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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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Poland’s Remarkable Energy Transformation

  • Poland historically relied heavily on coal production and was a net importer of the high-emissions fossil fuel. 
  • In recent months, Poland has emerged as a green energy leader and is at the forefront of Europe's renewable energy addition. 
  • This remarkable transformation is having a significant impact on global climate goals, as Poland shifts away from its coal addiction towards a more sustainable future.
Coal

Poland has arisen as one of the world’s most unlikely green energy heroes. Historically, Poland has been a coal stronghold. The country is the ninth biggest producer of coal in the world, and the second biggest in Europe, after Germany. But even this massive coal production can’t meet the nation’s energy needs; Poland is, in fact, a net importer of coal, relying on Russian exports of the high-emissions fossil fuel to meet demand. But just in the last few months, all of that has started to change. Poland, once one of the biggest roadblocks between Europe and its climate goals, is now at the frontlines of green energy addition.

It all started with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The European Union’s strategic decision to impose energy sanctions on Russia, starting with coal in the earliest phases, was nothing short of devastating for the Polish people. Six months ago, Polish citizens were queueing in their cars for days to buy enough coal to carry them through the winter. People were sleeping in their cars and toilets had been provided to the campers due to the unusual circumstances brought on by the accelerating energy crisis. 

In the end, Europe was spared from its winter of discontent by unseasonably warm weather. But in Poland, the ball was already rolling. An extraordinary push to ease the long-held national reliance on coal was already well underway, with truly amazing results in such a short time span. Poland was able to cut its use of coal and gas while reaching all-time high energy production thanks to a massive boost in renewable energy production. 

Most of the rise in renewables came from wind power, which rose by a whopping 21.7% to ultimately provide 11% of total domestic electricity generation – a 50% increase from 2018 levels. Coal use declined by just 2.7%, but any cutback at all stands out as a “rare feat” in a context where countries all over the European Union were ramping up coal-fired power in response to the mounting energy crisis. While coal is still king in Poland, representing 69% of the energy mix in 2022, its share is shrinking steadily – down from 85% in 2010 and 95% in 2000. 

Not only did Poland’s economy not collapse over the winter, it grew at a remarkably healthy pace. “The overall rise in power supplies in turn allowed Poland's heavy industry and manufacturers to sustain high output levels in 2022, and helped Poland's gross domestic product rise by a healthy 4.9% for the year, which was sharply more than the 1.9% expected growth rate of the broader European Union,” Reuters recently reported. 

Poland’s drastic increase in renewable energy production is slated to keep on soaring in coming years as the country continues to wean itself off of coal and work toward the European Union’s emissions goals. “In particular, rapid growth in solar power capacity is expected,” Reuters reports, “thanks to strong demand from households and small businesses for government-subsidised panels that have already propelled installed photovoltaic (PV) capacity up by more than 2,500% since 2018.”

What’s more, Poland is the latest country to jump on the nuclear bandwagon as the zero-emissions energy source gains traction in the 11th hour struggle to avoid catastrophic climate change. Poland has inked a deal with Westinghouse to build the nation’s first ever nuclear power plant. The contract was finalized just last week, and the first unit is slated to come online in 2032 or 2033, to be followed by five more units to be built every 2-3 years.

Poland will prove to be an important piece of the global energy transition, and could serve as an important test case for other highly coal- and import-dependent countries. But Poland’s renewables revolution is not just about climate. It’s also a critical development in the West’s power struggle against Russia. The country’s ties to Russia have proven difficult to sever, but the easing of Poland’s historic dependence on Russian imports is an important symbolic shift in a wholly ideological war.

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com 

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  • DoRight Deikins on February 28 2023 said:
    I don't think the Ukrainians think it is a «wholly ideological war», especially those who have lost loved ones, been displaced, or otherwise been seriously affected (99.9% of the country?).

    Let's see, Poland is currently running 71% coal, 11.2% gas/oil, & 1.5% biomass (a highly polluting fuel that is rated as being carbon-neutral - talk about green washing!) and less than 10% wind/hydro/solar. The rest it is importing, this all according to the Electricity Map app at 2023/03/01 0200 Polish time. It is by far using the highest percentage of CO2 of any of the other nations in the EU at this moment, and usually. And its GNP grew the fastest of any of the other countries? What an interesting correlation!

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