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Researcher stories: Renewables are important, but will not solve the energy crisis in themselves

2022-10-14 10:45:04

From September, every week we will introduce an excellent Corvinus researcher who has recently been rewarded for his/her work. This time we introduce our colleague, László Szabó, who has been researching the energy sector for 25 years, analysing medium- and long-term consumption, production and glasshouse gas emission trends.

At the end of his years at university, in 1995, two directions were taking shape in László Szabó’s head. Take his degree from the finance and environmental economy programme and plunge into the Hungarian banking system still in development after the change in the political system, or deepen his knowledge in environmental economy, and continue his academic career in the doctoral school.

The banking system lost a talented finance expert, but the energy sector won an exceptional researcher, and László started to work for the Energy Authority, in parallel with the doctoral school. ‘This was a very useful period for me, as I had first-hand experience in the relations and dilemmas of the Hungarian energy system, while writing analyses’, he explained about the start of his career, and then his life made a major turn.

Examine the global energy industry from Seville

In 2002, through an international tender, he joined the energy team of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in Seville. His tasks included the production of modellings and analyses for long-term climate issues, for the European Commission. László spent the next nine years absorbed in professional work: ‘We were looking at the energy market from a global and European perspective, which was totally new to me. I had the chance to work in a very good community, with excellent colleagues. That was the time when I learned to think in a global approach, and what it means to build an energy model.’

This is where he first saw how a publication of international level is produced. ‘As far as I remember, I did not publish anything in the first two years, and then I needed three years before my first few articles were published in international journals. We had to produce our analyses required for everyday work in a completely different way, compared to the expectations of an academic article, and it took some time to get used to that. This was valid not only for me, most of my colleagues were in the same situation’, he explains how cumbersome the process of publication may be for a young researcher.
In László’s experience, the first two or three publications are the most difficult. ‘The important steps include that we check what publications were produced earlier in the topic, how others examined the issue, and we have to highlight the novelty added by the researcher to the academic discourse. Hats off to people who go through this alone, my professional workshop meant a safe background to that. This process cannot be measured in months, rather in years.’

You can publish articles abroad from Hungary, too

When he returned to Hungary in 2011, he already had a specific request from the Regional Centre for Energy Policy Research (REKK) belonging to the Corvinus University.

‘I started to work as a senior research fellow, and I saw that the majority of the topics researched by the colleagues would be interesting at international level, too, but they do not submit them to international journals.’

In the next period, he helped his colleagues to increase the number of the international publications of the research centre. He gave advice on the basis of his previous experience, as to what researches should be in the focus, and what might be interesting for prestigious journals.

In addition, he also represented the idea that when a researcher gets a feedback suggesting the reworking of a study, it is worth spending more time on the article, so that it could be published.

According to his experience, it helps when a topic is presented internationally with the involvement of foreign authors. Joint work may be a good message from the aspect of different viewpoints, other knowledge and the relevance of the subject, too, and the editors of journals take such publications more seriously.

In 2018 László became the head of the REKK, but he has always attempted deliberately to find time to read and be up-to-date with academic articles. He explains that this is often difficult beside his management tasks, but he devotes at least one day per week to research only. In fact, he often has the weekends only for that purpose. In 2021 he won the Corvinus Research Excellence Prize in the Senior lecturer-researcher category.

Renewables in focus

Apart from their own research, the staff of the REKK produces on-demand analyses, background materials and studies to assist decisions. László is extremely proud of their last work of this kind, as they were actively involved in the preparations for the National Energy and Climate Plan. The European Union obliged all the Member States to produce a comprehensive strategy like that, and the REKK assisted in the assessment of the issues related to energy consumption and energy efficiency in Hungary.

‘In connection with the energy policy of Hungary, currently one of the most exciting questions is how many renewable energy sources would the electricity network be able to manage. There is an important technical debate going on about this, as considering the present energy prices, renewable energy is relatively cheap, but without the proper development of the network infrastructure, it does not mean a viable solution if all the people simply install cheap solar panels on their houses. The present network would not be able to handle it yet’, points out László, as one of the key conclusions of the analyses.

He also adds that the energy network in Hungary develops at a pace that the country may reach an annual capacity of 6 thousand megawatts already in 2025, although not long ago it was planned for 2030 only. With this rate of development, the network will have much higher capacities by 2030. In László Szabó’s opinion, the biggest challenge will be presented by the balancing of the fluctuations in the energy yields of renewable sources. ‘It does not matter if the weather is cloudy or there is less wind, the energy demand of the population is constant, so the network has to be able to serve the demands in every moment. It is highly risky to rely on renewables only, therefore we have to find the right balance between nuclear energy, fossil energy sources, solar panels, wind power plants and other renewable options.

László thinks that one of the key emerging technologies will be storage solutions, as the most important requirements now are reliability and the security of supply. From a certain aspect, this overwrites the so far strongest preference, the sustainability aspect. If a country is able to use proper storages, it can improve its own security of supply. The market presently offers battery storages, and László expects their further improvement and the emergence of new technologies in the future.

Even in the present chaotic period, he finds it an important researcher task to make sure that the key decisions in energy issues are made on scientific basis, as we are creating the new energy market foundations for the next 20-30 years now. He thinks that diversification is important for each country, and affects the decisions of the population, too.:

‘In the system built by the Central European countries, 70-80 per cent of the people use gas heating, which is not sustainable on the long term. Only the cooperation of the people can bring a change in that’.

László also pointed out that everybody has to make sacrifices at individual level, and ask the question whether it is justified to heat their homes to 24-25 degrees when the whole world is struggling with energy crisis. This is in line with the REKK research examining how much energy we can save if the population sets the thermostats to 2-3 degrees lower than the previous average.

Author: László Tucsni, Corvinus Communications

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GEN.:2024.07.18. - 13:32:03