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Meet the Ambassadors – Pieter D’haen

We caught up with Sector Director for Generation & Storage at SSE Energy Solutions, Pieter D’haen, to understand his views on the key topics of Decarbonising Transport, Heat and Energy as well as some of the challenges and opportunities businesses are facing to reach their net zero targets and how Behind The Meter solutions can support a holistic approach to decarbonisation.

Behind the Meter (BTM)

What is your role, what do you do at SSE and how long have you been here?

I lead the behind the meter generation and storage team, to develop, build and operate renewable energy projects which provide businesses with renewable energy through a direct electrical connection into their infrastructure. Working with our business development and commercial team, I ensure we provide our clients with attractive proposals which help them towards decarbonisation.

Typically, our generation projects are located at or near our clients’ premises and we ensure there is no operational disruption through our construction activities. We also develop our projects to maximise biodiversity gain and, through our community benefit policies, recognise that our clients play a vital role in the wellbeing of the local community and that SSE has its part to play to support this.

I've been with SSE for two and a half years now and even in such a relatively short period of time have seen a lot of change in SSE, as we go through a phenomenal growth and laser focus on how we can help clients with their net zero ambitions. My involvement in the renewables industry started almost 20 years ago, when I used my marine engineering background to get involved in the early offshore wind industry. From that I expanded into the development of onshore wind projects and in solar energy, particularly in South America and Asia. I count myself extremely lucky to have worked in the renewable industry for such a long time and to witness how it has not only matured, but also keeps pushing the engineering boundaries to increase the size and efficiency of renewable energy projects.

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What do you find is a key challenge for businesses trying to reach net zero and decarbonize their operations and how does BTM support that journey?

The inherent intermittency of renewable energy makes it difficult and as a result potentially expensive for businesses to reach full decarbonisation. It is no longer a matter of simply entering an electricity supply agreement, topics such as greenwashing, variable carbon content of the generation but also decarbonisation of heat, transport, supply chain all need to be considered.

While behind-the-meter generation cannot provide the full solution, it is able to significantly reduce a company’s carbon footprint and at the same time reduce energy costs. In a wider context it also allows a business to state additionality of the generation, as it would not have been built without the company’s involvement, removing any ambiguity over greenwashing or the use of certification systems.

Combining behind-the-meter generation with more flexible or adapted operations will also allow more onsite produced energy to be used. It may be possible for certain processes to be programmed to reduce or increase electricity use (for example cold storage) depending on the availability of renewable energy and forecasting of supply can help in this optimisation. A redesign of processes such as using electric heat storage or heat pumps as opposed to using gas can help in decarbonising heat generation, whether that is high or low temperature heat.

Behind the Meter is a very special sector; It is very suitable for business to business, electricity sales and electricity generation. It has benefits that provide direct additionality. So you know, whatever, wherever it's, it's produced in location A and is directly connected and consumed by facility on site, so it's close to the consumers. It also doesn't use the public grid, so it reduces some of the pressures that we have in our in a grid system with grid constraints, export capacities, import capacities and the like. A benefit that is not discussed too many times is that because it's much closer to the consumers, you don't get any great losses.


Can you tell us about a project that you've worked on that's incorporated decarbonisation as a focus?

We are currently working through the planning process for a 12.2MWp system for the university of Surrey in Guildford. This project started a while ago as part of the university’s decarbonisation strategy and following a tender process SSE was selected as the preferred bidder.

Following that process our first task was to optimise the project to ensure the university achieved the maximum carbon reduction, which lead to a substantial increase from the capacity originally envisaged in the tender process. With this redesign came the need to ensure that we adapted the project to key sensitivities in the region. This led to the current configuration where we have three separate solar fields, surrounded by hedges, woodlands (including ancient woodlands) and a great opportunity to significantly enhance the biodiversity of the site.

The project will feed electricity direct into the university’s network, without putting pressure on the local distribution system and will reduce their electricity import by more than 25%. In addition, we are installing rooftop solar plants on top of several of the university’s buildings, which further reduces the university’s dependency on imported grid electricity.

It is inevitable that on sunny summer days the solar plants will produce more than the university consumes, in which case it will be fed into the local grid, ensuring that the project helps decarbonisation in the region.

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SSE Energy Solutions - Whole System Thinking


how does the whole system's thinking at FSU support your clients?

SSE’s Whole System Thinking gives us the opportunity to help our clients’ combine various options to decarbonise their operations, so that our clients don’t have to match these themselves and potentially increase their businesses’ risk.

We can look at the interactions between the behind-the-meter generation and the options to distribute and use that electricity, whether that is for instant conversion into heat, feeding electric vehicle chargers or storing it in batteries for later use.

With a whole system approach, we ensure that clients reach the full potential of reducing their carbon emissions, by being a long-term partner who can combine almost every technology ranging from solar, wind, batteries, EV chargers, new or upgraded grid connections, to private electric network and heat infrastructure.