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Poland’s appetite for geothermal energy: re-thinking diversification of supply

In recent years, Poland’s strong GDP growth has been accompanied by an equally strong phase-out of coal, maintaining relatively low coal consumption even amid Europe’s energy crisis following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

With the energy and climate crises in mind, Poland’s energy community has placed its bet on renewable energy sources and in the longer term: nuclear energy. The broader consensus on renewables and nuclear as the two pillars of Poland’s energy strategy was also seen in the recent parliamentary elections.

How will Poland’s parliamentary elections impact its green transition?

Indeed, this consensus was born out of the need for diversification of energy supply. Whether this was the prolonged reliance on coal in the face of a deepening climate crisis, or Russia’s energy warfare following years of its gas monopoly in Europe’s pipelines – diversification has undoubtedly been at the forefront of the continent’s energy paradigm shift.

However, an energy system based predominately on renewables and nuclear may also present challenges, as demonstrated by Finland’s recent power price spikes amid record-low temperatures. Taking this into consideration, alongside wind and solar farms and nuclear power stations, energy from the Earth could play a crucial role in shaping a more diverse – and stable – supply of energy.

In this two-part series, we take a look at Poland’s geothermal energy landscape – from the country’s natural potential and local success stories to financing opportunities and broader political support.

Poland’s modest geothermal progress

As part of the ongoing surge in Poland’s clean energy sources, the country’s total installed geothermal energy capacity has increased to 129 megawatts (MW) from 74 MW in 2020, with a total of 7 wells in operation.

Whilst Poland is still lagging behind its fellow EU Member States in geothermal development, such as Germany – home to 41 geothermal plants, the country’s potential and increasing enthusiasm towards the Earth’s energy hints at this to change shortly.

“The prospective area for direct use of geothermal waters in heating systems covers approximately 40 per cent of the surface area of Poland,” Marek Hajto, Vice-President of the Polish Geothermal Association tells CEENERGYNEWS. “This area is defined by the presence of geothermal waters at depths not exceeding 2,000 metres and with water temperatures not less than 50 degrees Celsius.”

Looking at Poland’s geothermal map from a broader perspective, the occurrence of thermal waters in the country is associated with three main geological units: the Paleozoic platform (Low Poland) and the Sudetes and Carpathians along with their foothills, Dr Mariusz Socha from the Polish Geological Institute points out.

This enthusiasm is especially visible among local governments that are increasingly beginning to view geothermal energy as a key pillar in their green transition strategies. “Geothermal energy is where we place great hope to lead Piastów to a situation, in a few years, where it becomes a green city of clean energy, as we outline our strategic development direction,” Grzegorz Szuplewski, Mayor of Piastów – a town neighbouring Warsaw – told us during a visit to the town’s geothermal drilling well in November.

The geothermal success story of a gateway to Warsaw – interview with Mayor of Piastów, Grzegorz Szuplewski

Since we spoke to Mr Szuplewski less than six months ago, Sochaczew, a town of 33,000 people, announced plans to build a geothermal well estimated to provide 40 per cent of the town’s district heating demand by 2026, once completed.

Similarly to Piastów, the Sochaczew municipality discovered geothermal waters as part of their strategy to secure a new water supply and a new “ecological, renewable” heating source, the municipality’s spokesperson Daniel Wachowski tells CEENERGYNEWS.

“In the latest EU perspective, there is a strong emphasis on green energy, and according to the newest directive, renewable sources are expected to constitute 42.5 per cent of the total energy consumption in the community by 2030,” Mr Wachowski adds. “Geothermal energy will allow us to avoid CO2 emission fees, which are already high and expected to increase. Experts have calculated that after the geothermal plant is operational, we will reduce CO2 emissions into the atmosphere by about 4,000 tons annually.”

From a long-term perspective, Sochaczew’s energy supply looks to be predicated on geothermal energy coupled with renewables and heat pumps. “The geothermal well will secure about 40 per cent of the district heating system’s needs. Of course, we also emphasise photovoltaics and heat pumps. Such installations are being installed in every public utility building that has undergone extensive renovation, construction, or expansion in recent years,” Mr Wachowski concludes.

Central Poland to take main stage in the geothermal revolution?

Both Piastów and Sochaczew are located in central-eastern Poland, a historical gateway to the Polish industrial revolution – and, perhaps, soon a gateway to the country’s geothermal energy revolution. “The region of central Poland, encompassing the area between Poznań, Toruń, Warsaw, and Łódź, is the most promising in terms of utilising geothermal water resources for heating purposes, and secondarily for recreation, balneotherapy and so on,” Mr Hajto highlights.

Dr Socha also lists the Łódź and Warsaw agglomerations among the most “promising areas” for capturing and utilising thermal waters in Poland. “Particularly promising areas within the Lowland include the Stargard, Pyrzyce and Police regions, the Łódź agglomeration, the southern part of the Warsaw agglomeration, and parts of the Greater Poland and Kuyavian-Pomeranian voivodeships.”

Being home to the biggest coal power plant in Europe (Bełachtów power plant) and soon the latest open-pit coal mine to be decommissioned in Koniń, central Poland is also at the centre of the country’s coal phase-out. “Bełchatów must remain an energy basin – this is the strategic goal and we will move in this direction. This will increasingly be the production of energy from renewable sources. Geothermal energy is another direction, and ultimately also energy production using nuclear technology,” said Zbigniew Ziemba, Deputy Voivode of the Łódz voivodeship, about the region’s green transition plans in June 2023.

“The relatively shallow occurrence of geothermal water reservoirs with favourable geothermal parameters, primarily high temperature, and significant extraction capacities (above 150 m3/h) in this area, may determine the construction of economically efficient geothermal heating plants with a thermal capacity ranging from a few to several dozen megawatts,” Mr Hajto tells us about the geothermal potential of central Poland.

The role of geothermal energy in the green transition is being increasingly noticed in Brussels. Just last week, the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted in favour of a resolution for a European geothermal energy strategy. Among other areas, the resolution called on governments to support regions phasing out coal to transition to geothermal energy.

Mr Hajto adds that such plants could serve as the primary source of district heating for towns and municipalities with populations ranging from approximately 10,000 to 50,000 residents and even larger locally. The city of Bełchatów, located in the Mogilno-Łódź basin (Wielkopolska and Łódź voivodeships), has a population of around 55,000 people.

An investor’s perspective

Eirikur Bragason, Chief Operating Officer of Arctic Green Energy, a clean energy developer working on multiple geothermal heating projects and geothermal power projects in Poland and other countries in the region, tells CEENERGYNEWS that Poland is an “ideal place” for utilising geothermal energy for heating.

“Poland has around 500 heating grids in operation and generally good geothermal potential. From a technical point of view, then Poland is the ideal place for utilising geothermal energy for heating,” Mr Bragason says.

Although the operational cost of geothermal heating in Poland is very low, the initial investment is substantial, Arctic Green Energy’s COO notes. “The overall cost of geothermal heating is though generally lower than the total cost of regular gas heating.”

From a Pan-European perspective, Philippe Dumas, Secretary-General of the European Geothermal Energy Council (EGEC) shares a similar view on Poland’s geothermal energy landscape. “Poland has good geothermal resources potential in many regions, with a skilled workforce and already experience with seven geothermal district heating systems in operation, with some in operation since the 90s,” he says.

Mr Dumas adds that Poland’s geothermal energy sector has “good support” from national authorities in the context of legislation, funding programmes, etc. He notes the need to decarbonise the energy sector and especially the heating sector. “So yes, Poland is attractive,” EGEC’s Secretary-General concludes.

In the second part of this story, we will take a closer look at the best regions in Poland for geothermal energy investments, available funding programmes and their beneficiaries, as well as the position of the new Polish government on geothermal energy in Poland’s decarbonisation process. 

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