INTERVIEW - Time is up for Poland's coal, diversified and cleaner energy mix is on the go

Author: Patrick.

October 23 (Renewables Now) - Poland is running out of coal and, as extraction cannot cope with demand, the country is already importing some from Russia. In the past, building the Polish economy around coal might have made sense, but now Poland is facing a different future.

According to data by Warsaw-based think tank Forum Energii, hard coal accounted for 47.7% of Poland’s power generation and the share of lignite was 30.7% in 2017.

Joanna Pandera, head of Forum Energii, recently told journalists in Warsaw that the over 50 TWh of power generation from lignite would disappear around 2030 as the existing lignite mines in the country would be depleted in about 10 years.

Which sources would fill the gap left by lignite is one of the many questions that the new energy policy, to be presented in the coming weeks, needs to answer.

In May 2018, the government said that without the modernisation of existing generating units, development of new deposits and construction of new complexes lignite-based generation would disappear, obliterating a whole industry in 2040-2045. The possibility of developing new lignite deposits to replace the exhausted ones has been on the table for a while.

Renewables Now sought Joanna Pandera’s view on the future of Polish energy, including coal, gas and renewable energy, and the long road of the country’s energy transition.

Q: Do you expect any new lignite (or hard coal) mining projects to be realised?

A: The Polish government is to announce the new energy policy soon, and should declare what is the role of coal, both hard coal and lignite, in the future. To keep the share of coal there needs to be constant development of existing mines but also decisions about the new ones — this regards mainly lignite. And this is difficult due to economic and geological conditions and in fact coal exploration year by year is falling down. There are some plans for new mines but many risks associated with the investments — economic, geological and social resistance.

Q: What are your wildest hopes for the new energy policy in terms of the future Polish energy mix?

A: The future Polish energy mix needs to be—first and foremost—diversified. This will improve the country’s energy security and help to face unpredictability in time of energy transition. The offshore wind on the Baltic Sea has a great potential and it could add up to 8 GW -12 GW in Poland in the coming years. In a shorter perspective, the system needs flexibility, which Forum Energii advocates for. Hopes are that the solar photovoltaic (PV) sector will grow faster (its current capacity is just 330 MW) and that it will be reflected in the new energy policy. Solar PV would strengthen the distribution grid and is needed to address the problem of summer peaks. Peak load is increasing faster in summer than average yearly demand due to air conditioning.

When planning the energy mix for Poland, it is necessary to take into account the costs and the possibility of raising capital for investments, ensuring jobs, as well as reducing the environmental and health impact. International obligations and EU common market regulations are also vital. But stable supplies of electricity are crucial. Last year, Forum Energii analysed four scenarios for the Polish energy mix in 2050. In coal scenario coal will reach 50% in 2050. In renewables scenario energy generation consisted only from renewables, gas and a little bit of import. Both (and everything in the middle) are possible. Right now, we expect the release of the energy policy to see what our government is aiming at.

Q: What has Poland failed to do so far in terms of its energy transition?

A: We waited too long to react to the fast changes in technologies and regulations. Poland has been lagging behind with the country’s energy strategy, which had to be preceded by an open, fact-based and inclusive discussion, and this has had an impact on investments.

In the coming years, more than half of the power generating units will be decommissioned for economic and environmen­tal reasons. The generation gap has to be filled. Good strategy is necessary to attract investors.

Q:...and what has the country actually done well?

A: In the last few years renewables become really cheap. Entering the energy transition now and not 10 years ago may, paradoxically, be beneficial for Polish consumers. There seems to be a wide consensus about offshore wind—the idea has a good starting point in Poland. From other policy fields, Poland is pursuing diversification of gas supplies, which—when successful—should enable bigger role of gas in the power sector. Gas will increase diversity and flexibility of electricity generation and that will result in an easier integration of renewables.

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Browse all articles from Tsvetomira Tsanova

Tsvet has been following the development of the global renewable energy industry for almost nine years. She's got a soft spot for emerging markets.

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