Energy 7 August, 2017 9:00 am   
Editorial staff

Kasztelewicz: Polish energy should be based on coal and cost-effective renewables

Is the coexistence of stable energy sources with renewables possible? In a commentary for, professor Zbigniew Kasztelewicz, PhD, Eng., head of the Surface Mining Department at AGH University of Science and Technology, writes that wind and solar energy is chimerical. “I do not know any power carriers that work well with renewables,” the expert believes.

Renewables, including solar and wind power, are intermittent energy sources and require a flexible operating reserve, which can be quickly made available to ensure the continuity of supply to consumers. When the downtime of both sources, wind and solar, takes place simultaneously (especially then),  it is necessary to use those sources, which are flexible, i.e. coal, gas or hydro energy (outside of Poland nuclear energy as well). In Poland we do not have “good” conditions for wind energy, according to some opinions favorable winds occur at 15 to 20% of the time during the year and solar energy is even less available with 10 to 15% in a year.

Poland has a few examples of how this works, for instance during the hot summer of 2015 out of the 4200 MW capacity installed in wind farms as much as 100 MW worked. A similar situation occurred in the winter of 2016. A question could be asked! How to manage the energy system?

The 2016 data reveals the fullest picture. The installed capacity of renewables in Poland constitutes 15.3% of the country’s entire energy production. Yet in 2016 the sector produced the following in relation to the total output: wind – 7.15%, hydro energy – 1.5%, other renewables including solar energy – 0.09%, which is less than 9%. At this point we need to tell the truth – renewable energy is more expensive than energy produced from coal. Additionally, unlike the renewable energy sector, which creates jobs outside of Poland, the coal energy sector creates jobs in our country.

My example is this: the Bełchatów power plants with a capacity just under 5400 MW can be replaced with wind power plants. Assuming the wind farm would be used at 20%, its capacity would have to be 20 000 MW, which is 10 000 wind turbines, each with 2 MW capacity. This means many voivodeships would have to be covered with windmills and just in case there is no wind, the Bełchatów power plants would have to be running as well! Is this the right approach?

Only rich countries can afford that. Countries like Germany, which subsidize the renewables sector with EUR 25 billion each year. At this moment we should tell the truth about electricity bills. In Poland the cost of electricity for industry is higher by a few percent than in Germany, but the bills for German households are 250% higher than in Poland. The rich German society can afford this, even though the public “resistance” is starting to grow. The German economy has an added value from renewables – it earns a lot on producing appliances that are exported all around the world. We may ask if domestic companies are able to enter the conquered renewables market. I say it’s possible for a limited number of products. A few years ago there was a financial war between Germany and China for appliances for renewable energy sources.

The other little talked about and unpopular subject is the losses of energy companies in Europe, especially in Germany caused by renewables. In Germany almost all energy groups “learned a great financial lesson” because of the renewable energy sources’ chimerical work! The losses of some of the groups are huge, to the tune of billions of Euros.

To answer the basic question I will say this: the experience of the energy industry in Germany allows to start within 30 minutes a system of brown coal-fired power plants with a capacity of as much as 5000 MW. This shows that new, state-of-the-art coal-fired power plants are as controllable as gas power plants.

To ensure that the energy system which has a high participation of renewable energy sources works “well”, one should have per every 1000 MW of power produced by renwables about 800-900 MW of conventional energy. This means that to ensure energy security it is necessary to have a significant reserve, e.g. is the form of coal-fired power plants, but such a strategy is expensive!

It should be mentioned that because of the economic and financial crisis many countries are limiting subsidies for renewable energy. The current achievements of Poland’s brown coal-based energy sector when it comes to limiting emissions of sulphur, nitric oxide as well as particulate matter should be assessed positively. Today the biggest challenge is to limit the emissions of carbon dioxide in line with EU environmental policy. One of the possible solutions to the problem is the construction of power plants with better net efficiency, i.e. at 45% and over. Every improvement in efficiency by 10% decreases CO2 emission by over 20%. The 464 MW unit in Pątnów II and Łagisza, as well as the 858 MW unit in Bełchatów are characterized by supercritical steam parameters, which allows for a 42% net efficiency. Whereas the new blocks which are still under construction in Jaworzno, Opole, Kozienice and Turów will have a 45% net efficiency, which means their CO2 emission will be lower by over 30%, similarly to RWE’s BoAplus power plant in Germany.

This is why the Polish energy mix should be based on a coal-fired generation sector with additional, cost-effective renewable energy sources. When it comes to nuclear energy we should postpone any decisions until the EU energy and climate policy is explained. And on the other hand I am asking whether our country can afford such a costly energy source. Nuclear energy specialists are talking about a PLN 160 billion costs for 6000 MW of atomic energy!

Europe’s political and economic situation is very serious. Europe should have access to cheap energy to develop its economies. Expensive energy, aka environmentally-friendly, together with a dwindling economy and increasing unemployment may cause serious public unrest. Poland should take decisive actions in its talks with the European Union on the role of coal in Europe’s energy sector, and the role of the European industry, which provides jobs. We believe the current and future climate and energy policy of the EU can be changed from the reality of penalties and subsidies to a business reality, which takes into consideration a competitive and low-emissions policy, instead of focusing just on decreasing pollutants. Every EU state should create its own energy mix without any ‘limitations’ imposed by Brussels.

Europe’s political and economic situation after the Russia-Ukraine-Europe crisis, Greece and the wave of migrants and refugees left no room for illusions and revealed that every EU state puts its interests first and only then starts to think about global issues. Our country should draw strategic conclusions from this situation and start to take care of Poland’s interests in the first place and then attend to the global problems.

Poland should work out  its own clear coal and energy strategy based in the first place on domestic energy sources, i.e. coal energy and economically viable renewable energy. A country cannot be punished for how history has shaped its current economic environment. Poland is a large European country, but it is rather poor economically and has a drastic increase in foreign debt, which is currently worth about PLN 1 trillion (it doubled in the last 10 years)! The EU subsidies have a specific time frame and we should draw conclusions from other EU economies, such as Spain, Portugal, Italy or Greece whose development was mostly based on EU money and which today are experiencing a serious economic crisis with an unknown finale.