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Managing the energy crisis, introducing a clean transport zone, investing in hydrogen – interview with Mayor of Wrocław, Jacek Sutryk

The southwest city of Wrocław has not shied away from attracting energy and transport investors in recent years, becoming one of the hubs for European electromobility with a major LG Energy Solution factory located just below the city. Considering the fast-paced growth of this Polish city, we sat down with Wrocław’s Mayor, Jacek Sutryk to get an insight into the city’s response to the recent energy crisis and plans for sustainable development projects going forward.

We began our discussion by asking Mr Sutryk about the lessons and experiences gained during last winter’s energy crisis. “The energy crisis we faced, or actually the one we are still facing, should be a warning to all of us. Indeed, we had no influence over the factors that caused it – the coronavirus pandemic or the war in Ukraine, as a society. Nobody was prepared for such a situation. We can add the galloping inflation to the increase in energy bills, which is another factor that makes our budgetary situation more and more difficult,” he says.

“We set up a crisis team, where we analysed the situation in many areas of the city’s functioning in order to know where you can start saving quickly, but so that it affects the comfort and safety of life of Wrocław residents as little as possible,” he highlights. As the Mayor tells us, the city took the decision to stop the illumination of buildings, bridges and Christmas lights, reduced the intensity of road lighting and where possible, turned off lanterns.

“In more than 300 municipal facilities, we introduced new rules of saving by means of an ordinance – in municipal buildings, the interior temperature was lowered, as well as the temperature of water in the taps. The number of household appliances in administrative buildings was also limited [for example, electric kettles or coffee machines for employees are now only available in social rooms]. According to our measurements, it is these devices that have the greatest impact on the increase in electricity consumption in buildings,” he adds.

Renewables – a ‘recipe’ for the city’s energy security

Regarding the lessons learned, the Mayor says that the city had developed a set of good practices for energy efficiency in buildings, which was also used for the city’s information campaign to residents. “On the other hand, we intensively began to look at and analyse the possibilities in terms of renewable energy sources. It is obvious that in this way we limit the emission of pollutants and negative climate changes, which at the same time directly affects the quality of life for all of us,” he highlights.

Last year, 1,240 photovoltaic panels were installed at the City Stadium (Tarczyński Arena) which will produce over 550 megawatt-hours (MWh) per year, which will satisfy almost half of the annual demand of this facility – making it the largest installation of this type in Wrocław, says Mr Sutryk. “Photovoltaics and renewable energy sources are the path Wrocław wants to follow, it is also a recipe for the city’s energy security. Although it requires a large investment – the long-term benefits are invaluable,” he adds.

Touching on the green transition, we asked the Wrocław Mayor for an update on the city’s plans to roll out a fleet of electric buses. “In the middle of this year, 13 electric buses will be delivered to Wrocław, which will serve the cross-city line K. At the same time, the city is strongly interested in hydrogen-powered transport.

“Hydrogen buses can be refuelled faster, it is cleaner energy (because it is not produced like electricity in Poland as a derivative of coal combustion). It also has a practical aspect – several low viaducts in Wrocław mean that the high construction of electric buses does not fit under them. As a result, only 30 per cent of the current bus lines in Wrocław can be served by electric buses,” Mr Sutryk highlights.

Therefore, next to the city bus depot, the first hydrogen fuel station in this part of Poland will be built, and MPK Wrocław is looking for sources of external financing for the purchase of a hydrogen fleet in the coming years.

Wroclaw as a ‘pioneer’ of hydrogen mobility

Expanding on the city’s policy on hydrogen, the Mayor emphasises that Wrocław has strong leadership ambitions in hydrogen mobility. “At the end of 2022, there were 254 stations in Europe, of which 105 were in Germany. In Poland, this technology is just in its infancy, and we in Wrocław want to be a pioneer also in the development of hydrogen technology in our country. And here we are – right next to Warsaw, which is also building such a station. This is a step towards zero-emission public transport for us.”

You may ask why we are betting on hydrogen when there are more and more electric cars on our streets and roads? The answer is simple – time. It is this parameter that determines that hydrogen technology has a fundamental advantage over electrics. Charging cars or buses is measured in hours. Meanwhile, refuelling hydrogen takes as much time as a combustion engine vehicle. It is an extremely fast, simple, but also very secure process. Filling up a car with hydrogen takes about five minutes, and up to 15 minutes to fill up a bus. As for the range, one refuelling with hydrogen is enough to drive about 500 kilometres, which is similar to the most efficient electric cars.

By the end of the year, Wrocław aims to have five hydrogen buses operating in the city, the Mayor says. “Until the first station is built, it will be served by a mobile hydrogen refuelling station. Here we use the experience gained earlier. In mid-2022, we tested the NesoBus, already manufactured in Poland, which was designed from scratch as a hydrogen bus. This vehicle not only does not emit exhaust fumes but also cleans the air. At the same time, it is very effective – a quarter of an hour of charging is enough to cover 450 kilometres of the route.”

The Mayor also pointed to the city’s development of hydrogen technologies in the context of global companies with a focus on sustainable development, looking to invest in Wrocław. “We have a new, strong argument for them: there are only about 800 hydrogen stations in the world, and one of them will be built in Wrocław,” he underlines.

Implementing a clean transport zone

Discussing green mobility further, we asked Mayor Sutryk for an update on the city’s plans to introduce a clean transport zone in the city and the reaction from residents and other local stakeholders. “In April, intensive consultations with residents took place – this was the first round planned for this year. The next one will take place in September. The topic raises a lot of interest but also controversy. More than a thousand opinions were received via the online form, both debates so far have been stormy and the room during a live debate – packed,” he says.

From the beginning, we assumed the implementation of the zone in 2025 at the earliest and we maintain this position. Such significant changes must be introduced by a social consensus. The consultations clearly show that many people have considerable concerns about the introduction of the zone, although it seems that they are rooted more in emotions than in actual knowledge of its proposed shape. Many people perceive the zone as a ban on car traffic or allowing only electric cars to enter, while the restrictions will apply to a few to a maximum of several per cent of cars. On the other hand, there are demands to include the entire city in the zone, as planned by Krakow, or to introduce stricter criteria.

“Of course, the position of the city council starting in the middle of next year will be crucial. The council will most probably be making a decision on this matter. Another important factor is the attitude of the voivodeship leadership [regional government], which may enter the obligation to create a zone in Wrocław into the regional air protection program, as was the case in Kraków and Warsaw,” Mr Sutryk adds.

Coming towards the end of our discussion, the Mayor highlights air quality as the main benefit of a clean transport zone. In recent years, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic (2020) was the only period during which the permissible average annual concentration of nitrogen dioxide was not exceeded, as indicated by Poland Chief Inspectorate of Environmental Protection, Mayor Sutryk notes.

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