Powering Poland

Polandian first broached the subject of energy back in April 2008, when guest writer Colin Ude-Lewis wrote “Polish Energy Gridlock” following a blackout in Szczecin. We’re not sure what happened to Colin – last seen “Imparting a divine influence on the mind and soul”, but the question of how Poland will power itself has been the subject of growing media attention.

In the year 2000, Poland was producing a total of 135.2 billion kWh of electricity and consuming 119.3 billion kWh. About 63% of this goes to industry. These figures had not changed all that much since 1990. In fact, electricity consumption in the years just before 1990 was almost as high as it was in 2008 – something that has probably given Poland a bit more breathing space or in other words has delayed the blackouts. Spare capacity though is starting to run short and Poland is today using almost exactly as much electricity as it generates.

According to PSE data comparing 2010 to 2009, production of electricity rose 3.6% while consumption rose 4.5% and consumption of electricity is predicted to grow by 2.2% annually. The average energy needs of a Polish citizen were almost half of the EU average but that is changing and by 2025 it is predicted that Poland will have caught up = even higher consumption.

It is Poland’s domestic coal reserves that have saved the country thus far and made it the least dependent on imported energy.

Domestic coal reserves are of vital importance for the Polish economy. Poland is the biggest hard coal producer in the EU. Nearly all of its generated electricity (around 92-94%) comes from coal-fired power plants fueled principally by hard coal and lignite. This is primarily due to Poland’s vast domestic deposits of coal. According Poland’s National Energy Strategy, the country’s energy mix is going to change over the next two decades due to the rise in the use of renewables, natural gas and nuclear energy. At present, due to the significant role of coal in the Polish energy mix, Poland ranks the lowest among the EU – 27 countries in terms of its level of energy import dependency. Poland’s energy import dependency level is 14.7%, while the EU – 27 average in 2004 was 50.1% according to Eurostat, the European Commission statistical agency.

Whilst this was an understandable strategy to employ many years ago, increasingly strict environmental regulations will make it impossible for Poland to continue to rely on coal-powered plants for electricity. In addition to the adverse environmental aspects of burning coal there is the requirement for Poland to be producing 15% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. There are incentives if you’re interested in helping out with this goal.

Last but not least on the list of problems with current electrical generation is the age of the existing power plants. From a comprehensive report but a few years old now:

Generation capacity construction in Poland has been inconsistent over the past 30 years, resulting in an aging system that is becoming an increasingly serious problem. More than half of the current capacity was built in the 1970s. Approximately 60% of the system is more than 15 years old, and 40% is more than 20 years old. More than 1.5 gigawatts (GWe) [where 1,000 MWe = 1 GWe] has been in operation for more than 30 years. This problem has been exacerbated by insufficient expenditure on maintenance and modernization projects. PSE has estimated that by 2005, over 20 GWe of capacity will need rehabilitation while almost 3 GWe will need to be retired. Rehabilitation costs, including environmental protection costs, are estimated between $50 and $350 per kW of capacity. When plans to extend the transmission and distribution systems are factored in, the Polish electricity supply sector’s total investment needs from 1995 to 2000 are estimated to be approximately $8 billion.

Power plants built before the 1970s were typically single 120 MWe or smaller units. During the 1970s, power plants increased to several 200 MWe units on the same site. It was not until the late 1970s and 1980s that 500 MWe units were built. Additionally, Polish power plant technologies lagged behind more recent developments in combustion and control technology, as well as environmental control. This was because all power plant elements, including boilers, turbines and generators used in facilities during this period were similar in design and construction to earlier facilities.

Aside from PAIiIZ looking for investors I have yet to see much attention given to Poland’s need to increase the ratio of renewable energy in the mix but in terms of fixing the energy gap generally there has been a lot of talk about nuclear – which is not classed as being renewable. This report gives some background to the nuclear programme in Poland –

Poland has had a 40 year history with nuclear power. The first plans for the construction of a Polish nuclear facility date back to 1971 when the government debated on building a plant either in Żarnowiec or Klempicz. The reasons behind the location of these plants reflected favorable hydrological, seismic, geological and demographic conditions in these two areas. These facilities were initially scheduled to be brought on line in the year 2000. However, with a lack of social acceptance for such an investment on Polish territory in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, these plans were tabled. More recently, the concept of adding nuclear power to the Polish energy mix was revived in 2005 and has been subsequently included in the nation’s overall energy policy strategy. Social resistance to nuclear power has lessened, and local communities are actively competing for power plant installations in their regions as such plant development is viewed as an opportunity for employment creation. This latest endeavor has, however, also languished due to the lack of a detailed plan of action. In 2009, the Government appointed a Special Envoy for Polish Nuclear Energy, who is responsible for introducing nuclear energy to into the Polish energy mix. Present plans for the introduction of nuclear are found in the following table.

12/2010 – Preparation and Submission to the Cabinet of a Program on Nuclear Energy
12/2013 – Location Selection of Poland’s 1st nuclear power plant. Signature of Construction Contract
12/2015 – Technical Draft Design and Acquisition of Requisite Permits
12/2020 – Construction of 1st nuclear power

Poland should have no cause for concern about nuclear power stations as it is surrounded by them – Germany has 17 nuclear power plants, Czech Republic has six, Slovak Republic has four and Ukraine has 15, according to the European Nuclear Society. Chernobyl was almost on the doorstep and despite it being the worst accident ever we have yet to see six-headed children walking the streets of Warsaw. There was considerable concern that the recent events at the Fukashima plant in Japan would once more derail Polish nuclear ambitions despite the fact that Poland is not prone to warp-factor 9 earthquakes and tsunami waves and that Fukashima did not unleash a nuclear hell even when it was hit by such massive natural forces. It wasn’t pretty but it was well contained.

Recent news and statements suggest that Poland will, in fact, not be put off this time like it was before. Frankly, it cannot afford to be. So the question appears to be “In whose back garden will the plant be built?”.

Here the news is misleading. Some reports, such as one linked to above, state that the location will be the one selected previously, Żarnowiec, others say there is a study underway to select the location. Here is the location of the plant if Żarnowiec is actually selected.

Click for larger view


I’m liking the proximity to a lot of water. That seemed to be pretty important in Japan. What’s not so nice is that this is only about 60km (as the nuclear wind blows) from the tri-city area with a large population of 750,000 and also lies within a very popular holiday area so a melt-down in the summer could be pretty nasty! As a resident of Warsaw, Żarnowiec probably gives me enough time to fire up the Volvo and get the hell out of the way but I’d prefer it to be built in Bogatynia, although we might get complaints from residents of Dresden and Prague!

One last comment on a different energy source that has also been making the news recently, shale gas. Poland has huge resources of this stuff, in fact it is positively floating on up to 5.2 trillion cubic metres of shale gas, which has the potential to turn Poland into a net exporter of gas instead of having to rely on imports from those nasty Russians.

Click for larger views


Whilst this all sounds like good news economically, we shouldn’t get too excited as I’ve noticed a few articles recently that suggest there’s a growing tide of controversy about shale gas in general. One from the BBC saying shale gas is worse than coal for the climate and another in the Guardian saying much the same thing, only more so.

Has to be said that most of this recent media attention has been driven by this oscar nominated documentary but it does make you wonder:

For balance, here’s a You Tube response from “the authorities”:

Whoever is telling the truth – it looks like Poland’s journey down ‘Shale-Gas Avenue’ may not be an easy one.

So here’s to you, wherever you may live in Poland – I hope you don’t get a nuclear power plant downwind from you, I hope your water & brain are not contaminated by shale gas operations but I also hope your city doesn’t black-out nor the Russians turn off the tap. Not an easy circle to square, more hard decisions for pol.gov and an awful lot of money needed. I hope the people in charge of this strategy are up to it.


7 thoughts on “Powering Poland

  1. I understand the need for dramatic illustrations and all, but you do realize that the things in the first photo are just cooling towers and those spectacular billows are pure water vapor? :) Seems that everyone writing an article about heavy industry (e.g. in Upper Silesia) must include a shot of them, preferably in dark grey tones.

  2. Actually, Kohl, I do realise that and was not looking for dramatic illustration. I just Googled for a picture representing a power station and picked one I liked. Most of the pictures were an afterthought in fact just to break up the text!

    Thanks for pointing it out though, not everyone will know that.

  3. Timely. I just happened to read a DW article a week or so ago about how the huge concentration of wind farms in Germany regularly require power management intervention so that they don’t overload the grid with too much juice.


    I’d be for nuclear here but I have no real faith in the Polish government being able to properly dispose of the waste. Hell, I don’t hardly have any faith in ANY government when it comes to dealing with nuclear waste. If someone could figure out how to turn the waste into more fuel for other kinds of plants and “use it up” then that’d be ok but as long as you’ve got to stick it underground for 50,000 years …it’s problematic at best and six-headed zombie apocalyptic at worst.

    Wind farms and wave-power generation seems to be the ways to go with gradual phase-out of coal power.

    PS: this is what large-scale coal mining and coal-based power looks like: http://gallery.me.com/brad.zimmerman#100457/IMG_2257_76_mine_pano_lg&bgcolor=black …This is the Belchatow-based mine and power facilities as shot from a nearby observation point. This location deals with lignite which, if I recall correctly, Poland has far more of than hard coal. Lignite is sort of “soft coal”. It’s not worth it to strip-mine AND transport it very far which is why they built the power facilities right next to the mine.

  4. Brad, cool picture!

    Belchatów is the biggest such facility in Poland by quite a margin – 4,320 MWe versus the next largest (Kozienice) of 2,720. It is lignite but Poland has twice as much of the other “hard” stuff (bituminous) and a tiny bit of anthracite.

    The government excluded this facility from privatisation plans and it has been classified as a strategic energy resource of the Treasury for guaranteeing national security and appropriate functioning of the market. This info is a few years old so may have changed since.

  5. In February 2007 the three Baltic states Lithuania Latvia and Estonia and Poland agreed to build a new nuclear plant at Ignalina initially with 3200 MWe capacity 2 x 1600 MWe . The investor would get a majority stake probably 51 in the proposed new plant alongside Lithuanias Lietuvos Energija Latvias Latvenergo Estonias Eesti Energia and Polands Polska Grupa Energetyczna PGE . However with Lithuania wanting 34 of the project and Poland wanting 30 of it Latvia and Estonia are unhappy with the prospect of minor stakes and the split is far from clear…In April 2010 formal proposals from five selected strategic investors were submitted to the government and bids from these were then sought.

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