Belgium is set to construct an artificial island in the North Sea that will be used solely as storage for wind energy. Announcing the plans earlier this week, Belgium’s North Sea minister Johan Lanotte explained that although Belgium has the capacity to produce a great deal of wind energy, much of the power produced during high winds exceeds the needs of the grid, and is wasted. By creating a dependable storage system for the wind energy, Belgium hopes that this innovative solution will help the nation to transition away from nuclear power and towards greater use of renewables.

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Only around 4 percent of Belgium’s energy presently comes from wind power—the rest of the grid is supplied largely by nuclear power. However Belgium, as with Germany and Switzerland, has decided to shut down its nuclear power program by 2025 in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in 2011.

The project for the artificial island is part of the state’s larger initiative to reorient its power supply towards renewable energy sources. The European Wind Energy Association predicts that, by managing to store energy produced by using wind power, Belgium could expand its wind power capacity to over 4.000 megawatts by 2020.

As an alternative to nuclear power and fossil fuel, wind power has so far faced major problems, largely due to insufficient ways to store the generated power. When the wind dies down, energy production must be backed up by a power source, which makes it expensive to operate.

“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,” said a spokeswoman for Belgium’s North Sea minister Johan Vande Lanotte.

The doughnut-shaped island will store energy by pumping water out of a hollow space in the middle and allowing it to flow back into the reservoir by turning a turbine to generate electricity. The electricity can then be sent back to the mainland.


Photos from Wikimedia Commons