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):
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.
There was a high production of electricity from solar and wind previous weekend (weekend of April 23-24). As expected, there was the usual cheering and celebrating of this event. One of the many was this tweet from a member of the Flemish Green party (translated from Dutch)
Still need arguments for the roll-out of renewable energy?
Electricity price briefly below zero thanks to sun and wind
He links to a newspaper article with the same title and brings forward these negative prices as a decisive argument for more solar and wind: if you weren’t convinced yet, then this surely is the argument that will.
I don’t really agree with that. Those negative prices over the previous weekend are not an argument for the roll-out of solar and wind (maybe even the contrary) and it shows his poor understanding of why exactly electricity prices dipped below zero in that weekend.
The big question was asked again. Remember, a few posts ago, our Minister of Energy tried to answer the question “What happens when the wind doesn’t blow?”, a question she apparently got asked a lot. Back then she managed to evade answering that question.
The question came back in an interview (Dutch ahead) about the energy transitions she gave to a news magazine from Brussels. Initially, it seemed we would not get an answer (the interview was interrupted at the exact moment when the question was asked), but fortunately the reporter was persistent enough to ask the question again later in the interview (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):
One of the solutions that our Minister of Energy proposes for the energy transition is interconnectivity. In the webinar she gave at the end of 2020 (see previous post) she was pleased that Belgium got connected to the German grid and therefor could start to take advantage of the electricity produced by solar and wind in Germany. I am less optimistic about that. As I found in some previous posts like for example here, here and here, Belgium and Germany are neighbor countries and therefor have similar patterns of solar and wind production.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that no gains could be made by this interconnection. There will be times when Belgium could use the solar/wind overproduction of Germany, but when Germany has a excellent intermittent production, then generally Belgium does too. The same when Germany has only little intermittent production, then Belgium generally experience the same. The more intermittent capacity build in the two countries, the less Belgium will be able to take advantage of excess electricity production from intermittent energy sources.
This is however not the only interconnection that our Minister of Energy wants. A year after the webinar, she signed a memorandum of understanding (Dutch ahead) with Denmark to look into the possibility of a submarine power cable connecting Denmark with Belgium. That made me wonder whether this submarine cable would make it possible for Belgium to take advantage of Denmark’s excess intermittent electricity production and that is what I will look into this post.
Can’t get enough of the unthinking claims of our Minister of Energy. In my search for more information on the nuclear exit, I came across a webinar that she presented at the end of 2020 in which she explained her vision on this nuclear exit and the energy transition needed to accommodate this exit. She explained that a diverse set of solutions is needed, among which interconnectivity, gas-fired power plants and storage like batteries. She then continues (at 33:45 in the webinar, translated from Dutch, my emphasis):
And at the same time, we are also going to need baseload capacity, so energy sources that are running well and offshore wind really has a potential for that.
Those two statements took me by surprise. Green politicians generally don’t like the idea of baseload. The concept of baseload comes from conventional grids in which some power plants generate power at a fairly constant rate over an extended period of time, meeting minimum demand. With that definition, offshore wind obviously doesn’t have much potential for being baseload.
That she believes that “baseload is needed” is surprising at first, but notice that she redefines the term. According to her, baseload just means power sources that “run well” and then intermittent power sources can obviously also be considered baseload. They just have to “run well” (whatever that might mean).
Okay, just look at what this offshore wind “baseload” did the past two weeks (from when I started writing this post):
Our Minister of Energy keeps on making unthinking claims. In a post a couple weeks ago, I wrote about the “2 GW only represents 2% of our energy supply” claim that she made in an attempt to minimize the effort needed to replace nuclear by solar and wind, apparently not realizing that the share of solar plus wind is not that much better when using the same standard. Recently she made the claim that our government will realize 1 GW of renewable energy every year in the coming years and that this equals 1 large nuclear power plant per year (I think she means nuclear power “reactor”).
She made that claim after the decision was announced that Belgium will keep its two youngest nuclear reactors open for another decade (the illusive “plan B”). The Minister went to that meeting with the proposal to close all nuclear plants and a comprehensive plan to promote solar and wind amounting to 8 billion euro. The final decision was to keep open the two youngest reactors and only 1 billion euro of that 8 billion was approved, so she obviously had to accept some losses. It is in that context that the claim was made in the radio program “De Ochtend” (“The Morning”) after the reporter put forward that this result is not something to be proud of. The Minister objected to that view and doubled down by framing the result of the negotiations as some kind of victory (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):
Gosh, do you know with what I am coming home with? I am coming home with 1 GW of energy that we will realize every year in the coming years. For comparison, 1 GW is 1 large nuclear power plant.
That is not a one-off, she said something similar at the end of the interview (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):
One of the most important things on the top of my list is, and that’s going to sound really boring: defense and aviation. They have radar systems, they have areas that are not accessible to wind turbines where we can realize 1.5 GW of renewable energy. That is more than a large nuclear power plant with a one-time investment.
This comparison with nuclear seems to suggest that Belgium would replace a 1 GW nuclear power reactor per year, but this obviously can’t be what she is claiming because in that case Belgium’s huge electricity problems would be painlessly solved in just a few years. Therefor I assume that she means that she just wants to add a capacity of 1 GW of solar and wind per year. However, these two don’t compare that well. The impact of 1 GW of solar and wind capacity will be much less than 1 GW of nuclear power, so it might be much less impressive than she is suggesting. How much less? Well, let’s just make that comparison.
In the post at the end of February, I compared two graphs showing the electricity production by solar and wind versus household electricity demand of the Netherlands, this for the months of June 2021 and December 2021. Belgium is a neighbor country of the Netherlands, so I wondered how electricity production by solar and wind in Belgium would compare with the Netherlands in the same period.
Both countries have around the same share of solar and wind in electricity demand, but population is different (more people in the Netherlands) and also have different installed capacities of solar and wind (much more solar capacity in the Netherlands), so that could show some interesting differences.
The Belgian solar and wind data is registered at 15 minutes intervals, but I don’ t think that this is the case for the graphs of the Netherlands. My guess is that it uses 1 hour intervals (quarter hour intervals or half hour intervals would give much more fluctuations). Combining the data of Belgium at 1 hour intervals with the digitized data from the Netherlands gives this:
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).
In previous post, I detailed the contradiction of Belgium wanting to profit from German cheap import while employing the exact same balancing strategy as Germany. I illustrated this by comparing German electricity export and prices on days of the lowest, highest and median output of solar and wind. This showed that when Germany exports its excess electricity, prices are generally low, but at that time Belgium is also busy exporting its excess electricity. And vice versa.
Now you could object that this is not a good representation of the argument of our Green Minister of Energy. Her argument is that nuclear power stands in the way because it can’t modulate its output (enough) to follow the intermittency of solar and wind, sometimes leading to wind power being curtailed and/or exported at times when Germany is exporting abundant and cheap electricity. The goal of the Minister is to get rid of nuclear power generation so Belgium doesn’t need to curtail its own production when it is sunny and windy, while also being ready to profit from cheap electricity from Germany. Ka-ching!
That is true, decommissioning nuclear will allow for more cheap import from Germany, but this will only be temporary and lead to an even bigger problem…