Sunday

23rd Feb 2020

Harsh winter could spell trouble for Belgium's electricity supply

  • The Doel nuclear power plant in Belgium (Photo: Remflex)

A Belgian nuclear reactor which was shut down over the weekend after electrical cables caught fire was reconnected to the grid on Tuesday (2 December).

Although the temporary shut-down of the reactor, Tihange 3, did not appear to have caused problems for Belgium's electricity supply, harsh weather in the coming months might lead to blackouts.

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Tihange 3 supplies electricity to about a million Belgian households. With its 1,046 megawatts, it is the largest of Belgium's seven nuclear reactors, which together are responsible for almost half of the country's electricity generation.

With the temporary closure of Tihange 3, Belgium's power grid was surviving on just two nuclear reactors over the weekend.

Four other nuclear reactors have already been shut-down in the past months, for various reasons such as unusual test results and planned maintenance.

The utility giant GDF Suez recently announced that it would delay the reopening of two of those that had been scheduled to come back online this winter.

Belgium has been preparing for possible blackouts this winter with a report published Monday (1 December) stating that “the situation in the coming winter could be potentially stressed in certain periods for the Belgian system”.

In its annual Winter Outlook analysis, the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity concluded that “Europe has sufficient generation for both normal and severe demand conditions”.

However, Belgium is singled out as a possible problem child.

Under certain conditions, “Belgium will heavily depend on structural imports up to 3.6 GW”, and similarly these amounts imports on their behalf “could be problematic”, depending on the situation.

Lower temperatures mean higher demand for electricity. The amount of electricity generated by renewables is also dependent on factors like wind and sun hours.

Nuclear reactors Doel 1 and Doel 2, which are actually supposed to be decommissioned in 2015, have been operational since 1975.

The government has decided that Doel 1 and 2 will remain open until at least 31 March, 2015 and 31 March, 2016, respectively. Before the end of the year it will decide if the two will remain open until 2025.

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