Innovative solutions for underground high voltage connections gaining momentum


In recent months, Europe experienced a sharp rise in energy prices. In order to meet the long-term energy demand on the market, the Flemish Government is therefore strongly committed to the energy transition. A switch to sustainable, renewable energy generation will be indispensable in this transition. A massive rollout of wind turbines, solar panels and other renewable sources will become the norm, and because of the strict geographical requirements for this rollout, the demand for reliable high-voltage connections will also increase in the coming decades. At the request of Flemish Minister of Innovation, Jo Brouns, EnergyVille’s expertise has therefore been called upon.

In the course of the years, EnergyVille has developed considerable expertise on electric transmission networks, and in particular HVCD – High-Voltage Direct Current. Granted further development, this technology has the capacity to be applied more widely for long, high-power underground connections, turning it into the perfect innovation to enable underground high-voltage lines.

That is why EnergyVille, upon the request of Flemish Minister of Innovation, Jo Brouns, recently submitted the research program ‘Innovative solutions for underground high-voltage lines.’ On 16 December 2022, the program was approved by the Council of Ministers of the Flemish Government, now making it further possible to address current fundamental bottlenecks such as to enable a robust and broad integration of the new technology into the existing high-voltage grid.

The program consists of seven different research packages, each of which addresses a dimension of the current challenges and whose activities are fully aligned with the objectives within the EU SET Plan – the European objectives on energy innovations – within which research on HVDC is also identified as one of the key technologies needed for the energy transition.

” Flanders currently constitutes a central and essential node in the Western European high-voltage grid.” – Jo Brouns, Flemish Minister of Innovation.

“The proposed plan is necessary to prepare Flanders for an accelerated transition within the electricity sector. The HVDC Competence Center (HCC) will be a center of expertise for and with Flemish and Belgian transmission and distribution system operators, large energy users, technology suppliers and engineering firms, and thus constitutes the perfect opportunity to prepare our industry for this necessary technological change, to play out these assets strongly on an international level and gain a global leadership position.” continued Jo Brouns.

EnergyVille’s General Manager Gerrit Jan Schaeffer also addresses the importance of this research: ‘We cannot complete the energy transition without massive expansion of electrical infrastructure at a European level, distributing offshore wind and solar energy from the south across Europe. This will require a new approach – both in terms of spatial planning and in terms of technology – to enable as many of these connections underground as possible 10 years from now.’

” So we need to start this accelerated research and innovation process now. A very good decision, and we are going to do everything we can, together with industry and governments, to realize the necessary innovation. – General Manager Gerrit Jan Schaeffer.

The timeline for the entire program will cover at least 10 years. In this first phase, EnergyVille will focus on the period up to 2026, during which the largest investments will have to take place – namely 3.75 million euros for the accelerated research, and a contribution of 10.25 million euros for the research infrastructure. The ambition is to invest around 3 million euros annually over the next 10 years in this research program. A collaboration from the industry sector at large will be also pursued to a maximum extent, for example in the shape and form of discussions to collaborate with network operator Elia. At his request, Minister Brouns has been authorized by the Flemish Government to make an addition to the current covenant between the Government and EnergyVille.

Furthermore, the recent Ventilus-case also show-cased that in densely populated areas such as Flanders, it is anything but straightforward to build new, above-the-ground high-voltage lines. Hence, Minister Brouns concludes:

 ” That is why we are looking above and beyond with this particular research, so we can face these necessary future developments with greater support from the public at large. – Jo Brouns.


Dirk van Hertem

Professor Electrical Engineering at EnergyVille/KU Leuven, Research line coordinator electrical networks

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