Category Archives: Belgium

Post related to global warming/climate change communication in Belgium

“Electricity prices” decrease the more sun and wind there is in the mix

Are solar and wind the cheapest? That seems to be the suggestion in this this tweet (translation from Dutch, my emphasis):

Time and time again, it appears that electricity prices decrease the more sun & wind there is in the mix.
Likewise, all trend lines will reach ZERO once the share of solar & wind approaches 100%.
January 2023 is no exception.

Twitter: BM_Vsser 2023-02-05

Ah, that elusive electricity-prices-go-down-when-the-share-of-solar-and-wind-increases narrative again. As expected, there were several commenters singing the praise of the cheapness of solar and wind energy. But then, what does he mean by “reach zero once the share of solar and wind approaches 100%”? And what exactly are those “electricity prices” that he is talking about?

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One fourth of the Belgian capacity dedicated to exporting electricity to France?

Does Belgium really keeps some of its neighboring countries from having blackouts? That is the strong claim from the Belgium Prime Minister made at the end of last year in his response to the criticism of his current energy policy (see previous post). That is hard to believe, so I tried to find more information about which countries Belgium kept from blackouts and how much electricity we had to spare back in December. On the same web page that reported on the response of the Prime Minister, there was also the response of the Minister of Energy and luckily she made some clarifications (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

What is going on? The problems in France are gigantic. Of their 61 GW capacity, they have 35 GW available today. This means that they have to count on imports so that they don’t have a blackout, no shutdown this winter. And where do their imports come from? It comes from Belgium. Belgium, traditionally an importer from France, exports today its electricity to France. It is about 2.8 GW. This means that we have two power plants permanently running in Belgium to supply France with electricity.


That doesn’t make any sense. Not sure which two power plants together have that capacity, but 2.8 GW is roughly one fourth of the total Belgian capacity that was needed at the beginning of December last year! It seems pretty unlikely that we were able to dedicate at least that much capacity to export to France. I write “at least”, because, remember, our Prime Minister claimed that Belgium kept countries (plural) from having blackouts. That means that there should be at least one other country that Belgium prevents from having blackouts. So, how is it possible that Belgium suddenly has more than one fourth of its capacity to spare this winter?!?! That is nevertheless what they both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Energy are suggesting.

Time to take a look at the data…

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Cutting down the tree while praising its harvest

Debate on energy security in the Belgian Parliament on 20221208

Last weekend, I came across this interesting article about a discussion about energy security (Dutch ahead) in the Belgian Federal Parliament. First some background. This discussion took place last year on December 8. The Belgian grid manager (Elia) published at that time a report that there might be a small capacity shortage in the winter of 2024 and a large capacity shortage in the winter of 2025. There was already the earlier decision to extend the life of the two youngest nuclear power reactors, but those nuclear reactors would not be available in these two winters because of maintenance necessary for their life extension. The other five nuclear reactors will be decommissioned by 2025, meaning that Belgium will enter these two winters with roughly half of its production capacity.

It therefor should not come as a surprise that some members of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives directed a lot of criticism towards the energy policy of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Energy. For example, Bert Wollants aired his fear that the lights will go out in 2025 (Dutch ahead) if we don’t keep more nuclear power reactors open. He pleaded to make a swift decision on keeping more of them open. He was not the only one who made that plea.

Then the Prime Minister had his chance to respond to the criticism. It is the first part of his response that raised my eyebrows (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

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Offshore wind with a capacity of “3.5 nuclear power plants”

In her interview in the Flemish newspaper (subject of previous two posts), our Minister of Energy not only said that the wind always blows somewhere in Europe, and especially at sea, but she also made following remark about Belgian offshore wind (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

When I became minister, I hoped that our new offshore wind farm would be operational by 2027. It has a capacity of 3.5 nuclear power plants and can supply all Belgian households with electricity.

I heard members of the current Federal Government draw (variations on) this analogy between offshore wind and nuclear power plants quite a lot lately, especially (and unsurprisingly) by members of the Flemish Green party.

For the record, there is a core of truth in this statement. It is true that the capacity of offshore wind in Belgium is expected to be 3500 MW in 2027 and since most Belgian nuclear power reactors (not “plants”) have a capacity of about 1000 MW, the capacity of offshore wind will equal the capacity of 3.5 nuclear power reactors by 2027. That is where the similarities end.

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The wind always blows somewhere in Europe

As seen in previous post, Belgium experienced a dunkelflaute (a period of low solar and wind power production) on November 29 and, depending on one’s definition of dunkelflaute, it may even be longer. Belgian politicians envision a situation in which Belgium relies more on import of electricity, so I wonder what those neighboring countries did during this event and whether they would be able to help us in such a situation. My expectation (based on previous posts like here, here, here and here), is that they all went through the same or at least a similar event.

Let’s start with what happened in Belgium from November 28 until December 2:

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Dunkelflautes last just a few hours (oops, days)

There was a dunkelflaute at the end of last month. “Dunkelflaute” is a German word, mostly translated as “dark doldrum”. It is a period in which there is no(t much) sunlight and no(t much) wind, resulting in very low electricity production from solar panels and windmills. The media told us that Monday November 29 was such a day.

This is what solar and wind did compared to total load:

Chart0020a: Dunkelflaute belgium 2022-11-29

Solar and wind indeed did not do well on that day. Electricity production by solar and wind was mostly hugging the x-axis for most of the day. The combined average capacity factor for solar and wind was a measly 1.53% (between 0.06% and 7.89%). It was particularly wind that did poorly. Luckily there was some sun to elevate the capacity factor, but even that was pretty limited because days are short at this time of the year at our latitude.

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A capacity of 3.5 nuclear power plants produced at sea by wind energy

The Ventilus project is a future 380 kV high-voltage power line with a capacity of 6 GW that will connect the Belgian coast with the rest of the country and will also serve as a (second) interconnection with the UK. There is quite some protest against it. It was planned as an overhead power line, but people living along the trajectory want the cables below ground. To my surprise, the Green party wants them above ground and demands a quick approval of the project by the Flemish Government. This is how Jeremie Vaneeckhout (the Flemish green party co-chairman) explains the urgency of the project (transcription translated from Dutch, my emphasis)

Ventilus is not only the project that can ensure that a capacity of 3.5 nuclear power plants produced at sea by wind energy, that we get that on land. It is also the guarantee that the vehicle fleet can be made electric, can be electrified, and that our grid will not fail, that all West Flemish companies can certainly remain on the grid.

The first time that I heard this, it didn’t make much sense to me. Our largest nuclear reactors have a capacity of 1 GW, but offshore wind currently has a capacity of 2.2 GW, so he is likely talking about a future capacity (but then (much) less than the 8 GW that the Minister of the North Sea envisioned). Where does this 3.5 GW number comes from? My guess was that it is the future capacity of offshore wind by the time that Ventilus will come into use. I found dates between 2027 and 2030, but Belgian offshore wind should already exceed 3.5 GW by then.

There also were others that started to use that the Ventilus-is-3.5-nuclear-reactors claim around the same time relating to Ventilus. The chairman of the Flemish socialist party said the following in an interview on Flemish television news one week earlier (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

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The surprising change of position on plan B

Terzake 2022-08-29

The current plan of the Belgian Government is to keep the two youngest nuclear power reactors (Doel 4 and Tihange 3) open for ten more years (called “plan B”). That was a blow for our Minister of Energy who, as a member of the Flemish green party, relentlessly advocated for a complete nuclear exit (“plan A”). This makes her statement in an interview on current affairs program Terzake rather curious (translated from Dutch, emphasis by the Minister in the interview)

The essence is security of electricity supply. The most performing power stations that we have are our two youngest nuclear power stations, which lifespan we are going to extend by ten years, at my initiative, at my request.


This statement in which she praised herself for keeping the two youngest nuclear reactors open came as a complete surprise to me and many others. She made it very clear in the past that she wanted nuclear electricity production gone, all of it and as soon as possible. This sudden emphasis on herself as the one who initiated and requested this elongation is therefor pretty remarkable.

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Claim: 8 GW offshore wind capacity corresponds to 8 nuclear reactors

A couple months ago, I wrote about the claim of our Minister of Energy that 1 GW of renewable capacity equals 1 large nuclear power plant (she obviously meant “reactors”). I recently came across a variation on this claim made by another member of our Government, the Minister of the North Sea (at least the stretch of the North Sea that belongs to Belgium). Here is what he said about the future plans for wind power in the North Sea as reported by a journalist of a Flemish newspaper (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

According to Van Quickenborne (Minister of the North Sea), it is even possible to reach 8 gigawatts with a third wind farm by 2040. “This capacity is enormous, it would correspond to 8 nuclear reactors,” says the Open VLD politician, who believes this is enough to supply all Belgian families.

This seems impressive at first glance. Basically, the total capacity of wind mills on the Belgian part of the North Sea is expected to amount to 8 GW by 2040, which the Minister then compares to the capacity of 8 nuclear reactors.

There is a core of truth in this claim (our largest nuclear reactors have a capacity of 1 GW each, so 8 GW would correspond to 8 of those), but it is pretty misleading. It is comparing two different types of electricity generation having a (radically) different output.

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The fact check of the (hard to find) claim that the heat wave of 1976 was hotter than 2022

Belgium had some hot days between July 17 and July 20. As expected, the media was full of it. I noticed that around the same time some news media companies made a comparison with the summer of 1976, putting forward that it was hotter now than in the summer of 1976 and, although the number of hot days were much lower, that this doesn’t mean that its severity is being exaggerated by them.

The Flemish public broadcasting company (VRT) did a similar thing and made it into a fact check format. Here is the title of the fact check (translated from Dutch):

CHECK – No, the hot summer of 1976 was not hotter and doesn’t show that climate change doesn’t exist

I naively expected that the fact checker actually found some examples of claims that the summer of 1976 was hotter than 2022 and that this observation somehow would call climate change into question. The fact check linked to four examples that seemingly illustrate such claims, but following those links that isn’t the case…

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