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Coal’s long-term future in Poland hangs in the balance

World Coal,

The Polish government has published a draft energy policy, which looks to reduce dependency on coal in favour of a low-carbon energy mix.

The document released for consultation (which runs until September 1st) outlines a strategy of moving away from generation through brown and black coal. This will be achieved by introducing nuclear power and renewables into the country’s domestic energy mix.

The policy comprises two main scenarios, both of which advocate introducing nuclear power in 2020 and expanding to become "an important element of the energy sector after 2025", along with renewable sources. 

Both scenarios would lead to the consumption of coal dropping by almost 40% – a significant drop, when one considers that brown and black coal currently fuel over 90% of Polish electricity.

One scenario envisages nuclear power producing 50 TWh/year from 2035. This would be in line with the Polish Government's ambition to build two nuclear power plants with capacity of 3000 MW each. At the same time, renewables would grow to about 60 TWh/year in 2035 and on to about 75 TWh by 2050. 

The other scenario has nuclear growing more quickly and by 2050 producing 74 TWh/year, while renewables expand more gradually: to 49 TWh in 2050. 

In the event of either scenario being followed, news that Poland intends to shift away from coal will come as a shock to many industry commentators. However, it should be stressed the policy does refer to the long-term future energy mix: thereby providing the country with time to adapt.

Yet in Poland, where coal is also known as black gold, any move away from coal (on which it is so reliant) is fraught with risk. At the Coaltrans World Coal Conference in October 2013, Pawel Smolen reminded delegates that for Poland “decarbonisation means delectrification, and that is impossible”.

Whether the drafted policy remains an impossible pipe dream, or a long-term viable option remains to be seen. For the Polish coal sector: only time will tell. 

Written by Sam Dodson

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