Energy Nuclear 15 April, 2020 10:00 am   
COMMENTS: Ireneusz Zyska

Zyska: Poland’s hydrogen strategy may help create a new industry (INTERVIEW)

Ireneusz Zyska, Government Plenipotentiary for Renewable Energy Sources, has been appointed as chairman of the Committee for the Development of Renewable Energy Sources Industry and Poland’s Economy. The team provides opinions and advice to the minister of climate. Its job is to formulate recommendations in six areas, one of which is “hydrogen economy”. When can we expect a hydrogen strategy to be adopted?

Ireneusz Zyska: The work on a hydrogen strategy is well underway at the ministry of climate. We have prepared an initial draft of a document titled “A program for developing hydrogen technologies in Poland,” which had been initiated earlier by the ministry of energy. Today, in line with the Act on the division of governmental administration, this task has been taken over by the minister of climate. We want to fine-tune this document and consult it with the academic community and the wider industry after receiving a permission from the minister of climate. Apart from that, on 2 April minister Michał Kurtyka launched a Committee for the Development of Renewable Energy Sources Industry and Poland’s Economy. It consists of recognized experts from the scientific community and the third sector. One of our goals will be to make the industry’s demands more objective. The team includes people who have been involved with renewable energy sources for dozens of years, but not only that. One of the subject areas is actually hydrogen economy. The expert group on hydrogen is led by Jakub Kupecki PhD, Eng., from Institute of Power Engineering. We will use the existing research to develop a hydrogen strategy you asked about. We will also draft recommendations for the climate ministry and the entire government on how to maximize benefits for Poland’s economy. Hydrogen technologies can be applied, among others, in energy storage, transport, industrial processes and other areas. Hydrogen, as fuel of the future, will be one of the driving forces behind Poland’s economy.

I understand that the team you are talking about has other tasks beside preparing the hydrogen strategy?

Yes. The team includes six expert groups: 1. Clean heat, 2. Eco-transport, 3. Local aspects of energy, 4. Hydrogen economy, 5. Just transition, 6. Large-scale zero-emissions energy sources. Renewable energy sources can be applied in all if these areas. Every expert group is led by a highly qualified professional from the scientific community. Those people are Paweł Skowroński PhD, Eng., Grzegorz Tchorek PhD, Karol Wawrzyniak PhD, Eng., Jakub Kupecki PhD, Eng., Adam Drobniak PhD, and Konrad Świrski, PhD, Eng. Whereas I myself am honored to lead this exceptional team of experts. We are currently drawing up a comprehensive report on developing renewable energy sources, and at the same time, we are preparing recommendations for the EU climate summit in June. The document will lay out what objectives and actions should receive EU funding from the Just Transition Fund and the EU 2021-2027 budget. One of the main goals should be to develop a new industry, or even a hydrogen economy.

Which hydrogen technologies will the strategy promote?

I believe the future of heat and power generation belongs to renewable energy sources (RES). Poland’s RES have a lot of potential that has been left untapped so far. In the previous epoch energy generated from coal was promoted. Currently, partially because of the coronavirus economic crisis, we may be able to seize a great, new opportunity to build a new economy whose energy industry, but not only, will be dominated by renewable energy sources. Poland should have its own, smart specializations. We should be at the center of innovations and manufacture installations for producing hydrogen, including green hydrogen, at a European, or even world-scale.

How much hydrogen is Poland able to produce?

Poland is already one of the biggest hydrogen producers. We are ranked fifth in the world. We already have a big potential for producing the so-called grey and blue hydrogen. Therefore, we possess the right skills. We have to continue developing them, so that the participation of Polish companies in the entire hydrogen technology supply chain is as big as possible. The current issues with supply continuity of RES components from China caused by the coronavirus, made us realize how important our local competencies and manufacturing capabilities in this area are. Polish producers could successfully compete on the global market in this area. First propositions of economic cooperation from companies from this industry have already appeared. Whereas in the hydrogen sector, large Polish companies such as Orlen and Lotos, may create a larger industrial group in order to develop cooperation at an international scale.

When will decisions be made?

The Committee is to present its RES recommendations by 15 May. The document will not be about wishful thinking, but about recommendations and directions of development based on simulations, calculations and economic models. Certainly detailed calculations will not be ready by 15May, but strategic economic goals will be determined. I am hoping that RES will play a crucial role in hydrogen production. I say this as the government plenipotentiary for RES. There are plans to build an offshore wind farm, which may be used to generate hydrogen. I have visited a few times the harbor in Gdynia where Poland’s offshore terminal could be constructed – a load and assembly hub used to increase Polish capital to develop this industry. However, the biggest demand for hydrogen and power will be in urbanized areas in the south of Poland, which is why the idea to build a hydrogen highway was created. The highway could be build with a substantial help from EU funds, which could be acquired from the European Green Deal budget. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is very interested in the works on the hydrogen strategy, including the pilot programs related to fuel cells production, energy storage and hydrogen for transport. We are currently spending our money on fighting the coronavirus, but we have to think what will happen after the epidemic. We have to have ready solutions once the crisis is over to provide strong development incentives. One of those will be hydrogen economy programs.

Will green hydrogen be a priority in the strategy?

That’s not how I would put it. Our plan has to be rational and economically viable. We should not limit technological solutions with ideology. I mostly handle renewables, but I am convinced forced decarbonization would be detrimental and would lower the competitiveness of the Polish economy. We will try to develop hydrogen generation with RES, but this isn’t the only technology we are interested in. Hydrogen storages are already being built in Lower Silesia and they will be filled with hydrogen generated through electrolysis. This is not a wish, this is a fact. The number of such initiatives will be growing. But they need to be profitable, or there will be no development. We should really think hard on what will happen to Bełchatów once coal mining is phased out. Will it share the fate of my family town of Wałbrzych, or will it be offered an economic opportunity that will allow it to develop with the funds from the Just Transition Fund? We should be already thinking about what will happen in mining regions in 30 years. Professor Adam Drobniak is leading a group of experts in my team that are handling this issue.

What other kinds of hydrogen are being considered?

In January we visited Japan as part of a governmental delegation with PM Morawiecki. During one of the meetings we visited a high temperature reactor (HTR) at a nuclear facility. This is a technology of the future as it seems to me that its commercialization may take place in the 2040s. However, for this to happen we should already be working on a pilot project and on building the competencies to produce appliances used in this new industry. HTRs may also be used to generate hydrogen. We can cooperate with our partners from Japan who have HTRs and with Americans who have small modular reactors (SMR). In time this technology will undergo miniaturization, similarly to what had happened in the IT and telecommunication industries. HTRs are a solution for large cities and energy-intensive industries. Other energy sources for generating hydrogen that are under consideration are RES, gas and coalbed methane.

Should hydrogen technologies receive government and EU funding?

Austria’s prime minister has mentioned that he wanted to make his country a leader of an international hydrogen project. He was quick, but we don’t want to budge. Poland has a bigger potential when it comes to the population and the economy. It could successfully compete, or rather cooperate within the union. We could play a leading role in Europe’s hydrogen economy and promote our own initiatives. We could use the money from the European Green Deal to finance a hydrogen economy. Hydrogen is already used in transport. I can imagine that it will be used for fuel cells for high-speed rail, whose construction is planned in Europe. Poland could be part and parcel of such an economic project and function in a group of Central European states that utilize hydrogen technologies. A slow coal phase-out will entail the development of a new industry, e.g. a hydrogen industry. The Just Transition Fund could be spent on this. We want to present recommendations for the upcoming EU summit in June, where climate neutrality and other topics will be discussed. We should present projects and solutions that should be supported with transition funds to build new sectors in the economy, including a hydrogen industry.

Should the energy strategy include hydrogen for power storage and provisions for renewable energy sources?

Yes, of course. The discussion on the future of the energy sector in Poland is tinged with ideological issues. We are a member of the European Union, which is why we have adopted the common energy and climate policy, so we should actively pursue an energy transition. We cannot be indecisive about this. Poland managed to receive an exemption from the 2050 climate neutrality goal. We will choose our own way on how to gain a competitive edge in the international economic race. Poland’s 16th century underdevelopment was caused by the fact that grains trade was the cornerstone of our economy. We cannot repeat this mistake, this time by sticking to coal as the foundation of our energy sector. Doing so could mean another failure. We cannot miss the great opportunity that the current economic revolution is presenting. We should take part in it, or even better, we should play a key role in it.

How can we support these technologies during the coronavirus crisis?

We are listening to entrepreneurs, and as I am the government plenipotentiary for RES I am doing this especially attentively. This is one of the reasons why the first anti-cronavirus crisis package included solutions that extended the construction time for installations that won the 2018 and 2019 RES auctions by 12 months. The second anti-crisis package proposes to extend all agreements on connecting to the grid with a deadline to deliver energy before 30 June 2022. We are also proposing a temporary measure that will allow to conduct 2020 RES auctions on the basis of regulations from the previous year and to develop an internet auction platform. We are also preparing a third version of the package, that will include provisions on exempting installations of up to 1 MW from licensees. They will only have to be registered with the Energy Regulatory Office, which will make the investment process a lot simpler. We are trying not only to secure the interests of the RES sector during the epidemic, but we are also working to create the best conditions for Poland’s economic development that will be driven by renewable energy sources and hydrogen technologies.

Interview by Wojciech Jakóbik