Will Belgium's energy supply be sufficient in the long term?
The Belgian government and French energy supplier Engie agreed on Thursday to extend the Tihange 3 and Doel 4 reactors. But is this agreement enough to guarantee electricity supplies in the long term?
By extending the life of the two nuclear reactors, Belgium will increase its electricity production by 1.7 gigawatts, enabling it to cope with the threat of shortages in the winter of 2025-2026.
"Our country's supply has never been more secure than today," said Energy minister Tinne Van der Straeten (Groen). But the deal is unlikely to prevent electricity supply problems in the near future. This is according to a study network operator Elia published on Thursday.
Higher electricity consumption
With the ongoing electrification of society - electric cars, electric heat pumps and the electrification of industrial processes - annual electricity consumption in Belgium will be more than 50 per cent higher in 10 years than it is today. This means that around 2.9 gigawatts of additional capacity will be needed by 2029 to ensure supply, says Elia, five years earlier than its last forecast two years ago.
Specifically, an average of 700 megawatts will need to be added each year between 2025 and 2029. In the coming years, the Princess Elisabeth Zone - the Belgian wind farm in the North Sea - and additional connections to the UK and Denmark will still be able to provide enough capacity. If these projects are delayed, power shortages could occur sooner.
Also after 2033, Elia sees demand for additional capacity accelerating due to increasing electrification. The grid operator argues that action needs to be taken now, including investment in infrastructure and digitalisation.
A long-term vision is needed, although Van der Straeten's cabinet argues that this is already in place. It points to the Capacity Reminder Mechanism, which Belgium introduced in 2021 to ensure the security of its electricity supply after the planned closure of all its nuclear power plants.
For the past two years, this mechanism has been allocating support through annual auctions to units that can supply or save electricity from 2025 onwards. Van der Straeten's cabinet argued that this is an aspect that the Elia study has not considered.