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The Polish Energy Problem, the Ukrainian Nuclear Solution

Zaporozhskaya Nuclear Power Station in Ukraine

Poland can’t continue to rely on coal, because it’s dirty, inefficient and increasingly has to be imported from Russia. But is there an alternative? Yes, there is, writes Mike Parr of consultancy PWR: Poland could import excess nuclear power from Ukraine. In fact, the interconnections for this have been in place for years. But Polish politicians have not taken action.

The need for countries to have coherent energy policies that extend beyond election cycles is uncontroversial. Sadly, many EU member states have energy policies with the directional consistency of a weather vane. The following example comes from Poland but other large member states are not much better. Think of France, which has just gone back on a promise to reduce nuclear power, or Spain, which abruptly slammed solar subsidies, or Germany, which has greenhouse gas targets it ignores in favour of the coal industry.

Poland has long been seen, by the rest of Europe as failing to taking action on CO2 emissions. One of the biggest emitters is the mostly-coal-burning power sector. (See this map for a real-time view on how bad it looks.)

Energoatom would like to complete two power units at the Khmelnitsky Nuclear Power Plant which would further increase the possibilities of electricity exports to Poland and Hungary

The Polish “love” of coal is driven by three desires, a desire for energy independence, a desire to maintain employment (coal mines) and a desire to win elections, the latter two points being firmly linked in the mind of the current PiS-run government. As in many fairy stories, the desires have no hope of being realised.

Coal subsidies

Energy independence: in 2016, Poland imported 10 million tonnes of hard coal (12% of consumption), mostly from Russia. This may well increase. Poland has viable reserves of hard coal that will last 20 years and lignite for 30 years, at current rates of consumption.

Employment in coal mines is linked to coal subsidies. Complaints by various Green parties on this issue were ignored by all parties (Hi Mr Tusk – yours as well) for years.

However, in June 2017, the Polish Supreme Audit Office produced a report showing that the coal sector had received subsidies of €15.4 billion between 2007 – 2015. This is roughly €17,000 per year per coal miner. This may seem a reasonable price to pay to win elections (Mr Tusk thought so, ditto the PiS party), quite what the non-coal-mining part of Polish society thinks is unknown.

Given the above, it is not surprising that Polish energy minister, Krzysztof Tchórzewski recently announced that Poland would build only one more large-scale coal-fired station.

Hot and cold

In the case of non-coal generation, Polish governments of all stripes have talked about nuclear and blown hot and cold about renewables (there is a creditable 6GW of wind currently operational). The installed Polish generation base is 36GW. The Polish TSO (Polish Power Grid) estimates that between 2013–2020 about 6600MW of this capacity (mostly old large fossil stations) will be retired with more retirements in the 2020 – 2030 period. Something needs to be done, fast.

The Polish TSO will have known about the link, Polish politicians then as now were under pressure to reduce emissions. And yet for more than 5 years, nothing happened

Enter the Ukraine and its nuclear power fleet. There is roughly 14GW of operational nuclear stations in Ukraine. There is significant nuclear capacity available for export, the “willing seller” being Ukraine’s nuclear operator Energoatom.

However, electricity exports are conditional on the existence of adequate cross border links and for the power stations generating and networks carrying the power aligning with ENTSO-E network codes.

It just so happens …

Falling firmly into the category of “and it just so happens” is a 2000MW un-utilised power line which, believe it or not, runs, from Khmelnitska (Ukraine) to Rzeszów (Poland).  The line (operating at 750kV) needs renovation. There is also a line which runs from Zakhidnoukrainska (Ukraine) to Albertirsa (Hungary). This is in operating condition but may need some renovation.

The good news continues: there is a project called “Energy Bridge” between Ukraine and the EU which will renovate cross border connections and align some nuclear stations and parts of Ukraine’s network with ENTSO-E codes. The pilot project aims to start the export of 1550MW of power by 2019 and has the potential to grow to 2550MW. The “willing seller”, Energoatom has a willing buyer in the Polish energy company Polenergia.

From a Ukrainian point of view, the revenues from electricity exports will be used for the worthy goals of infrastructure development both on the generation and network side. Energoatom would also like to complete two power units at the Khmelnitsky Nuclear Power Plant which would further increase the possibilities of electricity exports to Poland and Hungary.

The costs of all this “good news” falls firmly into the category of “peanuts”. Rearranging Ukraine power networks for export plus the renovation of cross border networks has a budget price of €55 million, which is “bargain basement” for 1550MW of low-carbon electricity.

This project will, by no means, solve all of Poland’s capacity problems, but it is a very good start and has scale. Which begs the question: are the leaders of PiS beating a path to ENTSO-E, Energoatom/Polenergia and the EU with the offer “how can we help to speed-up this wonderful project”?  and “are there any others like this”? (Some flying pigs have just gone past the office window).

Just in time

In 2012, PWR was asked to look at the prospect for HVDC in Europe. Our report was mostly positive. In a side note we remarked that if Ukraine had spare (nuclear) generation capacity there existed large-scale un-used cross-border links (one of which was HVDC) which could provide high-carbon countries such as Poland with low-carbon electricity, possibly at negligible cost.

The Polish TSO will have known about the link, Polish politicians then as now were under pressure to reduce emissions. And yet for more than 5 years, nothing happened.

What other relatively low-cost projects could help reduce power sector CO2 emissions in the EU? It is unlikely that the Ukraine – Poland “Energy Bridge” is the only one

“Just-in-time” works great for factories making widgets, but is hopeless as a planning approach with respect to energy infrastructure. Nevertheless, time after time, EU member states use “just in time” and “the weather vane” as their preferred policy approaches to “keeping the lights on” for EU citizens.

This example raises a final question: what other relatively low-cost projects could help reduce power sector CO2 emissions in the EU? It is unlikely that the Ukraine – Poland “Energy Bridge”, which has received relatively little publicity or recognition, is the only one.

What else is out there? It is a question Euro politicos could usefully address. They love the word “smart” with respect to the energy sector, perhaps it’s time they themselves acted that way.

Editor’s Note

Mike Parr is Director of energy consultancy PWR which undertakes research in the area of climate change and renewables for clients which include a G7 country and global corporations. See his author archive on Energy Post.

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Content Discussion

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on November 27, 2017

Poland and Ukraine have a bloody history together. Not the best of friends.

A draft Resolution was registered with the Parliament of Ukraine to declare 24 March the Memorial Day of the Victims of Polish state genocide against Ukrainians in 1919-1951.
http://www.pravda.com.ua/eng/news/2016/08/4/7116821/

The Polish parliament on Friday adopted a resolution declaring 11 July a National Day of Remembrance of Victims of Genocide perpetrated by Ukrainian nationalists against Poles during World War II.
http://www.thenews.pl/1/10/Artykul/263005,Polish-MPs-adopt-resolution-calling-1940s-massacre-genocide

Thorkil Soee's picture
Thorkil Soee on November 28, 2017

But money talks and Black-outs may shout.