Turns out that our Minister of Energy last week made the claim that “2 GW represents 2% of our energy supply”. That doesn’t make much sense. Initially, I couldn’t find where exactly she said that. There was a lot of chatter about it on social media, but it was not clear what she said exactly and in what context. Luckily, I found this tweet on her Twitter time line (translated from Dutch):
Government will decide on the basis of affordability and security of supply and I will add a third criterion: energy independence.
2 GW represents 2% of our energy supply. We need an agreement for 100% of our energy supply.
The tag #deochtend in that tweet refers to the radio program “De Ochtend” (“The Morning”) and yes, on February 28 there was an interview in that program with our Energy Minister about the situation in Ukraine and its consequences on our energy prices (from 02:13:48 until 02:24:40, the 2% claim is made at 02:22:24). The context of this claim is the Belgian nuclear exit. There are currently two options:
- Decommissioning all seven Belgian nuclear power plants (plan A)
- Decommissioning the five oldest and only keeping the two youngest running (plan B).
That 2% number is part of plan B. Those two remaining power plants have a capacity of 2 GW and the reasoning is that the two remaining power plants only produce 2% of our energy supply, therefor keeping them open will not solve anything and we would better close them too.
Many, me included, were really puzzled by that statement. A power plant with a capacity of 2 GW can still provide a rather big chunk of our electricity supply (18 – 20%), so how on earth does she get to such a low number?
My first guess was that we should not try to explain this claim by using logic and reason. I assumed that we should take the claim literary (she is after all a lawyer, not an engineer). That would mean something like 2 GW is 2% of 100 GWh, or something like that. That seems pretty ridiculous, but she would not be the first politician who entertains such a weird train of thought. That was a dead end, I couldn’t find anything that would explain this 2% that way. A comment below the tweet proposed that it might rather be daily production versus daily supply rather than an (annual) average, but that didn’t add up either. Daily demand in February was already above 200 GWh.
But then, what is she talking about exactly? Let’s first try to establish a ballpark figure. Assuming that the 2 GW capacity can produce 15 TWh annually (she was working with this assumption in a webinar) and this being 2% of our energy supply, then she is assuming a total energy supply of 750 TWh.
That is a huge number. It is definitely not electricity, but energy in general that she is talking about (meaning electricity + transport + heating + industry + …). It is however not high enough to be final energy use (in the neighborhood of 450 TWh). The only thing that comes close to this number is primary energy use (754 TWh in 2019). Which would be a bit weird, primary energy values are mostly used to show the pretty small share of solar and wind on energy use, but I guess it is also perfectly possible to do the same with the remaining nuclear capacity. That indeed seems to be the intention, just minimize the production of the remaining nuclear capacity to give the impression that it is too small to bother about and therefor could easily be removed from the equation.
The big problem using the approach of minimizing the share of nuclear in primary energy is that it cuts both ways. According to BP Statistical Review of World Energy, Belgian solar power generation in 2020 was 5.1 TWh and wind power generation was 13 TWh. Together that is 18.1 TWh. Compare that to the same 750 TWh that nuclear was compared to and this results in a share of 18.1 / 750 x 100 = 2.4%…
That is better, but not thát much better, than the 2% share of nuclear. If the 2% of nuclear has a neglectable share in our energy supply, I guess we then can safely conclude that solar and wind also have a neglectable share in our energy supply?