Belgium has proposed an artificial island in the North Sea, storing wind energy generated by its network of offshore turbines. The island is part of a wider move to shut down its nuclear programme by 2025, in line with a number of other European states.
Nuclear accounted for 57% of Belgium’s energy in 2011, and the closure of its oldest reactor was postponed last year when concerns were raised over future energy supply.
The artificial island will use pumped storage techniques to store the 2,000MW its offshore wind farms could be generating by 2020. The system will work by pumping water from a reservoir in the centre of the island, then letting it back in through hydropower turbines as and when the country’s demand exceeds its supply. This will help overcome the thorny problem of wind’s intermittency. While pumped storage is a proven technology, this will be the first time it’s been used for offshore wind.
The ‘energy atoll’ will be constructed 3km from Belgium’s Flemish coast, and take five years to build. As with all nascent technology, costs could be high.
“The island is very interesting as an R&D project”, says Philip Thomas, Professor of Engineering Development at City University, but “there will need to be a breakthrough to benefit from economies of scale.”
Nick Medic, Director of Offshore Renewables at the trade association RenewableUK, adds that it “holds tremendous promise to further unlock the potential of offshore renewables. It is very exciting that a European country on the North Sea, close to the epicentre of offshore wind development, is seriously considering this idea.” – Ben Alcraft
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