Wyns, T, (2023): Belgian offshore wind: Innovation and investment, An ex-post analysis. National Case Study of the 4i-TRACTION Deliverable D2.6. Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Berlin
Belgian Offshore Wind: Innovation and Investments
This case study looks at the development of offshore wind in Belgium over the 2009-2020 period.
Belgium and offshore wind were chosen as case study as Belgium was one of the first countries in the world to develop offshore wind energy , in 2020 it was the 4th largest offshore wind energy country (based on capacity installed). The case study had the goal to identify and map the offshore wind ecosystem in Belgium and identify technological and business model innovations, and look at the investment context for this industry.
Planning for offshore wind power in Belgium started in the beginning of the 21st century. A first park was planned but due to protest (e.g. the fear of visual pollution) the permit was stricken down. Another site had to be chosen and finally the first offshore park was connected to the power grid in 2009 (C-Power). At the time of the design and engineering, building a far shore wind farm at 25 to 30 km from the coast was a premiere.
Between 2010 and 2020 eight additional wind farms started operating in these designated zones. Together, these farms have 399 turbines and a total installed capacity of 2.26 GW. In 2020 Belgian offshore wind produced 6.7 TWh electricity, closing in to 10% of Belgium’s annual gross electricity consumption. According to the Belgian Offshore Platform, offshore wind energy accounts for 14 000 jobs today.  
A broad and diverse Belgian offshore wind ecosystem came into life
Over a period of 10-15 years, following the initiative of the Belgian government to develop offshore wind at least 169 companies became active in the development and operation of this sector in Belgium. There are now 6 coordination bodies or sector federations representing the industry. There is one dedicated research lab and 11 other research institutes focussing on innovation. Out of the 169 companies active in offshore wind 102 (or 60%) are Belgian, demonstrating a locally grown industry. The Belgian companies are active in all areas related to offshore wind (e.g., development, investing, maritime engineering, services and to lesser extent turbines and components).
Belgium has become a global player in construction of offshore wind parks and infrastructure
Offshore wind development in Belgium has resulted in nurturing two companies that have become world leading in offshore wind construction (Jan De Nul and DEME). Both companies are active in the development of offshore wind in the EU, e.g., France, UK, Germany. Furthermore, they were in pole position to secure contracts for the development of offshore wind in the US, Taiwan and Japan which are major future growth markets. Belgium has also become a global leader in modular offshore grids construction (via the company Smulders and its subcontractors) with around 40% of these substations being constructed in Belgium.
High-tech meets clean-tech
A large services industry to the offshore wind industry in Belgium developed over the last two decades. These services cover a broad group of activities such as consulting, verification and accreditation, maintenance, surveying, safety and safety training, IT services and remote sensing. There is strong evidence for innovative entrepreneurial activities and evidence for specialisation in Belgian offshore wind services focusing on innovative software (e.g. the use of AI), data monitoring and remote sensing relevant for the development and operations and maintenance of offshore wind infrastructure.
Belgian offshore wind is Belgian owned with large share of public sector ownership
Most of the offshore wind capacity is owned by Belgian companies or public sector stakeholders. This contrasts with gas- and nuclear based power production, which currently is owned by foreign companies. Belgian ownership has the advantage that it increases the chances that revenues and profits of offshore wind are reinvested in the Belgian economy.
Multilateral development banks, policy support and power purchase agreements facilitated financial closure of investments
Not only the ownership of offshore wind in Belgium is a mix of private and public actors. The capital made available (e.g. via loans) to make the investments possible is also a mix of public and private funds. Next to the commercial banking sector, national and international development banks provided a substantial amount of financing. The European Investment Bank (EIB) provided a substantial part (33%) of financing for all Belgian offshore wind parks. This support helped these capital-intensive projects reach financial closure. This is important for emerging technologies that have additional amounts of project and technology risks. Two other elements helped to bring about long-term investment certainty: The long-term support via green energy certificates (17-20 years) and the use of Power Purchase Agreements (PPA’s).
Recommendations for transformative climate policies
When it comes to lessons learned from this case study the main conclusion is that the development and nourishment of a local industrial ecosystem (e.g. via support instruments and support for innovation) can be the driver for higher government ambitions in the development of more renewable energy.
Download the case study here.
Read more about the overview report here.
 With Denmark the pioneer in Offshore wind in the 1990ies and the UK in the first years of the 21st century, Belgium and Germany were the next EU countries to commercially develop offshore wind around 2010.
 Belgian Offshore Platform, 2022
 Deme group, n.d.
 FOD Economie, 2022