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Keeping the lights on: Belgium and its energy conundrum

The recent announcement that three nuclear reactors will remain shut down until early next year has raised concerns on Belgium’s power supply during the winter months. Keeping the lights on has just become trickier.

Nuclear power has dominated Belgium’s energy market since the first nuclear reactor was opened in 1950. However, with three reactors closed on the footsteps of winter, the country’s competitiveness is faced with new challenges.

Belgium’s seven nuclear reactors, with combined total capacity of 5,925MW, account for a large porition of the energy supply. Yet, three reactors will be off-line: Doel 4, shut down as a result of sabotage, and Doel 3 and Tihange 2 for repairs, following the discovery of thousands of micro fissures. Together they comprise approximately half of the nuclear capacity.

With such a large portion of the capacity closed – only 19.5% of the total energy needs of the country can be met by remaining nuclear reactors – the security of supply during the winter months is threatened. If the energy deficit is not adequately solved, insufficient domestic generating capacity can result in power cuts and blackouts in periods of peak demand. Belgium must prepare for a difficult electrical winter.

Power cuts and blackouts are of concern for businesses in Belgium, already facing a significant price disadvantage. The threat to the current supply could result in additional costs for energy, either in terms of loss of production or equipment change, or higher prices. As revealed by the Federal Planning Bureau in March, the economic cost of a blackout would run up to €120 million an hour, with the vast majority of the cost falling on companies.

It is imperative that the government avoids such issues, as the security of supply is vital to business competitiveness in Belgium. With the energy costs already higher than neighboring countries, the government must strive to prevent any additional elements that will negatively affect the country. Belgium must ensure that its regulations are efficient and that a coherent plan for the future energy supply is provided. The uncertainty regarding the energy supply adds to the competition handicap of the country.

Nevertheless, the energy debate has presented the government negotiations with a window of opportunity to improve Belgium’s competitiveness. Belgium’s lights must stay on and at a reasonable price. The recent announcement that three nuclear reactors will remain shut down until early next year has raised concerns on Belgium’s power supply during the winter months. Keeping the lights on has just become trickier.

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