For the first time in the past 10 years, Belgium is again a net exporter of electricity. This information, based on annual figures published by high-voltage grid system operator, Elia, is very encouraging for the sector.
Several factors are at work to explain these positive Belgian results: the increase in renewable production, the better availability of the nuclear fleet, the restart of some gas power stations and the reduced demand in electricity which enabled Belgium to export 2.1% of its production in 2019.
Let’s go back to the most significant developments.
Record renewable production in 2019
In 2019, 13.7% of the electricity produced came from renewable sources (mainly from offshore, onshore wind turbines and solar panels) while the share of renewable energy represented only 11.8% of the Belgian mix electric in 2018.
Source : Elia
The month of December, which was particularly windy, was the witness of a record for renewable electricity production: 1.17 TWh produced in one month, equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of 334,000 households. This production actually covered 16% of our electricity needs for the month of December, a record never reached in Belgium before.
Renewable production driven by offshore wind power plant
This growth in renewable production is mainly due to the development of offshore wind power plant. In 2019, 4,700 GWh of electricity was produced at sea. In 10 years, the production capacity of offshore wind farms has grown exponentially. Production capacity increased from 30 MW in 2009 to 1,556 MW in 2019. This last year has seen the largest increase in terms of installed production capacity thanks to the launch of the 6th off-shore wind farm. The Norther wind farm welcomed 44 new offshore wind turbines with a nominal capacity of 8.4 MW.
The sector federation, Belgian Offshore Platform, is confident regarding the future as two new parks will be built in 2020: Northwester II (219 MW) and Seamade (487 MW). The commissioning of these 2 new projects in the Belgian North Sea will increase the installed capacity to 2,262 MW. As a comparison, Doel 3 has a power of 1,006 MW and Doel 4 of 1,039 MW.
Source : Belgian Offshore Platform
At the end of 2020, average offshore wind production should be around 8 TWh of electricity a year, equivalent to the average annual consumption of 2,2 million Belgian families, or half of residential consumption in Belgium.
According to the Marine Spatial Planning Plan, new areas will allow to develop an additional 2,000 MW capacity by 2030.
An increase in nuclear availability
The second factor that led to a net export of electricity: the availability rate of nuclear production tools which settled down electricity production after a turbulent year in 2018. Nuclear production has represented 48.8% of the 2019 Belgian electricity mix, while it was at its lowest level in 2018 (31.2% of the Belgian electricity mix).
Lower electricity consumption
Finally, the drop in electricity consumption also played in favor of the good Belgian results of 2019. According to Elia figures, electricity consumption in Belgium in 2019 is fallen at its lowest level in 6 years. In 2019, Belgium consumed 84.7 TWh of electricity compared to 87.5 TWh in 2018.
These positive results have their origins in efficiency gains among households and businesses. However, these good results need to be qualified. Indeed, Elia expects an increase in electricity consumption in the coming years, due to the increasing electrification of the society, mainly the deployment of electric mobility and the use of heat pumps for heating buildings.