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OVERVIEW - Roads less traveled for the Polish energy transition

Wind turbines in Poland. Author: Karolina Kabat.

October 16 (Renewables Now) - Poland has more or less started its energy transition, but the road ahead is steep and winding as the Polish government has yet to decide whether the breakup with coal will be tough or well-rehearsed.

In the coming weeks the government is expected to present Poland’s new energy strategy for 2030 and the years beyond. In a best case scenario for renewables, it could include a push for solar and offshore wind, both being totally or almost non-existent in the current mix. A turn towards gas is expected along with measures to "clean" coal.

With the COP24 climate summit in Katowice approaching, Renewables Now is trying to build the picture of the future Polish energy system with input from different actors such as the leaders in power and heat production, clean energy entrepreneurs, NGOs fighting for cleaner air and energy experts. All that has been made possible by the Clean Energy Wire and Polish think tank Forum Energii, which helped us reach these people. We will be publishing a series of overviews and interviews on the Polish energy transition over the coming weeks. The first one, today, gives a very general picture of the energy sector and some clues of what can be expected of the new energy policy.

THE POLISH ENERGY SECTOR TODAY

After more than 40 years of communism, Poland‘s power mix in 1989 was almost 100% coal. In 2017, the share of coal was over 78%, which is still huge in the context of a world struggling to reduce CO2 emissions. Yet, it still shows that the country has made some progress when it comes to the diversification of Polish power generation.

Over the past 10 years there has been a notable increase in renewables, especially onshore wind, and some gas-fired power capacity additions. The table below contains details on Polish power capacity and generation per source, as provided by Forum Energii.

Source 2017 power capacity 2017 output Share of generation
Hard coal 22 GW 81.1 TWh 47.7%
Lignite 9.3 GW 52.3 TWh 30.7%
Onshore wind 5.8 GW 14.9 TWh 8.8%
Natural gas 2.1 GW 9.3 TWh 5.5%
Pumped-storage 1.4 GW 0.5 TWh 0.3%
Hydro 1 GW 2.6 TWh 1.5%
Biomass 0.9 GW 3.5 TWh 2%
-- biomass co-firing N/A 1.8 TWh 1.1%
Biogas 0.2 GW 1.1 TWh 0.6%

Sandbag and Agora Energiewende, two think tanks based in London and Berlin, respectively, calculate that the EU as a whole produced 357 TWh of electricity from hard coal and 312 TWh from lignite last year. Poland’s share in total EU hard coal power thus arrives at 22.7%, while for lignite power it is 16.8%.

The good news for the EU in 2017 was that the combined output of renewables in the bloc stood at 974 TWh, beating coal, but, as we see from the table above, Poland is far from such as success.

One area in which the country is among the leaders in Europe is the share of district heating in heat supply. By 2013 that share had reached 42%. However, roughly three-quarters of district heating is based on coal. A presentation by the Chamber of Commerce Polish District Heating shows that significant progress has been achieved in terms of lowering CO2 and SO2 emissions, yet decarbonising Polish heating remains a very difficult task.  

HOPE FOR POLISH SOLAR ENERGY, OFFSHORE WIND

In the coming weeks the government is expected to present Poland’s new energy strategy for 2030 and the years beyond. There is little information available at present, but different actors on the Polish energy scene mention offshore wind and solar photovoltaics (PV) as two sources that will be growing. One of them is COP24 president-designate and Deputy Minister of Environment, Michał Kurtyka.

Speaking to journalists last week, Kurtyka said that solar PV installations now make a lot of sense in Poland. The country is facing high demand for power in the summer months, due to the need for air conditioning, which aligns with the solar power generation curve. Meanwhile, the price of PV is, once again, on the slide. This sounds as a perfect combination.

The annual solar radiation in Poland is about 1,000 kWh per sq m. Yet, the share of solar photovoltaics (PV) was a tiny 0.1% in 2017 with 0.2 TWh produced.

Kurtyka also said offshore wind is a good choice because its output is predictable and not really intermittent, but did not say more on the topic.

In early 2018, the Foundation for Sustainable Energy (FNEZ) said in an analysis that Poland’s installed offshore wind power capacity in the Baltic Sea could reach 8 GW by 2035. The milestone for end-2030 could be 4 GW in a scenario that puts offshore energy as “one of the key pillars” of the Polish economy after 2020, according to FNEZ. Already, there are some projects in progress by Polish power group Polska Grupa Energetyczna SA (WSE:PGE). Its head of strategy, Monika Morawiecka, confirmed that PGE has three projects of 2.5 GW in total, the first one of which will be commissioned around 2025.

DEALING WITH POLISH SMOG

The energy transition was something Polish people did not follow with interest until they became aware of the high levels of air pollution in the country. A ranking by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2016 showed that 33 of the 50 most-polluted cities in Europe were in Poland.

Now, the energy transition is a mainstream topic. Even the Catholic Church in the country is joining the debate and calling for ambitious targets at COP24.

The reality is that when it comes to smog in Poland, the biggest part of the blame goes to households burning coal, sometimes very low-quality coal, and even rubbish in their stoves and boilers. Even if to a much lesser degree, the high share of coal in power and heating, and the emissions of the transport sector also contribute to the problem.

Several Polish regions have adopted anti-smog regulations and government programmes have been developed to provide financial support for households that want to replace their old boilers for more efficient ones. There will also be a ban on stoves that do not meet efficiency requirements. Such measures, coupled with a new energy policy aligned with the European direction toward decarbonisation, could help some Polish cities drop out of the next WHO report on air pollution. For now we have to wait and see.

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