It has been quite a long string of posts about the German energiewende. There are 14 posts, of which 13 about the Greenpeace/WWF/BBL brochure “9 myths about the German Energiewende debunked”. It was a very thankful subject and I enjoyed looking deeper into the matter and writing about it.
The last myth from the brochure is “only Germany is engaged in the energiewende”. In fact, it is not exact a myth according to me, many (Western world) countries are thinking about or are in the process of some kind of energy transition, therefor it was initially not my intention to make a post around this subject and to stop the series at myth 8.
The author(s) of the brochure had the presence of mind to conclude that every country has its own history and its own local context, but tell us that we “could be inspired by the best practices in Germany and other European countries”. Those other countries being Denmark (no surprise here), but also Italy (high share of solar) and Spain (probably idem).
But can the transition process in these countries inspire us in “weaning off fossil fuels”? Belgium has some specific challenges in that regard, so could these countries be an example for us? I think that solar power in Southern Europe makes much more sense than here in Belgium and that makes that those countries are not very comparable. Germany and Denmark could be compared much better, but I looked into the cases of Denmark and Germany before and I really doubt that these are a good example for us. Germany’s example was intensively covered in previous post, but what about Denmark?
The large share of alternative energy in Denmark is based upon many pillars. One of them is the space they have for wind power. Being a peninsula, it is surrounded by sea. Compare that to Belgium with a meager 67 km of coast line, with heavy sea traffic to be taking into account. Another very important pillar is the proximity of two big countries, Sweden and Norway, which have a large share of hydro energy. The production of energy of those two countries is also much higher than Denmark (265.6 TWh versus 34 TWh) and therefor they have the ability to absorb the ups and downs in production of their small neighbor Denmark. Without such neighbors, Denmark would need to balance its own wind production, which would make the transition much more expensive. Now it can use the connection of their grid with Sweden and Norway as some kind of battery where it can dump its overproduction when wind is blowing well and receive electricity when wind is not blowing much.
Belgium, being a small country, is surrounded by some big neighbors like The Netherlands, France and Germany, but none of them has the balancing capacities of Sweden and Norway. Germany deals with intermittency of its growing share of alternative energy on its grid by exporting electricity abroad when energy is produced at times when there is no need for it. It is much cheaper than balancing the produced electricity. The Netherlands and Belgium consider Germany as their role model and are eager to increase production of intermittent energy without investing in balancing measures. Therefor, when Germany is having too much power, Belgium and The Netherlands will have the same problem.
It was France that saved us when we came into troubles in the past. Their production is based mostly on nuclear energy and their grid was large enough to provide electricity when we need it or absorb electricity when we have to get rid of it.
So, can Belgium be inspired by the examples of Denmark, Germany, Spain and Italy? We are a small, very densely populated country which will make it difficult to exploit power sources with a low power density which needs vast spaces. We don’t have the necessary estate, whether onshore or offshore. That makes us in the disadvantage of The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, but also Spain and Italy which all have vast coast lines, are less densely populated, have more sun hours than our somber little country. On top of that we don’t have big neighbors that can balance our intermittent power nor do we have the ability to do it ourselves. One would need quite some imagination to take those countries as inspiration for the Belgian situation.