Elia: ‘Belgium produces more energy than it uses’
Last year, the total consumption of electricity in Belgium decreased by 3%. In 2019, consumption was 84,7 terawatt-hours or the lowest level since 2014. Older figures are not available.
“We have seen a decline in the energy consumption for some years now,” says Elia spokeswoman, Marleen Vanhecke. “Especially the industry has improved its energy efficiency. Also, the mild winter may have played a role.”
The decreasing consumption is positive to meet climate goals, but Elia does not expect that this trend will continue. The advent of the electric car and the electrification of heating will make consumption rise again the next decade.
Surplus of energy
Due to problems with the nuclear power plants in 2018, Belgium had to get one-fifth of its energy from abroad. Last year, the situation was just the opposite: Belgium had a surplus of electricity. The country even was a net exporter of electricity, as is shown by the figures of net manager Elia.
In 2019, more electricity (1,8 terawatt-hours) was exported than imported. The net export represented 2,1% of the total electricity production in Belgium.
While the Belgian nuclear power plants traditionally supply almost half of the total energy, in 2018, that share went down to 31% due to concrete problems, leaking wiring, and maintenance. Six of the seven plants were closed down. Last year, however, the situation was normalized and again produced half of the energy.
But there are more explanations why Belgium is exporting more energy than it imports. Apart from the presence of nuclear plants, the larger production of renewable energy, and the increasing connection capacity with our neighboring countries also play an important part.
The share of solar energy remained more or less stable, but wind energy peaked. Thanks to the sixth offshore wind farm, Norther, the share of power at sea went up from 3,8 to 5,5% of the Belgian electricity production. Renewable energy represented 16% of the Belgian electricity production in December, a record.
Certainty of supply
“Energy production is becoming more and more European,” Elia says. “Last year, we put a new interconnection cable into operation in the UK, and by the end of 2020, we will be able to export renewable energy to Germany thanks to the new Alegro cable at the eastern border of the country.”
However, all those figures don’t say anything about the certainty of supply in Belgium. Import and export depend on the connection capacity of the wiring to other countries, but also on the production price of power plants in our country and abroad.
What if consumption peaks?
Question is: is Belgium capable of producing enough electricity at moments when consumption peaks, and no or almost no renewable energy is available? Last year, Elia already calculated that there will be a shortage of electricity in 2023 when the first two nuclear power plants will shut down. And, according to the law on the nuclear phase-out, the other power plants will follow by 2025.
Belgian engineers and the industry, however, are pleading for longer use of the power plants. “Lengthening their life-span will avoid that the energy transition will lead to electricity shortages,” they say. Two years ago, the industry already opposed to the nuclear phase-out by 2025. “Nuclear phase-out would increase electricity prices for companies and households by 20%,” the Belgian federation Agoria at that time argued.
Meanwhile, Minister of Energy, Marie-Christine Marghem (MR), is working on a subsidy mechanism to push the construction of gas power plants to replace the nuclear power plants.