Solar up in Belgium in 2021 but will have work to do as nuclear shutdown nears


With London-based consultant GlobalData recently predicting Belgium is on track to achieve a planned nuclear phase-out by 2025, electricity figures for 2021 published by transmission system operator Elia Group have indicated solar, wind and gas will have to do a lot of heavy lifting to replace the divisive power source.

High availability of Belgium's nuclear power stations last year saw the energy source account for 52.4% of the nation's electricity, according to Elia, up from 32.8% in a Covid-hit 2020. The tendency of Belgian nuclear reactors to eat into gas-fired power generation was exacerbated last year by rising gas prices, according to Elia, which on Friday reported gas had made up 24.8% of the power mix in 2021, down from 34.7% in 2020.

Those figures were published a day after GlobalData noted Belgium's seven nuclear plants – chiefly owned by the Electrabel subisidiary of French energy company Engie and by the Luminus business of French state controlled utility EDF – were on track to halt generation before 2026. According to the London data company, the Doel 3 reactor is due to go offline this year, with Tihange 2 to follow next year and Doel 4 and Tihange 3 by 2025.

GlobalData said on Friday: “Alongside renewables, Belgium will rely on gas-fired capacity to meet power demand.”

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In terms of solar, Elia reported 17% more electricity was generated by the power source last year than in 2020, to hit 4.64TWh for a rise of 9%, although an accompanying table put the raised figure at 4.67TWh and almost 10%.

With solar plants generating 4.7TWh of electricity– some of it exported – to contribute 5.1% of 50Hertz-owner Elia's power mix for its Belgian and German customers last year, that marked a rise from 4.3TWh in 2020, although it meant solar retreated slightly from the 5.2% of Elia's power mix it accounted for in the previous year.

GlobalData predicted Belgium will overshoot its 2030 target of installing 6.9GW of solar by achieving 11.8GW by the end of the decade.

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