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Germany, Belgium start 1 GW power link to help offset nuclear, coal closures


Commercial go-live set for Nov. 18

Leaders praise grid as RES records

FBMC, balancing changes amid start-up

London — Germany and Belgium have inaugurated a first power interconnector between both countries, with the 1 GW Alegro link set for commercial operation Nov. 18, transmission system operator Amprion said Nov. 9.

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Intraday capacity will become available Dec. 8 with long-term capacity auctions to start 2021, it added.

Testing of the 90 km high voltage direct current underground cable linking the Liege and Aachen regions has been underway since October with full load achieved in both directions.

Amprion and Belgian TSO Elia, along with Belgium's new energy minister Tinne van der Straeten and the first minister for Germany's North-Rhine Westphalia Armin Laschet, inaugured the link at a ceremony at Aachen Nov. 9.

Van der Straeton described the cable as a "historical milestone" that would strengthen energy security and give direct access to cheaper renewables from Germany.

"Alegro is in the vanguard of our era where we are living a paradigm shift from fossil driven energy to a technology-driven one," she said.

In a recorded message, German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the link, saying grids had coped well with nuclear and coal closures as well as a rising share of renewables with pressure on the networks set to increase.

Integration of the link into flow-based market coupling (FBMC) across the Centralwestern Europe regions coincides with the start of a new balancing regime (RAM) by German TSOs to improve pan-European electricity balancing (GL EB), while the FBMC mechanism that determines cross-border flows in the region itself was switched to non-intuitive allowing flows from lower into higher prices bidding zones.

"Soon we will even be able to get your electricity from the distant Baltic Sea," Elia CEO Chris Peeters said in a tweet.

Belgium's status as importer or exporter of electricity depends on the availability of its 6 GW nuclear fleet.

Nuclear covered 43% of Belgian power demand in the week ending Nov. 1, followed by renewables with a 32% share and gas at 17%, Elia data showed, with demand down 8% on the year and imports and exports balanced on existing links to France and the Netherlands as well as the 1 GW Nemo cable to Great Britain that started 2019.

The new Belgian government formed late September plans to maintain a 2025 exit date for nuclear, but the option of lifetime extensions for two reactors has been kept open, with a final decision by November 2021 based on an assessment then of the country's security of supply position.

Germany, meanwhile, is shutting its final reactors end-2022 and plans to close 3 GW of lignite in the Rhenish mining region close to the Belgian border.

Belgium's 1 GW Doel 4 reactor returned Nov. 5 from annual maintenance, while the 1 GW Tihange 2 was set to come offline Nov. 12 for annual maintenance to Dec. 25 with the 1 GW Tihange 1 near Liege also offline to end-Dec.

Germany had five reactor online with the 1.3 GW Gundremmingen C unit in Bavaria offline for a three-week unscheduled stop, transparency data showed.

German year-ahead baseload power for 2021 maintains a discount of around Eur1/MWh to its Belgian counterpart settling Nov. 6 just below Eur39/MWh on EEX.

In October, German spot power, the key determinant for cross-border flows under FBMC averaged Eur33.97/MWh compared Eur39.39/MWh for Belgium, Epex Spot data showed.

Some 90 TWh of electricity was flowing across German borders in the first three quarters 2020 with the net export balance shrinking below 10 TWh as especially the Netherlands swung from net imports to net exports on the German border.