With nuclear power being phased out in the country, the Belgian Offshore Platform believes offshore wind can fill help fill the gap, but the Belgian Government needs to act quickly to speed up deployment and address grid connection issues
As in the UK, where offshore wind is being asked to step up and replace nuclear generating capacity, Belgium has a problem of its own to fix due to the accelerated phase out of coal in neighbouring countries and its own need to replace nuclear, which the government has committed to by late 2025.
The problem in question amounts to around 3.9 GW of generating capacity. Back in 2017, Elia estimated that the country would need 3.6 GW of replacement capacity by the mid-2020s, but the figure has risen since, partly due to the accelerated exit of coal in Belgium’s neighbours, especially in Germany.
The exit of coal in the Netherlands, UK, Italy, France and especially Germany will have an adverse impact on Belgium’s ability to import electricity in the winter months. Even if nuclear is phased out more slowly or a couple of reactors are maintained in operation for longer, there will still be a systematic need for new capacity in the country.
It was always going to be a tough ask to replace all of its nuclear capacity by the winter of 2025/26, but the phase out of coal elsewhere in Europe and reduced capacity from interconnectors are really piling on the pressure.
As a report published in June by Elia, the Belgian transmission system operator noted, the 3.9 GW can be provided by any technology as long as Belgium maintains security of supply. The good news is that despite the additional challenges increasing renewable energy will pose for system management, Elia expects the system will be able to cope and that new technology such as storage and demand side response will help it to manage fluctuations in a renewable electricity-based system.
As Elia’s chief executive Chris Peeters noted, given the country’s ever-growing need for new capacity, it is crucial that the federal government makes decisions about new capacity and that its work on developing a capacity remuneration mechanism (CRM) continues unabated, so that Belgium has a robust safety net to maintain security of supply at all times.
“In addition to preparing for a CRM, it is equally important to focus on the accelerated development of renewable energy sources to meet climate change targets,” said Mr Peeters. One of those forms of renewable energy has to be offshore wind, about which a memorandum was submitted to the Belgian Prime Minister only a few months ago.
In that memorandum, covering the period 2019-2024, the Belgian Offshore Platform (BOP) noted that by 2020, eight windfarms in the Belgian North Sea will together produce 2.3 GW of offshore wind energy and provide approximately 10% of Belgium’s electricity demand.
“Offshore wind energy technology has developed at a rapid pace,” said the BOP. “Costs have fallen and continue to fall, and construction of offshore windfarms takes place four times faster than 10 years ago.
“In view of climate-change urgency, it is necessary for the next federal government to continue and accelerate its efforts to develop this large-scale and carbon-neutral electricity production in the Belgian North Sea,” said the BOP.
In December 2018, in a 2020-2026 Marine Spatial Plan, a federally-approved roadmap for new offshore wind zones and guidelines for public tendering was approved. This means that a blueprint for the next 2.0 GW of Belgian offshore wind is complete – which is good news – but the government’s goal that new windfarms should start producing power by the end of 2026 is not particularly ambitious: 2.0 GW may not be enough, and the windfarms would only enter service in 2026-2028.
The BOP’s request to the government that it enables a public tender for new offshore wind capacity, to be launched in 2020, is more urgent now than ever. In consultation with regional governments and local authorities, the government also needs to get cracking to help the grid operator accelerate connection and integration of new offshore wind power. It also needs to make developing offshore wind easier, by simplifying licensing and appeal procedures, as has happened in Belgium’s near-neighbour, the Netherlands.
BOP director Wim Biesemans told OWJ, “The government has designated new zones for 2.0 GW of offshore wind energy in the 2020-2026 Marine Spatial Plan and has also approved the blueprint for the new allocation process.
“This process is due to be completed by the end of 2022, which would allow the new capacity to be allocated in 2023 at the earliest.
“However, in the 2020-2030 Federal Development Plan, the grid operator stated that the connection for the new offshore capacity could only be guaranteed by 2026-2028.
“The BOP is therefore asking the federal government to speed up implementation of the competitive tendering process. We are also requesting that authorisation procedures necessary to reinforce the high-voltage grid are simplified and accelerated so that the grid operator can guarantee connection in good time.
“Basically, the BOP is asking the government to publish details of the tendering process for offshore wind energy next year, in 2020, and that the grid connection for the 2.0 GW be guaranteed by 2023-2024.”
Asked about the 2.0 GW target and how much more might be possible, Mr Biesemans said the BOP would like to speed up the deployment of new capacity so that around 4.0 GW of offshore wind capacity is fully operational by the start of the nuclear phase out.
“That would mean launching a tender by 2020, allocation by 2021, development starting in 2022 with construction in 2023,” said Mr Biesemans. “That would enable the new capacity to be operational by 2024.” Details of whatever kind of tender process the government opts for are due to be outlined in a forthcoming Royal Decree.
The draft of Belgium’s National Energy and Climate Plan proposes a target for renewable energy of 18.3% compared with the EU-wide renewable energy target of 32% by 2030. This stands in contrast to Belgium’s 2020 renewable energy target of 13%. Offshore wind energy is a key factor in reaching both the Belgian and European climate objectives, but although the Belgian draft outlines greater ambition for offshore wind, 4 GW of total installed capacity by 2030 is way behind what the BOP believes is feasible and necessary.
At the time of writing, 1.556 GW of offshore wind was installed in the Belgian sector of the North Sea. Final investment decisions (FIDs) have been taken on two more projects – Northwester 2, 219 MW, which will be operational in 2020 and Seamade, 487 MW, which will be operational in 2020. As of the end of 2020 Belgium should therefore have offshore wind capacity of 2.262 GW.
Construction of Belgium’s sixth windfarm, Norther, with a capacity of 370 MW, is progressing well and is under way on Northwester 2. Foundation installation for Seamade is due to get underway shortly too. Inauguration of the 309 MW Rentel offshore windfarm took place in April 2019. Rentel is first offshore windfarm built by Otary, a consortium that unites eight major Belgian wind players.