Private investor proposes Belgian pumped storage solution

Deputy PM discusses North Sea artificial island concept

A private investor has raised the possibility of constructing an island a few kilometres off the Belgian North Sea coast, designed to allow excess offshore wind-generated electricity to be stored until it is needed, acknowledged Belgium's deputy prime minister, Johan Vande Lanotte, last week.

Vande Lanotte discussed the innovative pumped storage solution during a presentation about the future of Belgium's marine economy last week, at a New Year reception at the Port of Zeebrugge. The deputy prime minister's areas of responsibility include North Sea policy.

Speaking with Windpower Offshore, a spokesperson for Vande Lanotte explained that the project is not one being researched or planned by the Belgian government – as some press reports have implied – but one that may be pursued by a private investor.

The idea centres around the creation of a doughnut-shaped sand island, which would be located about 3km from shore, off the town of Wendwine. It would operate as follows: at times when Belgium's offshore wind farms generate too much electricity than needed, the excess would be used to pump water inside the 'hole' of the island. This water would then be released in response to rising electricity demand; in the process generating the required electricity.

Pumped storage is used to balance onshore wind electricity generation in a handful of locations, including the US northwest, but has yet to be deployed to balance offshore wind. An Estonian project that would link an offshore wind farm with pumped storage capacity has been proposed, but remains on the drawing board.

Belgium has been quick to harness its offshore wind potential, with its government awarding development rights for seven offshore wind concessions. Installed capacity is approaching 400MW, with the 462MW Mermaid project being awarded preliminary right to proceed last year. The third phase of Belgium's Thornton Bank wind farm is currently under construction, while the 216MW Northwind project will begin to be built this year. The country also plans to phase-out domestic nuclear power generation by closing its two Electrabel-owned stations, which each have a capacity of about 3GW.

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