VUB PhD Cup finalist Diederik Coppitters uses rocket technology to design the energy systems of the future

VUB PhD Cup finalist Diederik Coppitters uses rocket technology to design the energy systems of the future

On 12 October, consumer organisation Test-Aankoop warned that now is the time to switch to a fixed energy contract, even if variable contracts are currently cheaper. Energy prices are expected to rocket again due to a variety of events. How can we best protect ourselves against sometimes extreme variation in energy prices? Diederik Coppitters explored this during his PhD research at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Université de Mons. “If you want to power an average family home for the next 20 years using energy from the grid, a fixed price energy contract is unlikely to be the cheapest solution. Install eight solar panels on your roof, and then even with the investment made, that’s the best solution for an average family home according to current forecasts.”

The condition is that there are not too many major changes that affect markets. “From the past, we’ve learned that such predictions are seldom correct,” says Coppitters. “Often even worst-case scenarios are far from the reality.” Of course, that’s a problem for those who need to invest. That’s why Coppitters looked at information systems that perform complex forecasts in space, where small errors can sometimes have disastrous consequences. “By using this kind of mathematical formula, we can simplify very complex simulations and work them out on a standard laptop very quickly.”

If you apply those simulations to the average household, 15 solar panels with a home battery appears to be the most stable system for the future. Coppitters: “The investment cost may be higher, but you will be much better protected against economic outliers and wildly fluctuating energy prices in an uncertain future.”

Coppitters’ method also allows for the simulations to be scaled up for businesses and even whole societies. His calculations result in a sort of “robustness indicator”, that policymakers can evaluate alongside other factors such as environmental impact in their decisions on the energy mix in Belgium. It’s an extra tool that can be seen as an insurance for an uncertain future.

“The forecasts also fit perfectly in the REPowerEU plan and the European Commission’s guidelines to diversify Europe’s energy supply by moving away from Russian gas and towards local energy production. These are the robust energy systems of the future,” says Coppitters. “Hybrid, with a mix of self-generation and import. It’s not the case that if we can produce energy ourselves, we will necessarily have a secure supply. Solar panels are better for the environment than burning fossil fuels, but what happens when the sun doesn’t shine so strongly, or the installation suddenly breaks down? There is a sweet spot between the percentage of dependent and self-generated energy that better protects us in the event of setbacks.”


Diederik Coppitters: [email protected]

Koen Stein
Koen Stein Perscontact wetenschap & innovatie


About Press - Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Vrije Universiteit Brussel is an internationally oriented university in Brussels, the heart of Europe. By providing excellent research and education on a human scale, VUB wants to make an active and committed contribution to a better society.

The World Needs You

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel assumes its scientific and social responsibility with love and decisiveness. That’s why VUB launched the platform De Wereld Heeft Je Nodig – The World Needs You, which brings together ideas, actions and projects based on six Ps. The first P stands for People, because that’s what it’s all about: giving people equal opportunities, prosperity, welfare, respect. Peace is about fighting injustice, big and small, in the world. Prosperity combats poverty and inequality. Planet stands for actions on biodiversity, climate, air quality, animal rights... With Partnership, VUB is looking for joint actions to make the world a better place. The sixth and last P is for Poincaré, the French philosopher Henri Poincaré, from whom VUB derives its motto that thinking should submit to nothing except the facts themselves. VUB is an ‘urban engaged university’, strongly anchored in Brussels and Europe and working according to the principles of free research.


Press - Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Pleinlaan 2
1050 Brussel