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January 18, 2013

Sea Change: Artificial Island off Belgium's Coast Would Store Wind Power



In a few years, there will be a new island a little more than one mile off the coast of Belgium, but it won’t be a natural formation or a tourist destination. In fact, Belgium is on track to solve issues of storing surplus electricity generated by offshore wind by building an artificial atoll—shaped like a donut— in the North Sea.

The plan to construct the island–which would be located off the coast of the village of Wenduine—was announced on January 16 at the nation’s main fishing port, Zeebrugge, by Belgium’s North Sea Minister Johan Vande Lanotte.

Specifically, the island, which would be made of sand, would be engineered so that at times when there is adequate energy capacity, water can be pumped from a well at the center by means of the surplus current generated by the wind turbines. When consumption is at a peak at other times, the water would flow back inside, past electricity-producing water generators. 

Image via Shutterstock

According to Vande Lanotte’s estimates, the installation will be capable of producing about 300 megawatts, twice a day. The island—which also would operate as an offshore substation to transform the voltage of the electricity generated by wind turbines—could take five or more years to plan and build.

In an interview with Reuters (News - Alert), a spokeswoman for the minister explained, “We have a lot of energy from the wind mills and sometimes it just gets lost because there isn't enough demand for the electricity.”

“This is a great solution," she said, adding that she believed it could be the first of its kind.

However, before construction can begin, Brussels-based Elia, Belgium's power grid operator, must strengthen the power lines leading out to the coast. "One of the driving elements is the reinforcement of the grid onshore towards the coast," a spokesperson for Elia said.

Belgium plans a complete exit from nuclear power as soon as enough energy from alternative sources becomes available. The nation eventually hopes to generate 2,300 megawatts (MW) of capacity from its network of North Sea wind farms—which could replace a significant part of either of its two nuclear sites, Doel and Tihange, each of which generates about 3,000 MW. In 2011, around 57 percent of Belgium's energy came from nuclear power.

Meanwhile a much smaller, but nevertheless ambitious, island is in the pipeline. Commissioned by Elia, the consortium Plug at Sea is building a small island with a single plug for seven offshore wind farms. A single cable will transport the current generated by the seven wind farms to be collected on this island.  Last month, the Dutch government awarded a €2 million ($2.6 million) grant to this innovative ‘plug socket’ project in the framework of the Top Teams Knowledge & Innovation. The consortium comprises Nuon/Vattenfall, Liandon, ECN, RoyalHaskoningDHV, Groningen Centre of Energy Law of the University of Groningen, Delft University of Technology and DC Offshore and Energy Solutions; and is being coordinated by the engineering consultancy, Grontmij, of De Bilt, The Netherlands.

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Edited by Rachel Ramsey


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