Belgium wants to build the world's first artificial energy island. Credit: Elia

An artificial island in the sea for a greener future?

Belgium has a solution for making the most of the energy from offshore wind farms: building the world's first artificial energy island. The country wants to connect offshore wind farms to the mainland with a pioneering hub in the sea.



Construction of the world's first artificial energy island looks set to begin. At the end of 2023, Belgian transmission system operator Elia announced that it had received the environmental permit to launch the projectThe planned new island, called Princess Elisabeth Island, will be an energy hub 45 kilometres off the Belgian coast, connecting new offshore wind farms to Belgium's onshore power grid.


Turning the seas into the "power plants of the future"


In December 2022, the Belgian federal government granted the project 99.7 million euros from the European Union's Recovery & Resilience Facility. According to Elia, the company behind the initiative, construction will commence early this year and last until August 2026. The island will be made of sand and surrounded by an outer perimeter of concrete caissons. Its surface area above the waterline will cover six hectares, and its total area on the seabed will extend to a maximum of 25 hectares (the equivalent of 37.5 football pitches).

The island will be located in the North Sea and will allow Belgium to access energy produced by nearby offshore wind farms, trade renewable energy with other countries and increase Europe's interconnection. Europe's seas "are becoming the power plants of the future," says Nicolas Beck, Elia's head of community relations.


The island will connect new wind farms to Belgium's onshore electricity grid. Credit: Elia


The impact of the island on the health of the North Sea


The construction of an artificial island can have a significant impact on marine ecosystems. This depends on a number of factors, such as the geographical location, the size of the island and the construction methods used. In addition to the fact that it may involve the destruction of the marine ecosystem and affect fish stocks and other marine species that depend on that habitat for their survival, it could also affect the natural flow of water and ocean currents.

The Belgian authorities have recognised that new construction and installation plans cannot afford to ignore marine life, both above and below the water. In response to these concerns, Elia says it has opted for a "nature-inclusive design" that will seek to protect and even enhance the biodiversity of the area. "Elia want to minimise the disruptive effects the island will have on the surrounding marine environment at the same time as embedding real ecological and environmental value into its project," the company says.

To this end, they have taken a number of measures. "Ledges attached to the outer storm walls will provide somewhere for the black-legged kittiwake, a vulnerable bird species, to rest and breed," says the company, which also aims to create a rich and diverse artificial reef below the waterline. For example, it will install relief panels at each of the four corners of the island. These panels will provide a three-dimensional structure to which smaller marine organisms can attach, "creating a microhabitat for marine life".


Elia has received the necessary environmental permits to build the island. Credit: Elia

It is still too early to know with certainty how the construction of this artificial island will impact the marine habitat and to what extent it will become a crucial node for offshore wind energy in Belgium and Europe. Elia, which aims to connect the full capacity of new wind farms to its grid by 2030, insists that one thing is clear: "Only through the quick and extensive development of offshore wind will Europe be able to reach net zero emissions by 2050."

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