Unlike other resources, such as gas and coal, the wind and the sun cannot be controlled! This means that power from wind turbines and solar panels is not always available when demand is highest.
Wind and solar power in Belgium
The electricity generated in Belgium comes from a range of sources: nuclear power stations, gas- and coal-fired plants, cogeneration units, biomass, hydropower, wind power and solar power.
The amount of electricity that can be generated by wind and solar facilities is constantly growing – today, they account for over a quarter of Belgium’s power generation resources.
Some of these solar generation units and wind turbines are directly connected to Elia’s high-voltage grid, like the large offshore wind farms. Others are connected to distribution grids. Maybe you are a solar power producer yourself, if you have fitted solar panels to the roof of your house!
Variability and flexibility
It goes without saying that wind turbines cannot run if there is no wind. Similarly, solar panels need sunlight to generate electricity. As we all know, we cannot control the weather – especially not in Belgium!
This makes it very difficult to predict exactly how much electricity will be generated by wind turbines and solar panels, even though our forecasting models are getting more and more accurate. Besides, solar generation can stop unexpectedly if clouds or mist drift over the country.
Moreover, the times that solar panels and wind turbines generate the most power are not necessarily the times that we are running our washing machines or dishwashers – basically, peak generation times do not always match peak consumption times.
Since it is not yet possible to store large quantities of electricity, any shortfalls have to be made up by conventional gas-fired and coal-fired power stations. Similarly, if renewable sources generate more energy than expected, conventional power stations need to cut back their output to avoid overloading the grid. As such, these conventional power stations have to be increasingly flexible.