The depletion of oil and gas reserves is on the horizon. In Belgium, the nuclear phase-out, planned for 2025, has been postponed to 2035. At the same time, renewable energy is taking off and nuclear fusion is being tested.
It is a fact confirmed by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) that 2020 was one of the three warmest years on record, along with 2016 and 2019. And 2022 broke yet another record: Copernicus, the European climate change service reported that the summer, which saw an increase in global warming-related disasters, was the hottest on record in Europe.
The average temperature of the planet is now 1.2°C higher than pre-industrial temperatures.
At the same time, our energy needs are constantly increasing, leading to an increase in CO2 production and therefore in global warming.
Discoveries of new gas and oil reserves are declining. These two energy sources will therefore only be available for a few decades and will become increasingly expensive. The war in Ukraine has only exacerbated a rise in gas prices that had already started before the conflict.
Moreover, the production of CO2 caused by gas and oil makes it necessary to reduce their use now. It should be noted that in Belgium we depend on imports for both these energy sources.
Coal is still abundant worldwide, but we must absolutely avoid increasing its highly polluting exploitation.
In Belgium, there are only 3 coal-fired power plants remaining. They therefore depend on imports. However, they can also operate with biomass (woodchips). Nevertheless, they are currently out of service, either temporarily or permanently.
Nuclear power plant technology raises significant safety and nuclear pollution issues, but it does not emit CO2. In Belgium, seven nuclear power plants are still in operation. A few years ago, the Federal government decided to phase them out gradually between 2022 and 2025 unless, by the end of 2021, there were still uncertainties concerning the country's security of energy supply. This is what has happened and at the end of July 2022, the decision was made to extend the newest 2 reactors (Tihange 3 and Doel 4) for 10 years.
These plants were started up in 1985 and, according to the original regulations, should be shut down after 40 or even 50 years or more if the government changes the law. The power plant operator had decided not to invest in their modernisation. Recent events have decided otherwise.
The other 5 should be shut down in 2022 (Doel 3), 2023 (Tihange 2) and 2025 (Doel 1, Doel 2, Tihange 1).
Renewable energy both reduces CO2 pollution and provides energy: it is therefore essential in tomorrow's energy landscape.
Renewable energy sources are most often converted into electricity and sometimes into heat. For this reason, the technologies of our time are generally moving towards "all-electric" power: electric cars, motorbikes and bicycles, heating using heat pumps, electric hot water production, electric trains and buses and, in the near future, electric cargo ships and aeroplanes.
The renewable energy sources available are photovoltaic and thermal solar, onshore or offshore wind (more productive), hydroelectricity, biomass and surface or deep geothermal energy...
While nuclear fission consists of splitting an atomic nucleus to release energy, nuclear fusion is about fusing light atomic atoms together. This phenomenon, which occurs naturally in the core of stars like the sun and releases enormous amounts of energy, is very complicated to reproduce.
To date, nuclear fusion remains experimental and only a few Chinese or international research reactors currently manage to operate for a few seconds.
The increasing share of renewable energy, which is by nature intermittent, and the growing scarcity of fossil fuels are also paving the way for new methods of energy storage and conversion to enter the energy landscape.
Produced by electrolysis, by splitting water molecules with an electric current, hydrogen enables electricity to be converted into gas.
This promising technology is opening up new prospects for profitable renewable production and energy storage.
Tests are underway in Belgium, notably in Anderlecht, as part of the H2GridLab project.
In the future, the batteries of parked electric vehicles could absorb and store excess electricity produced in the grid or, conversely, inject electricity into the grid. This is called vehicle-to-grid.
The collaborative research project EnergyVille, which brings together several universities and research institutes in Flanders, has developed several energy scenarios for the country between 2030-2050. They take into account a possible 10 to 20-year extension for two nuclear power plants.
In all the scenarios considered, renewable production is expected to increase significantly, mainly in wind and photovoltaic power. Depending on the case (whether or not the two nuclear power plants are extended), between 50% and 66% of our country's electricity will be renewably produced in 2030.
The development of the gas-fired power plant capacity to a greater or lesser extent will be necessary to offset the intermittency of renewable sources. At least that was the plan before the price of gas increased 15 fold...
If the price of photovoltaic panels falls further and battery capacity increases with a fall in their price, this trend towards renewable electricity could accelerate.
In fact, in the current situation no one can predict what the composition of the "energy mix" will be in the near or distant future.
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