Brussels-City joins forces with the Solar Impulse Foundation
The City of Brussels signed on Wednesday with Bertrand Piccard, the Solar Impulse pilot with two world tours under his belt, a collaboration agreement for its ecological transition. The agreement aims at providing concrete and immediate responses to the climate emergency. It is valid for a renewable period of two years, but the partnership is not linked to any financial counterpart.
The Solar Impulse Foundation has identified innovative ecological solutions throughout the world. “Call it a kind of super technology watch on which we can base our choices,” says Benoit Hellings, the first Alderman in charge of Climate and Sports.
1 000 solutions
Since the end of Bertrand Piccard’s solar airplane epic – one in an air balloon and the other in the Solar Impulse electric plane – the Swiss adventurer and expert has sent himself a new objective: to label and promote 1 000 efficient solutions that are already available to protect the environment in a profitable way. An ambition that is in line with the City of Brussels’ desire to give a clear boost to respond to the climate emergency.
“Every year, the central purchasing office, the Brussels Kitchens, and the city’s car fleet make very large purchases of products and tools that enable the City to serve citizens and associations,” says Benoit Hellings (Ecolo), whose departments also supervise these three bodies.
“We have imposed a new guideline where the environmental criterion must certainly be followed in public procurement,” Hellings says in the newspaper La Libre Belgique. “But these buyers are not always aware of everything that exists on the market. That’s where the Foundation comes in.”
The Foundation has already been consulted, for example, on the replacement of the refrigerated trucks of the Brussels Kitchens, which deliver between 12 000 and 15 000 meals a day. They were all diesel vehicles that needed to be replaced, and the city was looking for more sustainable alternatives. The Foundation showed them the way to vehicles that run on electricity and compressed natural gas and that are equipped with a cooling system using CO2 foam instead of cold generators.
In other words: Solar Impulse makes suggestions but does not impose anything. It does not recommend a specific brand but indicates the technologies that already exist on the market and are proven. Public procurement rules continue to apply, i.e. the choice of the most advantageous offer in relation to previously determined criteria.
Exchange of information
The partnership agreement also provides for the City of Brussels to distribute solutions identified and tested by its own departments within the Solar Impulse network. It has already suggested to the Foundation that it introduces into its portfolio a water leak detection tool developed by a Belgian company so that it can inform other public authorities elsewhere in the world.
Intelligent sensors placed on water meters have, for example, made it possible to detect a leak in the Manneken-Pis fountain basin, which corresponds to the water consumption of 30 households.
Roll out the carpet
With this approach, the city assumes that it is opting for solutions that are sometimes a little more expensive to purchase than a less sustainable alternative. “It is the role of public authorities to show the way forward by adopting the most environmentally friendly path possible,” explains Benoit Hellings. “We must support emerging technologies to make them economically accessible to the private sector and individuals, although, of course, we also have to adjust our behavior.”
Link with Brussels
Bertrand Piccard, for his part, recalled his family link with Brussels. “When my grandfather made his stratospheric ascents, he was a professor at the ULB. He created the chair of physics. What I learned from him was that scientific exploration should serve to improve the quality of life and protect the environment. This is what guided my father in his underwater research, and this is what guided me in aeronautical research.”
So far, the Solar Impulse Foundation has collected 400 pieces of evidence that environmental protection is profitable and creates jobs. “We are looking for another 600 to come with 1 000 solutions for today,” says Piccard. “I think these are the tools that are missing when we set ambitious objectives for the future. When we say we want to be carbon-neutral by 2050, that’s fine, but we need to know how to get there.”