Poland approaching carbon neutrality

Kubiczek, P., Smoleń, M., Żelisko, W. (2023). Poland approaching carbon neutrality. Four scenarios for the Polish energy transition until 2040. Instrat Policy Paper 06/2023.

In mid-January 2024 Poland made headlines as a senior government official urged the European Union to “embrace” a plan to slash 90 per cent of the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. Warsaw-based think tank Instrat published a report which shows that an app. 80 per cent CO₂ reduction in the 2040 horizon would be already ambitious. In this scenario, 84 per cent of the domestic electricity demand would be satisfied by renewable energy sources (RES).

Key report findings presented on 12th Dec 2023 [SLIDES]

A future marked by wind and solar

In a new report, the Instrat team presented the results of analyses conducted using the PyPSA-PL modelling tool. It allows to identify and simulate cost-optimal development paths for the Polish energy system. “Our modelling is not predicting the future. We show the scenarios that Poland may follow until 2040. For each scenario, we indicate the mix of technologies that makes it possible and how much it will cost.” – explains the report’s lead author Patryk Kubiczek.

The research resulted in two scenarios for the ambitious development of RES – one takes into account the deployment of nuclear power upheld by the new Donald Tusk’s government, and the other shows the consequences of abandoning the nuclear programme. The nuclear scenario shows that even with the inclusion of nuclear in the mix, 84% is a realistic and economically viable target for the share of RES in filling the national electricity demand in 2040. Nuclear would cover 14% and natural gas the rest.

Patryk Kubiczek explains how the Polish electricity system will cope with the variability of production resulting from the increasing role of wind and solar: “The deployment of RES has to be followed by an increase in storage capacity and an increase in demand flexibility due to the electrification of sectors. This way we will avoid the absurd 40% loss of energy from wind and solar, as envisioned in the unofficial scenario published by the government in June 2023. Today we are demonstrating that a system based on weather-dependent RES, backed up by infrequently used conventional capacity, can work well.”

Nuclear power can support the transition but will not be its pillar

Instrat experts have prepared ambitious decarbonisation scenarios with and without nuclear. The inclusion of nuclear power plants in the second half of the 2030s brings additional benefits, but even in 2040 they account for only 14% of production. The non-nuclear scenario is characterised by only slightly higher levels of installed RES capacity than the ambitious scenario with nuclear. This means that the main driver of decarbonisation in both scenarios is investment in renewables – faster to implement and with a shorter payback period. “Investment in renewables cannot be held back in the hope of rapid development of nuclear power. Our analyses show that both technologies can work well together.” – assesses Patryk Kubiczek. 

The availability of renewable energy enables an economy-wide phase-down of fossil fuels

The share of fossil fuel emitting sources is declining rapidly in each of the scenarios analysed as a result of the development of clean alternatives: wind and solar, as well as bioenergy and possibly nuclear power plants. However, coal-fired power plants are also competing economically with natural gas-burning units. “Even the slower development of clean energy, according to the pessimistic Slow Transition scenario, does not necessarily extend the economic viability of coal-fired power generation – the RES gap in this scenario is cheaper to cover with additional gas-fired capacity.” – states Michał Smoleń, the Head of Energy & Climate program at Instrat. However, lower utilisation of conventional power plants doesn’t mean their quick and total phase-out. “Winter peak residual demand will remain a challenge for decades to come, especially considering additional demand from electrification of heating”, notes Instrat expert. Additional market interventions will thus be necessary to ensure operation of seldom-run reserves: at first, coal and natural gas power plants, and then increasingly generation based on hydrogen and bioenergy.

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