Wind and solar in Belgium: among the best in the EU, maybe even the world?

From the department of everyone-gets-a-price comes this tweet (translated from Dutch):

Also in the field of wind energy, we are currently at the top in Europe

Huuuurrrraaaah! Belgium is at the top in the EU for something!

A strange detail: the third bar is highligthed, but this is the bar that represents the value of the Netherlands, not the fourth bar of Belgium. The Minister most probably borrowed this graph from someone who researched the rank of the Netherlands in the EU (probably from this tweet). It is a bit confusing to see the third bar highlighted when the statement is about the fourth (not highlighted) bar.

Going down in the conversation, it appeared that by “at the top” the Minister meant “within the top 5 or even top 10”. That top is the fourth place when considering … “MWh wind energy per km2“. So apparently he is talking about electricity consumption in the EU (not “Europe”).

Before we throw a party to celebrate this memorable event, let’s first look at the significance of being at the top of MWh wind energy per km2

First I tried to reproduce that top position for wind. If I take the 2016 BP data (that I used often in previous posts) and the country area information that I found in the list of countries and dependencies by area wiki page, then I can confirm the fourth place of Belgium:

There is more, the first 11 countries in the list are all European. So the Minister apparently was holding himself back. Belgium is not only among the best of the EU, he could as well have said that Belgium is among the best of the WORLD… 😉

His previous tweet was about the same metric for solar energy (translated from Dutch):

Very tight race between Germany and Belgium for podium places 2 and 3 solar panels/m2 (sic)

Also here, don’t be distracted by the red bar of the Netherlands. Belgium is the third bar, behind Germany. The first place is occupied by Malta with a value that is going well above the maximum value of the y-axis (450 for a y-axis that only goes to 140 MWh/km2).

However, it was not possible to reproduce that graph. This is what I found using the BP data and country area data from wikipedia:

According to the BP data, the first place of EU countries is for Germany and Belgium is a close second, but …

… where is Malta?

This goes to the heart of the problem with this kind of metric. Searching for more information on solar energy in Malta, I didn’t really find how much the share is. I did find a 2016 article that Malta is still doing poorly on renewable energy. I also found a wikipedia entry on energy in Malta that the capacity of solar photovoltaic in Malta is expected to be 28 MW … in 2020. That is a yearly production of 0.043 TWh, which is below the BP threshold to be included in the table (0.05 TWh). So it will still be a few years before it even enters the tables of BP.

It should be clear by now that there are serious problems with this kind of metric. Malta has a neglectable amount of solar energy, yet its value is going completely off the chart. Belgium doesn’t have particularly much wind or solar (nor by share nor by capacity), but according to this metric we are supposed to be at the top of the EU, nah, even the whole world…

The point is that Malta and Belgium are small countries and densely populated (Malta has a population density of 3 times that of Belgium), therefor a high need for energy compared to the surface area. All energy sources would be amplified when using this metric.

I wondered how nuclear power would fare with this MWh/km2 metric. It is the biggest power source in Belgium, with a share of more than half of the electricity consumption. This is the result:

According to this metric, Belgium is in the absolute top when it comes to nuclear energy! I didn’t hear the Minister about that. We are in second position, closely behind South Korea and way above the third on the list (Taiwan). We even beat our southern neighbor big times, which only comes at the fourth place despite its huge share of nuclear energy.

Eat your heart out, France!

Concluding, this is a completely meaningless metric and has nothing to do with policies on wind or solar energy. It is in fact an artifact of our country being rather small and densely populated. This high density means many people on a small surface area needing energy. No wonder we are at the top when it comes to comparing energy consumption per km2.

Does the Minister realizes that the comparison he showed is completely meaningless? He should, he is the Minister of Energy, for goodness sake. My guess however is that he didn’t realize it and just shared the “good news” with his followers. Which wouldn’t do him a favor either.


5 thoughts on “Wind and solar in Belgium: among the best in the EU, maybe even the world?

    1. trustyetverify Post author

      I don’t think he is the sharpest knife in the drawer. To me, he seems more like a follower who does what he is told (make the energy transition with solar and wind). As a bachelor in Communications, energy is not his natural environment (confirmed in those two tweets). That shouldn’t be an issue though IF his advisers were energy experts who know the ins-and-outs of Belgian energy, but judging on their degrees (law, political sciences), they are clearly not.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. manicbeancounter

    There is one graphic where Belgium leads Europe.

    Fig. 2. Percentage deviation of GHG emissions following the consumption-based principle (CBP) from those following the production-based principle (PBP) for the EU-28 in 2011.

    That is Belgium more emissions in the products that it imports than the emissions than the emissions it exports. It might be because it is a service-based economy, with very little heavy industry. Or it might be, like France, Belgium has very low emissions in its electricity generation.
    The article concentrates on Austria, but is applicable to Belgium as well. One lesson is that if high energy costs drive businesses to India or China, a country’s emissions may decrease, but global emissions may increase. For instance, a steel industry using mostly electricity from nuclear will generate fewer emissions than where the electricity is from coal.

    “Austria’s consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions: Identifying sectoral sources and destinations”


    1. trustyetverify Post author

      Hurrah! We keep on winning 😉

      Could be both reasons in our case: we are a small, import based country with (currently) a rather clean electricity production.That could change in the future though (our politicians are getting really desperate to get rid of nuclear power to follow in the tracks of Germany).



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s