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IEA fuels energy debate in Belgium

The International Energy Agency (IEA), in a new report published on May 19, urges Belgium to “adopt a national long-term energy strategy without delay”.

While AmCham Belgium has previously framed the energy challenges facing the country as a quadrilemma, the IEA identifies three competing demands: “energy security, economic growth and environmental sustainability”. The IEA is particularly concerned by the nuclear phase-out, planned for 2025, and the low levels of private sector investment in generation capacity. This combination of factors, according to the agency, could threaten the security of supply and the affordability of energy in Belgium.

As a starting point, the IEA encourages federal and regional authorities to develop a common “energy vision,” aimed at diversifying supply and reducing demand. To support investment, the policy framework should be based on the principles of “transparency, predictability and regulatory certainty,” as the Chamber has previously argued, and should incorporate impact assessments.

The nuclear phase-out illustrates the political toing and froing and the lack of a long-term vision on energy policy in Belgium. Belgium relies on nuclear energy to provide nearly 50% of the country’s electricity. Although the phase-out was agreed in 2003, it’s still not clear how this capacity will be replaced. The government has already prolonged the operation of the two reactors which were originally scheduled to be shut down last year, and the IEA now recommends Belgium reconsider the 2025 deadline – as long as safety allows it. Energy Minister Marie Christine Marghem has not ruled out this option, and it will perhaps be discussed in the context of the upcoming ‘Energy Pact’ between the federal and regional governments.

Moreover, the IEA calls for “clear, stable and predictable support systems” to promote the further development of renewable energy sources, which now supply an estimated 19% of electricity in Belgium, up from 7.8% in 2009. The IEA also sees great potential in energy efficiency, whereby consumer (i.e. end-user) behavior can be influenced to reduce overall demand.

In its report, the IEA not only lays out the challenges ahead, but also highlights the progress Belgium has made in recent years. Apart from the growing share of renewables, the agency notes, among other successes, the increased competition in the electricity and gas markets and the high-quality gas transport infrastructure which is well-connected with neighboring countries.

AmCham Belgium shares the IEA’s concerns about stability and predictability, and the Chamber is prepared to work with the regional and federal governments, as they elaborate a long-term energy policy, to create opportunities, foster investments and meet the needs of business.

Photo Credit: NASA / Earth Observatory