Belgium builds on early entry into offshore wind sector

An established supply chain and stakeholder engagement have helped the country to punch above its weight in offshore wind

Otary merged the 235MW Mermaid and 252MW Seastar sites into the 487MW Seastar project to create economies of scale
Otary merged the 235MW Mermaid and 252MW Seastar sites into the 487MW Seastar project to create economies of scale

This is a feature from Windpower Monthly's September 2021 Insight Report. Click here to read the full edition

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Despite a coastline measuring only 65km, Belgium stands among the frontrunners in offshore wind, with the first phase of C-Power’s 325MW Thornton Bank offshore wind farm (30MW Thornton Bank 1 Thornton Bank 1 (30MW) OffshoreOostende, West Flanders, Belgium, Europe Click to see full details) commissioned in 2009. Now with 2,262MW online in the North Sea, Belgium is number four in Europe behind the UK, Germany and the Netherlands for offshore capacity.

Belgium has become an offshore wind power, in part, by ensuring all involved parties are on board early on in the planning process. From environmental groups to the navy and the shipping industry, “what Belgium has been quite good at is collaborating with the different stakeholders offshore — making sure they all talk to each other — and identifying the zones where you can build”, says Ivan Komusanac, an analyst for markets and technology at WindEurope.

Good communication

Belgium also gets high marks for communicating the need for the energy transition, and wind energy’s importance in the shift away from fossil fuels. The Green party’s Tinne Van der Straeten, energy minister since 2020, is a vocal promoter of wind energy and renewables in general. Alongside Belgium’s fries, chocolate and beer, Van der Straeten says offshore wind farms should also be considered a “national pride”. 

She has stressed the country needs to speed up renewable-energy development after missing its 2020 target of a 13% renewable-energy share by 1.3%. It had to make up the difference by buying renewable energy via statistical transfers with EU countries that exceeded their targets.

Following the completion of Belgium’s first wind-development zone in 2020 with the commissioning of Parkwind’s 219MW Northwester 2 Northwester 2 (219MW) Offshoreoff Ostend, Belgium, Europe Click to see full details wind farm and Otary’s 487MW Seamade project — consisting of the 252MW SeaMade (Seastar) SeaMade (Seastar) (252MW) Offshoreoff Zeebruge, Belgium, Europe Click to see full details} and 235MW SeaMade (Mermaid) SeaMade (Mermaid) (235MW) Offshoreoff Zeebrugge, Belgium, Europe Click to see full details, the government is now preparing to open a new offshore wind development area further to the west in a 285km2 stretch of sea known as the Princess Elisabeth zone. The government has initially identified 2.2GW to be allocated in the new zone, although Komusanac notes this could rise to 3.5GW.

Future growth will be underpinned by the solid supply chain and technical expertise Belgium has established in offshore wind.

Cross-border collaboration

Given its small size, dense population and strong demand for electricity from its chemical and other energy-intensive industries that need to decarbonise, it is not surprising Belgium is also seeking to collaborate with other countries on electricity interconnections and offshore wind.

In February 2021, Belgian transmission system operator Elia signed an agreement with Danish counterpart Energinet to conduct a technical and cost-benefit analysis for an electricity connection between Belgium and Denmark through an energy island in the North Sea.

As Belgium looks to grow offshore, it is also expanding on land, where wind capacity at the end of 2020 amounted to 2,459MW. While the federal government holds responsibility for offshore wind, the regions of Wallonia and Flanders are in charge of vetting onshore projects in their territory. “The installation of new onshore wind farms is more difficult because you have many more conflicting interests in siting,” points out WindEurope’s Komusanac.

However, given an inevitable lull in new offshore wind installations before capacity in the Princess Elisabeth zone is tendered and built,  Belgium is set to see more onshore wind farms come online in the next few years. In 2021-25, WindEurope forecasts the country will add 865MW of onshore capacity and 350MW offshore.

Longer term, offshore wind in Belgium is likely to remain a point of pride and the industry is setting ambitions high.

A recent study carried out by research group Climact and commissioned by the Belgium Offshore Platform industry association, highlights the economic and climate benefits of raising the country’s 2030 offshore wind target to 6GW from the 4.4GW scenario envisioned by the federal government in 2018.

Read more features for Windpower Monthly’s September Insight report

What can we learn from fast-growing wind power markets?

New era brings wind power developers to Australia

Finland shows the world how to get onshore wind right

Political support spurs wind power growth in South Africa

Political u-turn shackles Mexico's booming wind sector

Offshore wind sector targets rapid growth beyond Europe

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