The Polish Energy Project

Fearing energy insecurity, the Polish energy transition (and ongoing project) is defined by energy security. The Polish government recently outlined a short term energy strategy that would increase the energy share of renewable energy sources, natural gas, and nuclear energy in the energy mix – a clear affront to coal. In the long term Poland hopes to enhance the security of its energy supply and fuels, improve energy efficiency, diversify the energy mix (mainly by introducing nuclear energy), develop renewable sources of energy, to liberalise energy markets in compliance with EU norms, and to reduce the overall impact that Poland’s energy consumption has on the environment. However, Polish efforts must be taken with the context of EU common policy, as the national government “thinks very little of an energy transformation to renewable energy”.

Poland has pursued a more independent energy policy than the EU would prefer, and is currently subject to three infringement proceedings on common energy policy – the Renewable Energy Directive, Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, and EU ETS Directive. Having only recently adopted legislation in line with the Third Energy Package, this demonstrates that Poland is not entirely against pushing the boundaries of its EU commitments in energy policy.

After losing part of its status as a major gas transit state, Poland has focused on improving gas supply security – building an LNG terminal, expanding storage, and increasing production domestically and its stakes in other European gas fields. Furthermore, the government aims to increase the role of nuclear power, a more integrated EU gas network, and cross-border electricity trade. Additionally, Poland does not intend to move away from coal entirely, as it use is preferable to what it perceives as potential over-reliance on Russian oil and gas.

The most ‘promising’ areas for development, from a business perspective, are gas power plants (which will require low cost to set up and are a key component of government policy), wind power and biogas, the retrofitting of ‘clean’ coal or carbon capture technologies, and expertise or consultancy in energy efficiency or demand reduction. This shows what business interests in Poland think will be the direction that energy policy takes in Poland. However, domestic companies do not have sufficient capabilities to finance capital-intensive investments in the energy market, and it would take either foreign investors or state financing to make the above projects possible.

The price of electricity in Poland has dropped by around 25% over the past five years, but is due to rise in the near future – this is in stark contrast with Germany where prices have risen over a long period but have now been decreasing.

To sum up, Poland has strong fears about its energy security which translate into divergence from EU norms. Whilst government policies have often shown attempts to curb excessive coal consumption, implement environmental reforms, and explore renewable energy sources, this has been formed to some extent by the EU, rather than Poland itself.

The German ‘Energiewende’ Project

‘Energiewende’, the name of Germany’s well-branded transition to a low-carbon energy mix, was based on three main pillars – the phaseout of nuclear power, an unprecedented expansion of renewables energy sources, and a strong increase in energy efficiency (. Morris justifies the energiewende on six factors – fighting climate change, reducing energy imports, stimulating innovation and a ‘green economy’, eliminating risks associated with nuclear power, the strengthening of local economies and social justice, and also energy security.

A large body of research, mainstream scientific consensus, the German public and business interests, believe that climate change is a serious issue that needs to be addressed and with this in mind the German government used the desire for a low-carbon energy mix as a foundation for energiewende.

Germany’s dependence on imports was a cause for concern too, as Germany imports over 70% of its energy – transitioning to a lower-carbon economy would mitigate this, as renewable energy saved the economy 6.7 billion euros worth of energy imports in 2010. In the same vein, energy efficiency is desired as it can lower import dependency.

The country’s position as an export-based economy is key to understanding why the government thinks that the energiewende could create jobs and boost growth. Germany currently has a labour force of around 380,000 in the renewables sector, and projects this to rise further. The market for energy efficient and ‘green’ technologies is on a steep rise and policymakers are seeking to benefit from this.

Nuclear energy for Germany still has major unsolved issues with cost, risks, and waste; the German public also is against nuclear power, and public support for energy transition may have had its roots in anti-nuclear protest. Nuclear energy has not enjoyed a privileged position in Germany’s energy project.

To a smaller extent, the need for energy security is a rationale for the energiewende. However, this is more a concern about the affordability of energy as the rise of less developed countries (and their growing energy demand) may outstrip supply and damage the economy of Germany – a country historically dependent on imports. However, there are concerns across the EU that Russian gas (of which Germany is a major importer) is not reliable, and this has played a part in policy discourse.

Lastly, Germany envisions renewables playing a part in promoting localism and reducing fuel poverty:

“Germans can switch power providers. In fact, they are not only free as power consumers, but also free to become “prosumers” – simultaneously producers and consumers. They can even sell the power they make at a profit. Germany’s Renewable Energy Act stipulates that the little guy’s power has priority over corporations. German feed-in tariffs have helped produce all of this com- munity ownership, thereby simultaneously reducing NIMBYism (not in my backyard)” 

It would be wrong to say that the German energiewende is not multifaceted, or has not come about for a myriad of reasons. However, environmentalism and sustainability can be summarised as the main aims of the energiewende. Whilst the policy is in line with common EU aims (and converges with both British and Danish policy), it is also conceived as a new ‘industrial revolution’ that can increase competitiveness for Germany.

To recapitulate,  Germany has formed its own independent energy policy to such an extent that it has brand value and holds ambitious aims that go beyond EU policy and the lesser priority of energy security. Energiewende is about creating a new sustainable, innovative, and environmentally-conscious society.

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