How to balance the energy system in Poland after coalexit?22.02.2022Media
The process of moving away from coal, resulting from the need to meet the EU goal of achieving climate neutrality, entails the need to replace this raw material with other sources of energy. How to fill the gap left by coal and is Poland able to ensure its energy security despite the decarbonization process?
Author: Paulina Borowska / EURACTIV.pl
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Poland is the most coal-dependent country in the European Union. 70 percent of the domestic energy sector is based on coal and in 2020 Poland was responsible for almost one third of electricity produced from coal in the entire EU.
Annually, the national economy emits over 400 million tons of CO2, which makes Poland responsible for 9.8 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in the European Union and the country is in 7th place in the EU in terms of tons of CO2 per capita.
According to a report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), moving away from coal in the energy sector by 2030 would enable Poland to save at least 141 billion euro.
“If Poland abandons coal by 2030, the savings from this will make it possible to build twice as much clean electricity capacity as is currently envisaged in the national plan PEP 2040 (Energy Policy of Poland until 2040),” said the report’s lead author Mihaela Grubišić Šeba.
“There is no well thought out strategy”
PEP 2040 assumes that in 2030, the share of coal in electricity generation is to be a maximum of 37-56 percent, and in 2040 – 11-28 percent, depending on how fast the prices of CO2 emission allowances will grow.
Hard coal consumption is expected to be between 11.1 and 19.1 million tons. Currently, coal-fired power plants produce about 90 TWh, and are expected to produce only 11 TWh in 2040. Nevertheless, according to many experts, Poland lacks a well-thought-out strategy for moving away from coal.
„There are partial and disconnected concepts operating in the public space – there is an end date for coal mine closures (2049), but none for lignite. There are plans for a just transition of coal regions, but they are not assembled into one coherent strategy. Finally, there is the concept of the National Energy Security Agency, which only indicates organizational changes. It is necessary but far from sufficient for the transformation of the sector,” says Ph.D. Aleksandra Gawlikowska-Fyk, Director of the Electricity Program of the Energy Forum think tank in an interview with EURACTIV.pl.
She adds that „the energy policy adopted a year ago set out unambitious scenarios and is no longer in line with reality”, while „there is no well thought out strategy and we are the only EU country that has not set a date to say goodbye to coal”.
The Ember think tank report shows that in 2030 Poland, Czech Republic and Bulgaria will account for 95 percent of the planned coal-based electricity production of all EU countries, while Poland alone will be responsible for 63 percent of coal-based energy.
The three countries want to reduce coal consumption by only 42 percent, while the rest of the EU proposes a reduction target of 99 percent.
“Disrupted” gas market is not enough
The PEP 2040 indicates that the reduction of coal use in the economy will be carried out in a way ensuring fair transformation. In accordance with the assumptions, moving away from coal is to contribute to limiting CO2 emissions by 30 percent by 2030 in comparison to 1990. The share of gas in the energy mix is to reach 17-33 percent in 2030.
As Aleksandra Gawlikowska-Fyk points out, in Poland „there are plans to build new power plants, the disposable ones – that is, those which can be used to balance the system and these are mainly gas units”. But the expert emphasizes that „they appear at the time when investing in gas is getting more and more difficult and when the gas market is extremely unstable”.
Meanwhile, Energy Forum estimates, that „after 2025 Poland may run out of even 8 GW of power – this is how much may be withdrawn for economic reasons when the support for coal from the power market ends. But an equally important reason is that our power plants are old and their planned lifespan is coming to an end. We can expect further withdrawals in the coming years,” she notes.
Atom – a recipe for energy shortages?
As EURACTIV.pl recently reported, at the end of 2021 Germany shut down half – three out of six – of its nuclear power plants, and the rest will only operate until the end of 2022. And although the atom is to be replaced by fossil fuels, the new German government plans to accelerate the green transition, and wants to move away from coal as early as 2030.
But while Berlin decides to abandon the atom, Poland has plans to build its first nuclear power plant to diversify its energy mix. Warsaw stresses that the atom is a safe, zero-emission and stable source of energy.
In 2033 the first nuclear power plant unit with a capacity of about 1-1.6 GW is to be launched in Choczewo. Subsequent units will be built every two to three years, and the entire nuclear program assumes construction of six units.
„Poland needs nuclear energy, and the construction of the first power plant of this type in Poland is important for the entire country both in terms of energy transition and security of energy supply,” Minister of Climate and Environment Anna Moskwa assesed.
The need to include the atom in climate policy was recently pointed out by Green Party politician Marek Kossakowski, who wrote on Facebook that the Greens should „abandon their absolute opposition to nuclear energy.”
This – unpopular among European Greens – position shows up right after the European Commission proposed including nuclear energy in the EU taxonomy, that is, recognizing it – along with gas power – as a climate-neutral energy source.
This, in turn, could make it easier for countries such as Poland to accelerate their efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, thus facilitating the energy transition. According to Brussels, during the transition period, it will not be possible to meet the energy demand in the EU without nuclear and gas power.
This is due to the ongoing energy crisis and shortages on the energy market caused, among other things, by Russia cutting gas supplies.
Nevertheless, the decision to use nuclear energy alone is not enough. As Izabela Zygmunt, currently the Commission’s expert in Poland for the European Green Deal, stressed in an interview with EURACTIV.pl last year, „including a nuclear power plant in the energy strategy and taking for granted that it will appear in 2033 – despite the very high uncertainty – is risky for our energy system”.
Therefore – according to the expert – one should „look at what technologies exist and what chances they have to develop quickly and quickly fill the gap left by coal”.
Need for more renewables
As Izabela Zygmunt pointed out, nuclear energy is not treated in any scenarios as the basis for the future energy mix, and it is expected to provide no more than a dozen or so percent of energy. The rest is to be provided by renewable energy sources.
Currently, renewable energy sources in Poland account for about 15 percent of the energy mix. However, their share is growing, and in 2030 it may amount to over 43 percent of the mix, which, according to the Energy Forum, will allow to maintain the stability of the energy system.
The PEP 2040 states that „Poland declares reaching at least 23 percent share of RES in gross final energy consumption in 2030.
The largest source of energy from RES in Poland is wind, and as swiatoze.pl reports, at peak times wind energy accounts for approximately 30 percent of the national energy mix.
The development of this energy sector was hampered by the so-called distance law of 2016, by which the distance from a windmill to buildings had to be about 1.5 km. However, there are plans to liberalize this law.
Moreover, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, they estimate that thanks to the falling costs of photovoltaics and windmills, the construction of new renewable energy sources is cheaper than traditional coal-fired power plants.
Safety and balancing
Experts emphasize that in order to ensure energy security for Poland in the decarbonization process, a strategy for development of RES is needed.
Among the possible solutions – according to Aleksandra Gawlikowska-Fyk – are „modification of the power market towards a clean mechanism, priority treatment of the construction of renewable sources or revision of the existing support mechanisms for cogeneration”.
„It is also necessary to open a discussion on how to support the construction of dispatchable capacities until 2030 by setting specific goals to be achieved. If we build gas units, it should be on the assumption that their role in the system should be minimized. This all depends, however, on setting a real path for moving away from coal, and this requires political will,” the expert indicates.
Read the article in Polish on EURACTIV.pl.