22 (117) 2015
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Events coverage

Opportunities and threats for Poland’s renewable energy sector to 2050

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The BPCC’s CleanTech & Energy policy group met at the British Embassy in Warsaw on 15 October for an overview of where Poland stood in the area of renewable energy.

The event allowed BPCC members to get together will representatives of the public sector and NGOs and discuss the current state of power generation from renewable sources. Local authorities, investors, engineers, consultants and ecologists had a chance to exchange views. Although there was a strong consensus in favour of renewable energy, there were differences of opinion regarding subjects such as waste-to-energy, nuclear power and the economic costs and benefits of going green.

Acting director of UKTI in Poland, Ewa van Veenendal-Rawicz opened the meeting by seting out how the UK was doing in the area. “Renewable energy is better for health and for the environment, she said. The UK had already invested £8bn in renewable energy, and had hit its 2020 target, by generating more than 20% of its energy from renewable source. Ms van Veenendal-Rawicz said that the sector was experiencing jobs growth at a rate seven times faster than the UK economy as a whole. Over 120,000 people are currently employed in generating electricity from renewable sources in UK, she said. She also spoke of the cooperation between the UK and Poland in the nuclear industry as well as in renewable energy.

Beata Wiszniewska, director-general of the Polish chamber of renewable and distributed energy, PIGEOR, gave an overview of the state of renewables in Poland today and up to 2050. She said that Poland still has some way to go to meet the 20% target by 2020. She highlighted the conflict between the EU’s goal of decarbonisation of the economy with Poland’s current dependence on coal. “Each country can choose the renewable energy mix it will choose to hit the 2020 targets, which are “3 x 20” – reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20%, increase the share of power generated from renewable sources to 20%, and improve energy efficiency by 20%. Building a single European energy market was another goal of the EU for this period.

Ms Wiszniewska explained that the targets for 2030 were more stretching – a 40% reduction in greenhouse gases, and renewables’ share up to 27%. By 2050, renewables would have a dominant role and there would be a 80-95% reduction in greenhouse gases. She said that in contrast with the UK and Scandinavian countries, Poland has no vision of how to get there. “Today’s mix is 51% hard coal and 35% brown coal. Currently, 86% of Poland’s energy is generated by burning coal). Only 6% comes from renewable sources. Many power stations will have to be closed over next 10-15 years due to old age. The will have to be replaced. We don’t know by how much demand for energy will grow. Will electric cars become commonplace? Factors like this will determine our future usage,” she said, saying that it is a good moment to think about development. 

Other factors that must be borne in mind are energy security and the need to distribute generation – bringing it as close as possible to the consumer. 

Local generation from sources such as solar, water, wind, and biogas plants would need to come from millions of small-scale investments across the countryside. Ms Wiszniewska mentioned the falling cost and rising effectiveness of wind and photovoltaic technologies. Costs would continue to fall, while conventional power generation costs would remain the same.

The main technical problem facing wind and solar energy was the unstable delivery, with peaks and troughs. “The storage of electrical power is where we expect breakthroughs. It is expensive at present; solutions include pumping water up hill with cheap power, and dropping it back down through turbines when power is needed,” she said.

Ms Wiszniewska covered co-fired power generation, where biomass (renewable) and coal (not renewable) are burnt together. “This should not be considered a renewable source of energy. It leads to absurdities, such as feedstock being transported from distant countries so as to earn green certificates. Co-firing will finish in 2016,” she said. Ms Wiszniewska also spoke about prosumers – small businesses or households generating their own electricity from solar panels or micro-windmills, and selling the surplus power to the grid. 

Paweł Puacz from law firm Clifford Chance spoke about the legal framework within which renewable energy operates in Poland.

“If there were no laws, there’d be no renewable energy in Poland other than a few pre-war hydro plants. The development of renewable energy only began in earnest after EU accession as the first systems based on green certificates started in 2004,” he said. Mr Puacz spoke about the new law introduced this year, where public support for renewable energy will be based on an auction system. He said that the government’s goal was to hit the 20% renewables target by 2020 – but to go no further. “If we are to reach the target, we will need several hundred renewable energy source power plants plugged into the network each year, as we once did,” he said. The next government will determine the reference prices and organise the auctions: “The support mechanism depends on political will. The risk to investors is minimised, but their appetite is suppressed, due to uncertainty.”

Anna Trudzik, a project engineer from AECOM, talked about waste-to-energy plants. She had worked on the newly-opened Bydgoszcz plant. There were questions from participants as to whether waste-to-energy should qualify as a renewable source. Oil has to be burnt to initiate the incineration process, and part of the waste stream used as feedstock for such plants comes from non-renewable sources such as plastics. 

But once the incineration process begins, it heats water, drives turbine, generates electricity, and the heat is reclaimed and used to heat local housing estates. 

The EU has set challenging targets for Poland to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfill. And so, EU funds have been successfully used to build waste incineration plants, in Bydgoszcz, Konin, Szczecin, Białystok and Kraków all have them.

But is there enough feedstock? Surely as much waste as possible should be recycled, asked several of the participants. Once the plastic, card, paper, textiles and food waste have been segregated, is there enough left over – and is it suitably calorific for incineration? Another issue is the transportation of waste. Often it has travel a long distance to reach the incineration plant.

Ms Trudzik said that waste-to-energy is governed by 10 different sources of law – four EU Directives, four Polish laws and two regulations from the Ministry of the Environment. The development of waste-to-energy has contributed to Poland having reduced its CO2 emissions by 47.6% compared to 1990. 

In order to meet the criteria for claiming the waste-to-energy incineration is indeed a renewable energy source, operators have to prove that at least 42% of the feedstock is biodegradable. This needs to be sampled, four times a month, each sample must show that the calorific value of the waste is sufficiently high. However, with targets set for recycling and reducing the waste stream, there is a hierarchy of what should be done with the waste, with incineration at the very bottom. First, you must recycle, and then, in the end, you can incinerate what’s left. Yet that has to tick nine boxes if you want that to qualify as renewable energy source, said Ms Trudzik.

Participants voiced their concerns about landfill, the cost of which varies between 240zł/tonne in Warsaw and 30zł/tonne in the Kaszuby region. The new Polish law on waste collection spells out who owns the rubbish – the municipal authorities – and thus it is that the municipal authorities direct where the rubbish goes, and this often decides the fate of a waste-to-energy plant. Co-firing waste with coal is also controversial – waste being brought in from abroad in order to qualify for tradable green certificates. 

The final presentation was from Tomasz Hoffman, managing partner of PNO CEE Consultants, a firm focused on securing EU funds for projects. Setting the scene, Mr Hoffman said that the current debate was about the scale and nature of public-sector intervention – how to use public money wisely to reach long-term goals. If we don’t take steps to protect the environment, our children and grandchildren will suffer, he said. In the late 19th and early 20th century there was lobby against sewer systems in towns – agriculture was said to die if that happened. Fossil fuels will eventually run out – so how will we cope, if we don’t invest in renewable energy sources now, even though they are not competitive without subsidies?

There was a discussion about why Germany has such expensive energy. On the one hand, the closure of the nuclear sector means that more investment is needed in renewable sources, but as it does so, emissions of CO2 are rising, as more brown coal from the east is having to be burnt. High taxes on energy are transferring money from manufacturing industry to the social security system, making the economy less competitive. At the same time, we learned in August that as sun and wind peaked, Germany managed to generate 80% of its energy needs from renewable sources. 

Mr Hoffmann outlined the accents of national and regional operational programmes in Poland. In total, more than €150m has been earmarked for larger-scale renewable energy schemes, up to a maximum level of 85% of the capital costs. However, unlike previous EU budgets, the current financial perspective foresees the funds taking the form of repayable loans, rather than grants. The capital costs must, in the end, be repaid out of operating revenues. A further €150m is to be made available for small scale distributed prosumer schemes – micro-generation for homes and small business.

Following the coffee break, a panel discussion took place moderated by Ms Wiszniewska, during which Arkadiusz Sekściński, a board member of the Polish wind-power association, PSEW, Dariusz Szwed, advisor to the mayor of Słupsk, Mariusz Popiołek, advisor to the climate protection department at the national environmental protection fund, NFOŚiGW, and Paweł Puacz, answered questions from the floor.

A networking lunch concluded the meeting.

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