Artificial Donut-Shaped Island Will Store Belgian Offshore Wind Power

The words in that headline don't sound like they should go together, do they? Well, it's true: according to reporting by Reuters, Belgium is hoping to construct an artificial island in the North Sea, shaped like a donut and made out of sand, that will be able to store some of the excess power generated by extensive offshore wind farms in the area. When you look at it that way, what country wouldn't want an artificial donut-shaped island with which to store its offshore wind power?

The principle here is pumped water storage. When wind farms generate more power than can be used, it would be sent to Crazy Belgian Donut Island (that's my proposed name) and used to pump water out of the donut's central reservoir. When demand is higher or the wind is lower, the water would be allowed to flow back in to the reservoir, spinning turbines and regenerating the electricity to be sent back to the mainland. The planned site for the island is about 3 km off the Belgian coast.

Belgium is in the process of scaling up its wind power capacity, though it isn't yet at the level of some other European countries. Overall, wind accounts for less than four percent of installed electricity generation, though a 2011 report from the European Wind Energy Association projected Belgium would quadruple its wind capacity by 2020. According to Reuters, this country of about 11 million people hopes to generate 2300 megawatts from its offshore wind farms.

This would play a big role in Belgium's transition away from nuclear power. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the country was one of several countries—others included Switzerland, Mexico, and most notably, Germany—to disavow the use of nuclear energy. In 2011, nuclear accounted for more than half of Belgium's electricity generation.

Storage of renewable energy has always been considered a stopping point for rapid expansion. Without good ways to store wind power, there is a chance it can't function as baseload power like nuclear or fossil fuel-based generation. Ideas of how to solve that issue are plentiful, but if built—planning and construction would take at least five years—this would most likely be the first artificial donut-shaped island used for energy storage in the world. Let's hope it's not the last.

Images via Ahmad van der Breggen and Ashley Dace

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