“If we do not have enough gigawatts to replace those produced from coal, we will not phase it out due to energy security concerns,” warns Piotr Naimski, the Government Plenipotentiary for Strategic Energy Infrastructure in an interview with BiznesAlert.pl.
BiznesAlert.pl: Poland’s version of energy transition is about replacing coal with gas, adding nuclear power and safely developing renewables. Are all of these components safe?
Piotr Naimski: The energy transition in Poland has to maintain balance between the following components: coal-fired power generation, that we will be phasing out, natural gas, nuclear power and renewable energy sources that we will develop. While building these new power plants, we will have to maintain the security of power supply for all consumers. First, we need to have a sufficient number of gas sources that will replace coal and act as backup in case there is no wind or sun.
Are the gas investments secure?
The transition of the Polish power system cannot turn into chaos. We need to make sure that at any given point the amount of power generated in Poland is enough to cover the demand in our country. This means we have to think about it when investing in renewables, which have to have a backup in the form of stable gas-fired power plants. At the same time, the coal power plants that will be gradually shut down will be replaced with the so-called baseload gas power plants, which will stabilize and secure the Polish Power System. This goal needs to be achieved in the 2020s. In the 2030s we will be adding nuclear power plants. The NPPs will also be used for baseload capacity and will replace the coal fired-units that will be gradually shut down. It will take between 30 and 40 years before the transition in Poland is completed. We may have to course-correct the investment process depending on the regulatory circumstances and emerging needs. While we did convince the European Union to allow us to achieve the climate policy targets in a way that is adapted to Polish circumstances, there is no guarantee that this environment won’t change to the detriment of the Polish transition. If that happens, the Polish government will have to maintain the security of the transition process until this key element of the economy achieves a long term balance. If we do not have enough power to replace the energy produced at coal-fired plants, the the schedule for their shut down will depend on the necessity to maintain Poland’s energy security. The construction of new gas units at power plants is a big challenge for energy companies. Fortunately, today we can be sure that Poland will get the necessary gas supply from safe sources, new routes and in quantities that are sufficient to meet the demands of the transforming energy sector. Next year Gaz-System will launch the Baltic Pipe pipeline from Norway. The expansion of the LNG terminal in Świnoujście is going according to plan, just like the construction of the interconnectors with Slovakia and Lithuania, and the restructuring of the national gas grid.
Will import be an alternative?
This discussion needs to be set in the proper context. If there is no wind in Brandenburg, then surely there won’t be any in Poland, so we won’t be able to buy power from Germany, which will have to look for energy on other markets on its own. It is not obvious that we will always be able to make up for power deficits with imports from our neighbors. They will want to sell energy when they won’t need it, but we will need it at the same time when they’ll be experiencing a power deficit as well. Our strategy is about covering the energy demand in Poland with our own power plants and CHP plants.
If it turns out that energy storage and hydrogen will develop as quickly as the optimists believe, will it be necessary to include them in the Polish plans?
We need to separate energy storage from the “hydrogen economy” that is so popular today. In some technically and financially justified cases, hydrogen can be the solution for energy storage. We need to remember that energy storage technologies will be useful if it is possible to build highly efficient energy storage facilities that have a substantial capacity. It may turn out that in the long-term perspective energy storage is an alternative to gas sources. It will be a back up for the unstable renewable energy sources. However, at this point it is difficult to predict when that will happen. If we want to have certain supply in a decade, or two or three, our plans need to be based on technologies that are currently at our disposal. If new technological possibilities that are economically sound arrive, we will consider changing the strategy.
Interview by Wojciech Jakóbik