Set to become the world’s first artificial energy island, the Princess Elisabeth Island has been granted an environmental permit, paving the way for its construction to commence in early 2024, with a projected completion date of August 2026. The island, situated 45 km off the coast, will serve as a pivotal energy hub, connecting new wind farms and additional interconnectors to Belgium’s onshore power grid, thereby enhancing the nation’s energy infrastructure. Acting as a high-voltage infrastructure that bundles together the export cables from the new Princess Elisabeth Zone, the island will uniquely combine both direct current (HVDC) and alternating current (HVAC).
Notably, the island will also function as a hub for future interconnectors with the United Kingdom (Nautilus) and Denmark (TritonLink), facilitating power exchanges between countries and connecting to new offshore wind farms. Ensuring that the design and production methods were in alignment with sustainability and respect for the marine environment, the permit application process was meticulous, with Elia, the entity behind the project, ensuring compliance. Elia’s commitment to a Nature Inclusive Design not only minimizes potential harmful effects on the marine environment but also aims to add genuine ecological and environmental value to the project.
A consortium involving Belgian marine construction companies DEME and Jan De Nul has initiated preparations at the site where the caissons (concrete foundations) will be built in Vlissingen (North Sea Port). The construction of 23 concrete caissons, each approximately 60 m long, 30 m wide, and 30 m high, will be undertaken at Verbrugge Zeeland Terminals at Bijleveldhaven, a location in North Sea Port. Following the caisson construction, the island will undergo sand fill reclamation and preparation for the installation of high-voltage electrical infrastructure.
With logistics and engineering activities transitioning to the newly renovated Stapelhuis warehouse in early November 2023, involving around 80 jobs, the project will be coordinated from Port Oostende. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Justice and the North Sea, Vincent Van Quickenborne emphasized, “We plan to continue developing the North Sea as Belgium’s leading energy center, and Princess Elisabeth Island will be a crucial part of this process.” He further highlighted Belgium’s innovative approach, stating that the country is the first to install wind turbines in protected marine areas, and commended Elia’s commitment to nature-inclusive design.
Tinne Van der Straeten, Federal Minister for Energy, accentuated Belgium’s leadership in offshore wind and its role in accelerating the energy transition through a fourfold increase in offshore wind capacity in the Belgian North Sea. CEO of North Sea Port, Daan Schalck, expressed enthusiasm about contributing to Europe’s energy transition alongside Elia, DEME, and Jan De Nul, and emphasized the strengthening of their long-term collaboration through this project. Nicolas Beck, Head of Community Relations Elia, acknowledged the “unique collaboration” with marine experts, which has provided invaluable insights for better integration of Princess Elisabeth Island into the surrounding environment.
Covering 6 hectares and located in the middle of the Princess Elisabeth Zone, the island will be constructed on concrete caissons filled with sand, housing primarily transmission infrastructure used to connect new wind farms and future interconnectors. Approximately 300 km of alternating current cables (HVAC) and 60 km of direct current cables (HVDC) will be installed around the island to connect all future offshore facilities to the Belgian high-voltage grid. Ensuring accessibility and operational efficiency for the maintenance and management of the infrastructure, the island will also feature a small harbor for maintenance crews and a helideck.
Marking a significant step towards augmenting offshore green energy for Belgian families and companies, the first wind turbines within the Princess Elisabeth Zone are slated to be commissioned in 2028. The nature-inclusive design of the island, which was scrutinized and adjusted with the help of outside experts, aims to enhance biodiversity both on and around the island, reflecting a conscientious approach towards environmental conservation. Demonstrating a thoughtful approach to infrastructure development, the island’s design, which considers shape and orientation, plays a crucial role in minimizing adverse effects on the marine environment.
Ensuring a multifaceted perspective in its development, Elia’s nature-inclusive design approach was developed through a co-creation process involving various institutions, universities, design firms, and NGOs. Belgium’s commitment to the energy transition is underscored by the project, as it facilitates the integration of the European energy market and supports societal decarbonization through the incorporation of renewable power. A key player in electricity transmission, Elia Group ensures the balance of production and consumption, supplying electricity to 30 million end users and operating 19,349 km of high-voltage connections.
With its core shareholder being the municipal holding company Publi-T, the legal entity Elia Group is listed and is one of Europe’s top five transmission system operators. The Elia Group also engages in non-regulated activities, such as re.alto – the first European marketplace for exchanging energy data via standardized energy APIs – and WindGrid, which expands the Group’s overseas activities and contributes to the development of offshore electricity grids in Europe and beyond. Through its innovative and environmentally conscious approach, the Princess Elisabeth Island project not only marks a significant advancement in Belgium’s energy infrastructure but also sets a precedent for future global endeavors in sustainable offshore energy development.