Rhein on Energy and Climate

Poland has been a laggard in European Climate Policy. Its substantial coal reserves, second to those of Germany, and a powerful coal lobby have prevented the country for a long time from waking up to the climate challenge.

No wonder that coal continues to account for more than half of its energy consumption and more than 80% of its electricity consumption, that its per capita C02 emissions (8 tons) have remained higher than in most EU countries and that the government has not yet succeeded in enacting an effective strategy for lowering green house gas emissions.

On the contrary, it continues building new coal power plants.

By 2020 11 GW additional capacities should be on the grid,not a wise decision considering that they will remain operational until the middle of the century when the EU aims at having reduced its CO2 emissions by at least 80%.

More recently, under pressure from the EU and rising dependency on Russian oil and gas imports, which cover almost 40% of the energy consumption, the government seems to have become a bit more active in searching for alternative energy sources.

Among these shale gas figures high. Poland has more shale gas reserves than any other European country, with the exception of Ukraine. But over the past four years the government had to temper excessively high hopes and lower initial estimates from more than one trillion to only 300-700 billion cubic meters. None of the exploration wells have so far been successful, so that some of the concessionary companies have left the country.

But despite these drawbacks the efforts should go on, because domestic shale gas would constitute a big step to make Poland a bit less dependent on Russian imports and C02-intensive coal and lignite.

Poland will, of course, have to put in place an appropriate regulatory framework, especially for the protection of groundwater. But this should be a Polish rather than EU concern.

In addition,the government has decided to bet on nuclear power to generate emission free electricity. In January 2014, after almost 10 years of deliberations, it has approved a new strategy for installing two nuclear power plants with a total capacity of 3 GW to be operational by 2035. This is an ambitious undertaking in terms of safety and financing, considering the substantial cost-overruns of the most recent nuclear reactor being built in Finland and the German nuclear exit strategy.

Renewable energy, especially wind, solar and biomass, would be a cost-effective alternative to nuclear electricity. Poland plans to install 0.5 GW annually and reach a capacity of 6.6 GW by 2020. But this will be impossible to achieve considering further delays on the renewable energy legislation.

This is a pity as the Polish off-shore wind capacity is estimated at 20 GW.

Ideally, the Baltic riparian countries should create a joint wind power grid to serve as a virtual power storage system. With the support from the EU Commission, the interested countries – Denmark, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Sweden- stretching over a coastline of several hundred km – should prepare a feasibility study for such a project that might be completed by 2035.

Last not least, Poland should step up investments for thermal renovations of buildings to reduce the demand for heating during the cold winter months. It should use a big chunk of the financial assistance from EU structural funds 2014-20 for this purpose.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 20/9/2014

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