The electricity system in Belgium is undergoing a rapid and fundamental change. The key trends that are driving the process of energy transition in the country are the growing share of renewable-based energy generation, rising decentralised energy generation and consumption, and intensified international cooperation.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency’s 2016 estimates, green energies such as solar energy, wind energy and hydraulic energy account for about 7.1 per cent of Belgium’s final energy consumption. With its efforts towards achieving a carbon-free economy, the country is expected to meet its target of 13 per cent energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020.
In order to achieve the set goals, the country’s transmission system operator (TSO), Elia, is pursuing various projects that facilitate the decarbonisation of the energy mix, achieve more efficient electricity markets and enhance security of electricity supply.
Renewable Watch highlights the grid plan for energy transition in Belgium.
Grid plan for energy transition
Investments in Belgium’s transmission network are being driven by the need to renew and redeploy transmission assets for efficient renewable integration. In this regard, Elia has designed its investment plans with a special focus on energy transition. The company is actively working on the upgrade and maintenance of the high voltage (HV) grid to integrate more renewable energy while maintaining the security of supply. The establishment of new cross-border interconnections is also a key component of Elia’s investment strategy, especially in the wake of the shutdown of nuclear power plants (such as Doel 3 and Tihange 2). It aims to increase the country’s electricity import capacity from the current levels of about 3.5 GW to 6.5 GW by 2020.
In 2016, the company invested around Euro 500 million in projects aimed at increasing the cross-border interconnection capacity, renewable integration, HV asset replacement, internal consumption and other non-electrical investments. Going forward, between 2017 and 2020, the TSO is likely to invest around Euro 1,675 million in the expansion of Belgium’s transmission network. The majority of the funds will be spent on developing interconnections, followed by investments in integrating renewable energy sources and replacing ageing assets. During the same period, Elia is expected to add 207 km of lines (see Table).
Elia’s development projects can be classified under the following categories:
- Projects aimed at enhanced operations of the energy market and security of supply in Belgium.
- Projects aimed at better integration of renewable energy.
- Projects for enhanced security of supply in Belgium.
Enhanced operations of the energy market
- The Nemo Link Interconnector, or Project Nemo, is the first subsea electricity connection between the UK and Belgium. It involves establishing a high voltage direct current (HVDC) connection between the UK and Belgium along with the construction of two ±1,000 MW HVDC voltage source converters (VSC), one each in Belgium and the UK. It includes the construction of 140 km of HVDC lines. The project is targeted for completion in 2019.
- The Aachen-Liège Electric Grid Overlay (ALEGrO) link, which is aimed at enhancing the security of supply between Germany and Belgium, is a 380 kV underground HVDC interconnection between Aachen in Germany and Liège in Belgium. It entails the construction of a 100 km line, of which 49 km will be in Belgium and the rest will be in Germany. This interconnection will be one of the first links to connect the HV electricity systems of Germany and Belgium by installing HVDC converter stations in both countries and connecting them to the existing alternating current (AC) grid. The European Commission is supporting the project with funding under the Trans-European Energy Networks Programme. In October 2013, the project was included as a Project of Common Interest for the development of energy infrastructure in Europe. The estimated cost of the ALEGro link is Euro 450 million-Euro 570 million. It is expected to be commissioned in 2020.
- The two-part Brabo project aims to strengthen the country’s HV grid and consolidate security of supply for both the port of Antwerp and Belgium as a whole. Further, the major benefits of the project include improved supply capacity to cope with the growing electricity consumption in the Port of Antwerp and the upgradation of the north-south axis of the international European interconnection grid to improve international trade opportunities and reduce the reliance on the country’s generating facilities.
The first part entails the construction of a new 380 kV line between the HV substations at Zandvliet (near BASF) and Lillo (near Liefkenshoek tunnel) to replace the existing 150 kV line. Construction work on this section is currently under way and is expected to be completed by 2020. When complete, the first part of the project will form a 380 kV ring around the Port of Antwerp. It also entailed the upgradation of the existing 150 kV line between Belgium’s Zandvliet and Doel to a 380 kV line, which was completed in November 2016.
The second part entails the upgradation of the existing 150 kV line connecting Liefkenshoek, municipality of Beveren, to the Mercator substation, municipality of Kruibeke, via the Kallo substation (municipality of Beveren), to the 380 kV line. The building permit process for this part of the project has been scheduled for 2023.
Better integration of renewable energy
- The Stevin project is a vital link to secure electricity supply in Belgium, particularly in the country’s coastal regions. The project is aimed at reinforcing the country’s HV grid by laying a 47 km long, double-circuit, 380 kV line between Zomergem and Zeebrugge. The project will enable the transmission of wind power from offshore wind farms to the mainland. It also opens up the possibility of establishing an international connection with the UK, thus enhancing the capacity for import and export between the two countries.
- The Boucle de l’Est project is intended to reinforce the existing grid network to accommodate upcoming renewable energy generation in Liège province’s eastern region. The first stage of the Boucle de l’Est project (the Bévercé– Bütgenbach–Amel connection) is currently in the final phase and will be completed in 2017. The second stage involves the replacement and upgradation of the overhead line (OHL) connecting Bévercé (Malmédy), Bronrome, Trois-Ponts (Coo) and Brume located in the municipalities of Malmédy, Stoumont, Stavelot, Spa and Trois-Ponts. The work is scheduled to start in 2019 and be completed by 2021.
Apart from these projects, Elia plans to invest Euro 400 million in the creation of a modular offshore grid (MOG) in the North Sea. The MOG will be located 40 km from the coast of Zeebrugge. It will have a platform via which new wind farms will be connected. Three 220 kV submarine cables will be used to connect the MOG with the Stevin substation in Zeebrugge for transmitting electricity from the wind farms to the Belgian grid.
The MOG is being considered as the first building block of a future North Sea grid. It will help Elia in connecting the upcoming offshore wind farms, including Rentel, Northwester 2, Mermaid and Seastar, to the Belgian grid in a reliable and cost-effective manner. The four wind farms are expected to produce about 1.03 GW of electricity. The grid has been designed to create opportunities for future offshore development and interconnections with neighbouring countries in the European Union. Its construction is expected to be phased and synchronised with the time schedules of individual wind farms. At present, Elia is conducting soil condition investigations along the cable route. The MOG is expected to be installed and put to use in the third quarter of 2019.
Enhanced security of supply
- The Mercator-Horta connection is an overhead HV line linking Kruibeke and Zomergem. The 49 km long line, crossing 12 municipalities, was built in the 1970s. The project entails the upgradation of the line to integrate the increasing share of renewable generation units. The project is also expected to assist Elia in importing more power from overseas. Currently, it is going through the permit procedure.
Belgium’s key focus area in the electricity sector continues to be investments in renewable capacity and the transmission grid. Considering the objective of generating larger volumes of renewable energy, Elia is playing a major role in the country’s energy transition. Overall, the company’s grid plans are in line with Belgium’s renewable energy goals.