed with me is the 180th anniversary of TU Delft in 2022. The theme was 'Speeding up the Energy Transition'. I was chairman of the Delft Energy Initiative and half of my time as chairman took place during the corona crisis. That was quite a downer. However, we managed to make the lustrum a great one, and we were able to make ourselves very visible as an Energy & Climate University.

Are there any specific moments that you experienced as a highlight?

A nice highlight for me was the Lintjesregen in 2022. I arrived under the assumption that someone else would get a ribbon. To my great surprise, the dean was standing there with my children. It turned out that I was nominated by the university and became a Knight in the Order of the Dutch Lion. A beautiful recognition, also because my work on IPCC was specifically mentioned. In the end, however, it is really about what difference you can make and whether you help the world with the knowledge you contribute. That is something you do not find in a ribbon, but simply in the hard work.

You say that recognition is really just one part of it, but that ultimately the impact you can make is what drives you. What else drives you?

I have always found it important to personally contribute to a more sustainable world. As early as 1984, when I worked at Stichting Natuur en Milieu, I wrote the booklet 'Onbeperkt Houdbaar', in Dutch. This booklet contained a scenario for the Netherlands to run on 100% renewable energy in 2050. 'Houdbaar' was the literal translation of the term 'sustainability', although one would translate it to ‘Shelf life’ nowadays. The word sustainable existed in English, but in Dutch the word 'sustainable' only had its breakthrough in 1987 thanks to the Brundtland Report. It was not such a common concept before that.

What future challenges will we face, looking at the energy transition?

The main challenge is: how can we accelerate the energy transition? Developments in the field of alternatives to fossil energy sources such as solar and wind energy, electric cars or heat pumps are moving fast, but not fast enough. We want to limit climate change, but there, obstacles in our way that slow the process.

I think we should be prepared for the worst. Even if we do our best, we still walk along the edge of the ‘safe area’. And actually, it is not even clear how big this safe area is. Moreover, we also have to take more account of the vulnerability of our energy supply in the future.

And what does your future look like?

There are still many things that keep me busy. I will remain affiliated with the faculty for another 5 years as a guest, and I will continue to supervise PhD students. I also just became a member of the Scientific Climate Council of the Netherlands.

Something I also really like is the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTI). Companies can join the SBTI to reduce their emissions. They set themselves goals that are science-based. I was involved in designing their methods back in 2015 and will now chair the Technical Council. I am excited to take up this role, now that I have the time for it.

Thank you Kornelis, do you have any closing words?

I would like to say that TU Delft is simply a great institution to work for. I have always had a strong "we" feeling here. It is a world where people really root for each other and work together towards higher goals. This really makes it a pleasant and very positive working environment.

Even my wife said aptly at my team’s farewell: “Hey, what a warm club you have here”