David Foxwell reflects on Belgium’s urgent need to build new renewable generating capacity
It’s not just in the UK that offshore wind is likely to be asked to step up and replace nuclear generating capacity. Belgium has a little problem to fix of its own 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 last week 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’s 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 total 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 they should start producing power by the end of 2026 is not ambitious enough, and nor is 2.0 GW.
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.