Belgian energy island may get go ahead in early 2015: ministry

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium will decide early next year whether to build a ring-shaped island off its coast to store wind energy, in one of the world's first attempts to make the renewable source available on demand, the government said. Wind energy is often abundant in the large wind parks off the Belgian coast, but storing it for when there is little wind is an issue, along with not wasting it when there is a surplus. Using an idea borrowed from hydroelectric dams, the island would be emptied of water when there is a lot of wind, using energy from windmills. When there is an energy shortfall, a lock would be opened to let the sea water back in and at the same time power turbines and generate electricity. Located in the North Sea five kilometers (3.1 miles) from the Belgian town of De Haan, the project will have a storage capacity of 2 gigawatt hours (GWh). It will be built by a consortium led by GDF Suez's Electrabel and Belgian dredging firm DEME. "We are currently in talks with other authorities and hope to give the go-ahead for the project in early 2015," a spokeswoman for the ministry said. Belgium plans to exit nuclear power by 2025 but has been struggling to find ways to replace nuclear plants capable of generating 5,860 megawatts (MW). (Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by David Holmes)

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