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Updating EU’s Climate and Energy Policies: Poland

30 June will see EU member states submit a draft of their updated 10-year National Energy and Climate Policies (NECP) to the European Commission, following the legislative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine. Continuing with our series, we turn our attention to Poland, investigating the country’s most recent targets, progress and expectations for the updated NECP.

In the NECP submitted in 2020 and in subsequent policy documents, Poland set out the aim to achieve 23 per cent of renewables in the final gross energy consumption by 2030. In terms of energy efficiency, the country aimed to reduce final energy consumption by 23 per cent by the end of the decade.

Translating these targets to carbon emissions, the document declared a 7 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in sectors not covered by the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) by 2030.

The above targets, however, were insufficient to set Poland on a smooth green transition, as suggested by the European Commission’s 2020 assessment. According to the EU’s executive body, the renewables target was “unambitious,” with “modest” energy efficiency targets. As further noted by the Commission, the document did not outline a plan for reducing the country’s dependence on coal and lignite.

Since then, Poland has declared the aim to phase out coal by 2049. However, the country continues to be “dominated” by fossil fuels, the European Commission noted in its 2023 country report. At present, the share of renewables sits at around 13 per cent, while oil, gas and coal make up the rest of the country’s energy mix.

A leader in the region, a lagger in cutting emissions

Despite being one of the strongest economies in the region, Poland’s current decarbonisation measures struggle to align with the EU’s 2030 climate and energy targets, according to the 2023 country report.

“Poland has been decarbonising at a substantially slower rate than other EU Member States. Compared with 2005, Polish GHG emissions fell by only 1 per cent in 2021 against an EU average reduction of 24 per cent,” the report underlined. Additionally, Poland is lagging behind in cutting emissions in the non-ETS sectors, including buildings and transport.

Poland’s plans to expand gas-fired generation capacity and increase its natural gas consumption (set out in a 2040 energy strategy released in 2021) further impact the country’s decarbonisation efforts, the Commission said.

Betting on decarbonised gases?

Despite the currently limited role of renewables, Poland has emerged as a leading PV market in the EU in recent years. With 11 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity, PV installations have received substantial national and EU support. In 2022, the country added 4.9 GW of solar capacity, constituting 12 per cent of the EU’s newly installed capacity that year.

The legislative landscape in wind power has also noted progress in recent years. However, it continues to be nuanced. Regarding onshore wind farms, the Commission said that whilst it approves the country’s legislation to amend the minimum distance between these installations and residential buildings, the 700-metre rule in the law, from the initially envisaged 500-metres, reduces the surface area available for development.

Special attention should be paid to Poland’s ambitions in decarbonised gases (both hydrogen and bioenergy), which found already their place in the 2020 NECP. In fact, the use of advanced biofuels and the introduction of offshore wind energy were among the key planned developments to help meet Poland’s renewables target in the original document.

By 2024, Poland plans to improve the regulatory landscape for developing hydrogen technologies and other decarbonised gases, according to the 2023 country report. This would include the introduction of a law on regulations for hydrogen and the issuance of environmental permits for hydrogen refuelling stations.

Geothermal development should also be noted, albeit to perhaps a lesser degree than decarbonised gases. Whilst not included in the EU Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP), Poland’s 2020 NECP signalled interest in developing and exploiting the country’s geothermal potential. “Although its use is currently at a relatively low level, an upward trend is expected and major financial expenditures are required to determine geothermal potential,” the document read.

“Geothermal energy will play an important role in the decarbonisation of the Polish electricity generation and heating sectors,” Aleksander Brzózka, the Polish Ministry of Climate and Environment’s spokesperson tells CEENERGYNEWS.

At present, as revealed by the Ministry, two large geothermal projects are underway in the country: one in Szaflary with the financial support of a National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water and a second in Sieradz which will provide the heat to the entire city.

Financing Poland’s green transition

Poland’s RRP, adopted in June 2022, looks to be key in filling the gaps in Poland’s green transition. With 22.5 billion euros in grants and 11.5 billion euros in loans, the RRP devotes around 43 per cent of the total allocation to the energy transition. In particular, the Plan aims to increase renewable production (including onshore energy, photovoltaics, offshore energy, smart grids, renewable hydrogen and low-carbon hydrogen), increase energy efficiency, improve air quality and develop sustainable transport.

Due to disagreements over judicial reforms, Poland has yet to receive the first instalment from the RRP. Additionally, as a result of the delayed submission of the plan, the country was not eligible for pre-financing. However, progress in finding a solution has been made, with the Polish parliament passing an EU-approved judicial bill earlier this year. In February, President Andrzej Duda referred the bill to Poland’s Constitutional Court for review and is now awaiting a decision.

In the meantime, Poland continues to receive funds from the EU Modernisation Fund, which is co-funded by revenue from the EU ETS. Earlier this month, the country received 47 million euros from the Fund’s latest disbursement round.

Other financing options include the Cohesion Policy (until 2027), under which Poland will invest 48.7 billion euros in the green transition as part of the country’s total allocation of 92 billion euros. Under this funding platform, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) will support the country increase its renewable energy capacity by 601 megawatts (MW) by 2027.

Can Poland’s updated NECP boost its transition?

Considering the above, we expect to see the updated NECP clarify the role of renewables in Poland’s energy mix and further plans for decarbonisation.

“Currently, analyses are being carried out regarding the possible share of RES in national final energy consumption, which consider the present development of the energy sector and further trends and directions of its development, as well as changes in the international situation (especially the effects of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine),” the Climate and the Environment Ministry’s spokesperson says.

As Mr Brzózka tells CEENENERGYNEWS, “current, specialised analyses” of the power sector indicate that by 2030, the share of renewables in electricity production in Poland may amount to around 47 per cent.

“In accordance with the Energy Policy of Poland Until 2040, decarbonisation in our country will be based mostly on solar photovoltaics and both onshore and offshore wind energy, with a strong role of bioenergy – including biogas, biomethane and solid biomass. Polish authorities expect to secure overall 18 GW of offshore wind, 45 GW of solar PV and around 20 GW of onshore wind by 2040,” Mr Brzózka tell us.

“However,” Mr Brzózka continues, “it should be taken into account that the final target of share of RES in energy consumption in Poland will result from broader changes in the electricity, heating and cooling and transport sectors – as well as other aspects concerning sub-targets for industry and buildings – and this sectoral value may change, taking into account the optimal shape of the total energy mix resulting from mutual interactions between various sectors of the national economy.”

“It is crucial that the goals are based primarily on a realistic assessment of the technical possibilities of their implementation in individual conditions and not only on political ambitions,” the Ministry spokesperson underlines.

It is also key to note that Poland’s 2030 outlook may not fully reflect its ambitions in renewables, considering the post-2030 timeframe for the launch of the country’s nuclear power, as also Mr Brzózka notes the key role of nuclear energy in the country’s decarbonisation.

“The share of renewable energy sources and nuclear energy in 2040 will be around 74 per cent of gross final energy consumption. In addition […] we will intensify our efforts to develop the use of RES [renewable energy sources] regardless of weather conditions, for example, the use of water, biomass, earth heat or biogas, including biomethane production to replace imported natural gas. Their development in energy clusters and energy cooperatives as well as in hybrid installations will be particularly desirable. Hydrogen, especially from RES, will play a special role in energy storage and in the decarbonisation of industry and other sectors of the economy,” Mr Brzózka concludes.

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