Belgium in Brief: Brussels cuts gas use but at what cost?

Belgium in Brief: Brussels cuts gas use but at what cost?
Credit: Belga

Energy prices in Belgium have been bouncing around over the last year, driven by volatility in gas markets that crippled businesses and left households cold.

And though energy bills aren't nearly at the stupefying peaks still too close for comfort, Brussels as a region managed to cut gas consumption by almost one fifth – an impressive chunk of energy saved, though at what cost?

Whilst basic measures such as turning down thermostats in government buildings and dimming lights on monuments sent a message of solidarity, the real battle to avoid using gas was fought at home. Though not forlorn of government assistance in the form of energy premiums, most of these are now phased out.

It's one thing to ask for prudence when opening windows in the workplace, but quite another to not be able to cook dinner (if you can even pay for the ingredients). And though the capital's administration is keen to consign the privations of previous months to the history books, it will need to go much further than matronly advice about wearing woolly socks.

Aside from the mentioned energy premiums, Brussels (and all of Belgium) needs to double down on energy efficiency rather than simply celebrating energy saving. Doing less with less is obvious; the real aim is doing more with less. To this end, the protections for tenants that have made rent increases contingent on energy performance certificates have been key. Likewise, the subsidies offered for energy-saving renovations are also a step in this direction.

Finally, efforts to sever Belgium's dependency on the volatile fossil fuel that is natural gas can only be meaningfully addressed when considered in the context of the country's energy mix as a whole. The reductions in gas consumption stand for little if they aren't offset by an alternative source – preferably with a far lower environmental cost. And whilst Europe's enthusiasm for renewables has seen grand projects unveiled, these are still a way off.

Which points to one clear solution to the question of energy sovereignty: nuclear. But this being a long-standing fault line in Belgium's fractured political landscape, recent progress on extending Belgium's two youngest nuclear reactors will likely be shaken in next year's national elections. Until then best wrap up warm.

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