Energy 9 December, 2021 12:00 pm   
COMMENTS: Aleksander Tretyn

Capacity, where art thou?


Considering what has been happening in the energy market in recent days, it is necessary to take a long, hard look at Poland’s capacity capabilities. At the moment, we have no choice but to seriously think about the future of the Polish energy system and what may await us in 3-4 years, and it may be a dark future without enough new power plants – writes Alexander Tretyn, editor at

We need new generation capacity

We are being bombarded with news about coming blackouts. The statement made by the Energy Regulatory Office alone, with instructions on how to prepare for a sudden power outage, should make us think and treat the situation a little more seriously.

However, the risk of a blackout occurs not only in Poland. Since mid-November, countries such as Austria, Germany and Spain have also been informing their citizens of the proper procedures to be followed in the event of a sudden power outage.

What’s the problem?

Both in Poland and in other countries, the demand for electricity is increasing year by year. This is due, for example, to the growing popularity of electric heating (heat pumps), the development of energy-based transport, and an increase in the number of everyday devices, such as air conditioners. Among others, it is these factors that will, in the near future, contribute to issues with power shortages. All these solutions do not pose major problems for the national electricity system on sunny or windy days, when production from renewable energy sources is at a high level. The problem associated with the stability of the Polish system occurs on days that are neither sunny nor windy, such as December 6 and 7.

Due to the fact that in December production from solar panels is usually at a low level, wind energy should be at its best. Should. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Due to the very low production of energy from wind, there were problems in balancing the national electricity system, and therefore Poland had to rely on power purchases from its neighbors – Germans, Lithuanians, Ukrainians and Swedes. The latter even opened an additional power plant specifically to ensure that Poland is capable of balancing its power grid. Thanks to the support of our neighbours, Poland was able to keep its power reserves at a safe level. At the request of the operator of the Polish grid – PSE – we imported nearly 1 GW of power on Monday. Should we be concerned about a blackout?

On the one hand, we are being assured that the situation that took place earlier this week is nothing extraordinary, because we import energy from our neighbours every day. However, it is important to consider how the electricity system will behave in colder weather, when the demand for power will be at an even higher level. Importing energy from our neighbors may not be enough, and our power sockets may suddenly run out of electricity.

What is the future of Polish generation capacity?

According to a scenario by PSE, power demand is expected to rise to over 35 GW in the winter peak and close to 33 GW in the summer peak. In 2020, the peak demand for power in the summer was 23 GW, in winter more than 26.5 GW. A significant increase in demand is due, among other things, to the previously mentioned increase in the number of heat pumps, air conditioners, electric cars and other energy-intensive equipment.

According to the data submitted to the Energy Regulatory Office (ERO) by Polish energy producers, the plan is to add 14.2 GW of capacity between 2020 and 2034, but at the same time 19 GW of capacity will be shut down. Most of the new capacity is to be in offshore, as offshore wind farms are expected to deliver 4.8 GW by 2034. In terms of new installed capacity, gas-fired power plants will come in second, as their capacity is estimated at more than 3.7 GW. PV is the last on the podium, as at the end of 2034 its estimated capacity will be 2.8 GW.

On the one hand, it is to be welcomed that energy companies are developing their renewable portfolios with such commitment, but on the other it is worth remembering that renewables are not stable and can’t produce electricity at any time. In a situation where the national energy model is mostly based on renewable energy sources, without adequate facilities to ensure availability at all times, the blackout may come sooner rather than later.

In reports on the planning of new capacities, sent by companies to the president of the ERO, there is a fact that can cause considerable concern. The data cited show that available sources of energy have been placed at the very margins of investment processes.

Renewable energy sources are undoubtedly a major player in the electricity system, but they cannot be at the forefront of it, as the situation at the beginning of the week showed. Subsequent graphs on the power mix in the Polish electricity system reveal a very slow development of gas-fired power plants. Nevertheless, we hear a lot about gas being a transitional fuel in the process of energy transition, and yet little is happening to that end. According to forecasts, the share of new gas fired power plants, especially until 2030, when we might need more capacity the most, will be slight.

Considering the current work on the Polish mix, it can be concluded that it is not very diverse, and soon the national grid will be based on unstable sources, the utilization rate of which varies from 10 percent to almost 54 percent. We will probably not build a new mix overnight, but it is important to look closely at the planned investments, and it may be worth revising some of the plans in order to ensure Poland’s energy security. It is true that a blackout does not pose a significant threat to us today, but with the development of, among other things, electromobility and the market for heat pumps, it is necessary to provide available sources of energy that can balance the market at any time.