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Europe takes a big step closer to first energy island

For a long time it looked as if Europe's first energy island would be built off the coast of Denmark, but now Belgium is getting ready to push ahead with the energy transition on the North Sea.

Image: Elia GroupImage: Elia Group

Belgian transmission system operator Elia has announced that construction of the planned Belgian energy island Princess Elisabeth Island can begin early next year. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Justice and the North Sea Vincent Van Quickenborne has now issued the relevant environmental permit. "We plan to continue developing the North Sea as Belgium's leading energy centre and Princess Elisabeth Island will be a crucial part of this process," he said.

Princess Elisabeth Island will be the world's first artificial energy island and will use both direct current (HVDC) and alternating current (HVAC) technology. The energy hub is located 45 km off the Belgian coast, where export cables from new offshore wind farms, future interconnectors towards the UK (Nautilus) and Denmark (TritonLink) and the Belgian onshore power grid will be linked. Construction is expected to start in March 2024 and last about two years, with the first electricity flowing through the island's infrastructure in August 2026.

The 6-hectare island will be built in the middle of the Princess Elisabeth zone on concrete bases filled with sand. In addition to the necessary electrical infrastructure, the island will have a small harbor for maintenance crews and a helipad. Offshore wind farms with a capacity of 3.5 gigawatts are to be built in the Princess Elisabeth Zone in the future.

Meanwhile, the first construction measures have begun. A consortium comprising the Belgian shipbuilding companies DEME and Jan De Nul is preparing the site where the caissons (concrete foundations) will be built in the North Sea port of Vlissingen. Here, the 23 concrete caissons (each about 60 m long, 30 m wide and 30 m high) will be built and stored until they are towed to the offshore site and sunk in the summer months of 2024 and 2025. The island will then be filled with sand and prepared for construction of the high-voltage electrical infrastructure.

Elia, meanwhile, has announced it will continue to work on the design for the island. Together with external experts from public and private institutions, universities and non-governmental organizations, the company is looking at which elements of the construction could be adapted or added to promote biodiversity on and around the island in the North Sea. By opting for a design that is compatible with nature, the island's potential will also be fully realized in terms of marine biodiversity.

"The unique collaboration between Elia and marine experts has yielded invaluable findings that will make it possible to integrate Princess Elisabeth Island even better into the surrounding environment, all while complying with the conditions set out in the permit. Elia is fully committed to this approach. We are working closely with experts, whose cooperation we greatly appreciate. This is a unique opportunity to support marine biodiversity in the long term," explained Nicolas Beck, Head of Community Relations Elia.

Politicians are also pleased with this approach: "With this environmental permit, we are now taking a major step forward in developing the Princess Elisabeth Zone, our second offshore wind zone. The first wind turbines will commission in 2028, delivering additional offshore green energy for our families and companies. Since Belgium is also the first country in the world to install wind turbines in protected marine areas, we are delighted that Elia is fully committed to nature-inclusive design – further evidence of the power of taking an innovative approach, the potential of renewable energy and the importance of protecting our marine environment," emphasizes Minister Van Quickenborne.

Video from Elia on the Energy Island plans (in English):

Katrin Radtke
Elia Group, Belgium, energy island, North sea, offshore, wind farm, energy hub, UK, Denmark, interconnector, link, environment, permit

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