Reducing environmental impact and integrate circularity

Developing the needed infrastructure for a successful energy transition can be challenging regarding the environmental impact. That is why Elia Group is taking necessary measures to limit the impact of its activities on the environment. 

The high-voltage transmission grids play an essential role in the energy transition and the decarbonisation of society and industry as already showcased in the mitigating climate change webpage . That is why Elia and 50Hertz are developing their transmission grids with an eye on the long term and in line with demand for renewable energy sources integration. To that end, Elia Group is investing in the development of the onshore and offshore high-voltage grid in order to drive the integration of renewable energies, and in the construction of interconnectors to enable the integration of the European energy market. The grid development can affect the environment and the biodiversity. Therefore, one of the biggest challenges we face is maintaining and expanding the grid while ensuring a sustainable approach to environmental impacts. Ecological and social sustainability as well as a clear commitment to environmental and climate protection and resource conservation are integral parts of the corporate strategy. 

Elia Group is therefore taking the necessary measures to limit the impact of its activities on the environment, both in its activities in the field and in its administrative buildings. That is why the dimension 2 of our sustainability Act Now programme aims at preserving and strengthening ecosystems and biodiversity , integrating ecological design and circularity in all steps of our projects and ensuring compliance with environment performance standards.

 
  • Circularity embedded in our core business processes
  • Ensuring compliance with environmental performance standards

We are in a learning phase of the concept of circularity of our materials and the eco-design of our assets. Indeed, the raw materials scarcity is a real issue threatening the electricity sector and the planet. Therefore, Elia wants to work closely with all of our value chain actors so that the equipment and materials used in our activities are increasingly manufactured from reused materials. At the end of their useful life, they can also be recycled, reused or recovered.

Elia Group wants to embed circularity aspects into core business processes by:

  • Learning and then introducing eco-design principles into engineering governance, asset management and purchasing policies. It is important to consider the environment in the early stages of a project in order to limit CO2 emissions. We have therefore started to introduce different measures that you can find on the green procurement page. Moreover, starting with logistics and spare parts management, Elia is exploring the use of 3D printing throughout the company. Our 3D printing project has focused on detecting opportunities for 3D printing in Elia’s warehouse. The aim is to find cost-effective ways to deliver high quality spare parts as and when they are needed. The first case has been successfully implemented in the field with a circuit breaker caps. This part deteriorated prematurely due to UV sensitivity of the used materials. For almost the same cost, Elia used 3D printing to develop a better quality spare part which requires less maintenance, which saves both time and money.
  • Further develop dismantling infrastructure policies and actions. Indeed, if this has an interest in terms of CO2 economy, we want to be able to improve the recovery of the parts of the assets that we dismantle in order to be able to reuse them. For example, pylons can be 100% recycled and transformers up to 90%.
  • Develop methodology to identify and design measures reducing waste and enhancing waste management.

All these actions need of course to closely interact with suppliers and materials industry ambitions.

Waste management

Elia produces different waste streams related to its activities, including some recyclable and hazardous waste. Maintenance work and infrastructure projects are our core activities that generate most waste flows. If facilities are newly built, converted or dismantled, specific elements (e.g. transformers that have a very long lifetime) are stored in order to be reused either in refurbished stations or in newly built ones. Those parts that are no longer needed are disposed of in a resource-conserving manner and specific elements are recycled (e.g. metals from the cables and oil).

Elia has a waste policy in place to collect, sort and handle the waste from its Service Centers, high-voltage stations and its administrative posts. Specific containers are placed in premises and waste yards, and are removed by an authorized collector. Through these activities, Elia can monitor the waste streams and integrate them in the environmental management system. This allows for individual waste targets, and measures to lower the waste streams.

We are improving the way we manage waste with a specific focus on our construction sites.

Elia Groups wants to become a model in terms of environmental protection by ensuring compliance with environment performance standards. Therefore, Elia Group carries out a continuous improvement of environmental performance by implementing in the coming years an environmental management system certified according to the ISO 14001. This control system allows us to manage environmental risks to our activities properly. Moreover, Elia Group considers applicable environmental laws and regulations as minimum standards and monitors closely the fulfilment of applicable environmental laws and regulations accordingly.

Soil studies, remediation and protection

A part of the Belgian soils is historically polluted as a direct result of nearby or in situ (prior use) industrial activities or backfilling with polluted soil. In Flanders, since its inception in 2001, more than 220 sites have been studied. 14 sites were highly contaminated and required remediation. Currently, this remediation is still ongoing for some sites. In Wallonia and Brussels, Elia operates more than 100 sites. Elia actively monitors its sites to identify for any contaminations and to ensure remediation should it be needed. Moreover, for all our new infrastructure (on or offshore) we study and implement the best-practice according to the situation[1] in order to avoid soil degradation.
[1] We will base our approach on the Best Available Technology Not Entailing Excessive Cost (BATNEEC) principle.

Herbicide use

Herbicides are mostly used in substations to prevent the growth of vegetation and avoiding electrical risks. However, they can be very harmful to the environment. That’s the reason why, since a few years we are testing alternative maintenance solutions and since 1st of January 2021 no more glyphosate is used as a vegetation management solution in our substations.

We even go a step further by not using any herbicides anymore in 35 of our substations.

Stripping and painting of pylons

As part of its facility maintenance activities, Elia regularly (every 15 years on average) strips and paints its pylons to protect them from corrosion and thereby ensure their longevity.

Elia's grid still features a number of black steel pylons coated with lead paint, a type of treatment that was widespread until 1995. To prevent lead dust or lead chips from spreading when the paint is stripped off the pylons, the pylons are wrapped up in tarpaulins before work begins. Once the pylons have been stripped, the tarpaulins are removed and the pylons are painted in the open air.

The paints used nowadays meet the highest environmental standards. When work is complete, Elia and the subcontractors in charge of painting jointly inspect the ground around the pylons to make sure that their activities have not polluted the surrounding area.

Noise

In high-voltage substations, transformers convert electricity to a different voltage and electricity is distributed to power connections. The transformers make a humming noise. Legislation and regulations concerning noise are strictly complied with during the construction of new high-voltage substations or the expansion of existing ones. Elia ensures that noise levels remain below the thresholds set by the applicable standards by installing equipment that makes the least amount of noise and erecting noise barriers around the transformers. 

If, despite the measures taken, there are complaints about noise pollution caused by an existing high-voltage substation, Elia undertakes to investigate each individual complaint. Noise studies are conducted and the results are used as a basis for devising suitable solutions. 

Under certain circumstances, overhead lines may also make some noise, usually a crackling sound known as the corona effect. The electrical field around the electric wires generates small electrical discharges that ionise the surrounding air molecules. This effect is exacerbated by air humidity. Imposing additional requirements on the material used in new power connections or replacements also helps minimise the corona effect. The crackling sound does not pose a health hazard.

If you have any complaints or questions regarding noise in the vicinity of our facilities, feel free to get in touch with the Contact Centre. The team there will be able to help you further.

Electric and magnetic fields

Daily Elia receives inquiries regarding electromagnetic fields (EMFs), especially from concerned citizens and governments. Elia’s policy regarding EMFs is to advance further scientific knowledge and to enhance continuous transparency towards our stakeholders.

To this end, Elia supports various research centres and universities throughout Belgium, grouped in the Belgian BioElectroMagnetics Group (BBEMG), as well as internationally via the American Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Elia offers complimentary EMF readings to local residents, and information via leaflets and the website. To know more, consult the electric and magnetic fields page.

Water

As water is not used in our main operations, this does not pose a material sustainability topic for Elia. Notwithstanding, Elia manages the rain- and wastewater streams of its buildings.

Elia’s policy commitments concerning responsible water usage mainly relate to household wastewater (from toilets and sinks) and water used to clean the office buildings. We build internal awareness of our employees for responsible water use, and to use water as efficiently as possible.

As water use is embedded into Elia’s environmental management system, targets for water consumption are defined, performance is monitored and results are reported.

  1. Administrative sites: At Elia, we promote the efficient use of water and the recovery of rainwater to be used in the lavatories.

The taps in the lavatories are fitted with aerators at the outlets that limit both the flow and the duration of the flow. The toilets have a 3/6-litre dual flush system and the urinals have proximity sensors so that they automatically flush when the user leaves. A flow control system continuously monitors water consumption and detects water leaks or wastage.

At the quai Monnoyer site, which is certified under the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), water is managed sustainably by means of a reed bed that naturally purifies wastewater, and a 1,700 m² pool complete with vegetation, which serves as a storm basin, a haven for biodiversity and a lagoon.

Rainwater that falls on the building is collected in tanks. If it falls elsewhere on the site, it flows into the lagoon and then into the Senne. The building's wastewater and blackwater is discharged into a settling tank and then into the reed bed. The clean, purified water is discharged into the lagoon. As well as treating water and reducing maintenance, the reed bed ponds allows a natural biotope to develop
(orange subtitle) At this site, we are pursuing three objectives:

  • Limiting tap water consumption
  • Better managing rainwater
  • Managing sanitary water

  1. Car wash for utility vehicules: mobile cleaning floor fitted with a wastewater collection system

When Elia organizes the car wash for its fleet vehicles on 2 sites, we use the concept of a mobile cleaning floor fitted with a wastewater collection system. A coalescing filter treats the wastewater, which can then be discharged into the sewer.


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