Belgium’s Elia warns for too much electricity this summer

Belgian high-voltage operator Elia is calling on the market to be vigilant this summer. There is a chance that Belgium will produce too much power because all available nuclear power plants are running, and especially because a lot of solar panels have been added this year.

This threatens to put pressure on the electricity system. As an ultimate measure, the grid operator may start switching off large solar farms.

25% chance, says Elia

Elia estimates that Belgium will have around 10 gigawatts of solar panel capacity by July. This could mean that at times of high supply – a sunny day with wind and low demand – the weekend, when few factories are running, the power grid will come under pressure.

This creates surpluses that need to be eliminated. Those surpluses could be very high, leading to a high export need (up to 7.5 gigawatts). Elia estimates the probability of this happening to be 25% this summer during the weekends.

Call for vigilance

Elia is, therefore, calling on market players to be “vigilant”. After all, it is primarily the market and big players that must provide balance. They can then, for instance, switch off generation or activate consumption.

When the market alone cannot restore balance, Elia intervenes. For example, the system operator can start switching off large offshore wind farms. This happens quite often.

Elia may also start knocking on the door of neighboring countries’ system operators to send extra power across national borders. However, it is not yet sure that it could dispose of those power surpluses there, as the same situation can sometimes arise in those border countries.

In exceptional circumstances, Elia may even switch off large solar or onshore wind farms – something that has never happened before. Moreover, the government has not yet determined which regions or consumers will be left without power in that case, whether compensation will be paid in return, and if so, who will have to pay it — discussions on this are still ongoing between system operators such as Fluvius and Sibelga, and regulators.

Temporary phenomenon

Elia has long argued for a much more flexible power grid so that power is drawn mainly when there is a lot of production, for example, when people go to charge their electric cars or home batteries.

The expected surpluses this summer are not without danger. In extremis, they could cause a frequency increase on the European grid, which would jeopardize grid stability.

According to Elia, this is also a temporary phenomenon because of the emergence of market flexibility and the installation of large battalion parks where this excess energy can be stored. Indeed, many battery farms have contracts with Elia to provide support and balancing services. In return, they receive a fee, while they can also sell that stored energy later, such as on a cloudy day, at a higher price.

In Belgium, some five gigawatts of battery parks are in the pipeline. That corresponds to the capacity of five nuclear power plants.

Elia also plans a 15.9 billion-euro infrastructure investment to tackle the energy transition, proceeding much faster than expected.


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