Building Energy Infrastructure that Benefits Society

Elia stands for bringing reliable and sustainable energy solutions in Belgium with an eye toward preserving the environment and building strategic cross-border partnerships. As the official operator of Belgium’s high-voltage transmission system (30 kV to 380 kV), Elia’s grid is formed of 8,000 km of lines and underground cables throughout the country. Elia is also a key player in the European energy sector and is committed to build solutions for an efficient, transparent, and fair electricity market.

With over 1,100 highly skilled employees, Elia has made Belgium’s energy system one of the most reliable in Europe. CEO Chris Peeters explains, “Our motto is ‘building infrastructure for the benefit of society’. Instead of seeking big returns in the short term, Elia aims to build a high-quality and cost-efficient power system which will bring benefits to the whole society over the long term. If the lights go out, a lot of sectors of the economy are affected. Elia is building world-class strategic energy infrastructure that drives the economy. We will help to ensure that energy remains affordable, while enabling the energy transition to take place.”

Boosting renewable energies

Elia also plays a crucial role in integrating renewable energies in Belgium’s energy mix. Chris Peeters points out, “Elia is reconfiguring Belgium’s power system to transform it from one which is dependent on centralised thermal production (such as coal, gas, and nuclear) into one using renewable energies from Belgium and other countries.”

The government of Belgium aims for renewable energies to comprise at least 13% of the country’s total energy consumption in 2020, and Elia has a big part to play in reaching this goal. Chris Peeters recognises the country’s lack of adequate sunshine or wind for extensive production of solar or wind energy and that its heavily populated land area does not leave room for large onshore wind farms. His strategic long-term solutions include initiating joint projects with neighbouring countries, such as construction of grid infrastructure to connect large offshore wind farms, as well as connecting Belgium to other countries’ power networks.

To help power Belgium’s future, Elia is indeed participating in several cross-border projects. “These include Nemo Link Interconnector, a collaborative initiative between Elia and National Grid to construct an electrical interconnector between Belgium and United Kingdom, and ALEGrO, a project between Elia and Amprion (a German Transmission System Operator) to build an underground direct-current link between the two countries’ transmission systems. Another project reinforces interconnections with the Netherlands,” Chris Peeters explains. Next to these cross-border infrastructure projects, Elia contributes to the building of the European energy market, which benefits to the consumer as it brings more competition and increased cross border energy exchanges. The ‘Flow based market coupling’ project for example, implemented in the first half of 2015, immediately increased wholesale price convergence in the region France-Belgium- Germany –Netherlands.

Building new energy links between Belgium and other countries also means upgrading the backbones of the national energy grid. As Chris Peeters puts it, “We need to get ready for the renewable energy we want to provide for our children, energy which we hope will be cleaner, more sustainable, and not that much more expensive. This is the important role that Elia plays and the goals it is working toward.”

International track record

In addition to its success story in Belgium, Elia has achieved a great deal abroad when acquiring stakes in 50Hertz, the Transmission System Operator in Eastern Germany. Of the 26 European transmission-system operators (TSOs), only two operate internationally and Elia is one of them. Chris Peeters says, “Building energy infrastructure not only requires a skilled team and the latest technologies, but also support from local communities. Elia has been very successful in Germany with implementing new systems, as well as with handling cultural challenges and promoting knowledge transfer. This makes Elia a very attractive partner for any country which needs to work with Transmission System Operators.”

Thanks to its international experience, Elia has the technologies and capacity it needs to find solutions for a wide range of challenges. Chris Peeters explains, “For example, Germany was experiencing problems with integrating large volumes of renewable energies. Transmission System Operators designed market facilitation tools in order to accommodate this. Our experts have developed multi-faceted expertise that is not limited to Belgium.” In fact, stakeholders in the energy sector, both in Belgium and abroad, regularly consult Elia’s reports on energy matters. Elia is committed to providing accurate and detailed information with no commercial bias.

Win-win bio-diverse corridors

Always proactive, Elia is currently focusing on building the energy grid of tomorrow. Chris Peeters explains, “Elia has a multi-billion-euro investment budget for energy infrastructure construction in the coming five years. This programme includes protecting natural resources while also building new energy systems. Elia has designed and developed a bio-diverse corridor which facilitates new energy infrastructure while also protecting local flora and fauna. Elia’s bio-diverse corridors are a win-win for everybody.”

As a testament for its effectiveness, Elia’s bio-diverse corridor system has won the support of many environmental-protection organisations. In Germany, for example, Greenpeace helped Elia obtain public acceptance for new energy infrastructure because it involved a bio-diverse corridor. Chris Peeters says, “The options were either a corridor in the woods, or no woods 20 years from now. For Elia, building infrastructure which has a positive impact on the surrounding environment is the best way to go.”

Investors in Belgium can be confident that Elia will reliably bring them the energy their companies need to operate. Chris Peeters says confidently, “Elia has the tools to mitigate risks and to support secure supply of energy at optimal prices in Belgium.”