Perspectives on Transition
Germany and Poland have separate independent energy transitions, which, whilst united somewhat by common EU goals, have both diverged from the continental norms. Germany’s energiewende transition is built on ideas of sustainability, whilst Poland’s ongoing policies deal with energy security as an overarching concern. Energy transition in Poland and Germany has the potential to affect relations with Russia – which are somewhat shaped by its energy exports. Whilst Poland has a focus on energy security, which impacts any Russian desire to be a monopolistic supplier to Poland’s energy mix, Germany is more focused on other goals – primarily sustainability.
Germany is in the heart of Europe, or at least at the centre of European electricity grids and is a major hub for natural gas. Germany is also the largest energy user in the EU – accounting for just under 20% of gross consumption, 20% of net imports, and nearly 19% of total electricity generation. German energy policy shapes, and has been shaped by, EU policy.
Under Germany’s EU presidency in 2007, strong environmentalist policies were pushed through and strategies developed; additionally, Germany sought to weaken policies on unbundling and those that may interfere with Russian energy ties to Europe – both key departures from the Polish project, which emphasised energy security above all.
Over the last few decades, renewables have risen at an unprecedented rate along with the less carbon intensive natural gas – all at the expense of coal power generation. However, Poland has not shown the same commitment as Germany. At the start of 2014, a major construction project started for what will be the country’s largest coal-fuelled plant and will supply coal power to around two million homes. Poland is additionally facing EU action on failing to implement certain policies.
Germany has already faced criticism from proponents of Poland’s energy transition who have blamed the energiewende and EU climate policies on the limited influence that the EU has over Russia. One aspect of comparison between Poland and Germany is how they view electricity. According to Renewables International:
“[in] Germany,… electricity is perceived as a commodity and thus remains largely in the realm of economy [sic], in Poland still largely self-sufficient and perceiving energy imports as dependency, electricity supply becomes securitized in the language of national security. The German ‘energy as business’ perception is further enhanced by the way domestic energy governance functions – with four generally private-owned (and in the case of 50 Hertz – owned by Australian and Belgian shareholders) [operators], while in Poland there is a single all-national and state-owned [operator].”
Lastly, Poland has concerns about ‘carbon leakage’ – its energy-intensive industry moving elsewhere if the country makes a shift to more expensive and less emitting energy. However, Germany sees an energy transformation as key to maintaining its industrial competitiveness – through modernisation, efficiency, and innovation.
The German energiewende has two major implications for Russia – changes in the level of natural gas imported from Russia, and policy lessons to be learnt from Germany’s power decentralisation and low-carbon transition. The short term could see a Russian gas boom happen in Germany – which will be good for Russia’s economy – but the long term will inevitably see a steep decline if the energiewende continues on its current trajectory. Policy transfer, though a less exciting topic, could have big implications for Russia’s own energy mix:
Russia now has the choice to invest in conventional plants and a reinforcement of the existing copper lines, or to prepare its electricity system for future challenges by promoting renewable and decentralized energy installations, and by fostering largely autonomous island grid solutions with local storage capacities … Russia can follow Germany’s footsteps and start planning a supply system for the day after tomorrow
As for the wider EU implications of increased Polish and German independence from Russian gas, some see it as having a possible ‘domino’ effect – with other states copying certain policies on energy transition. Germany also has the potential to be a competitor to Russian gas, which is often used for heating. In 2011-2012, a cold spell and subsequent spike in demand for heating was managed mainly by excess German energy supply.
To some, there is potential for tension within the EU on Germany and Poland’s energy policy, which Russia could take advantage of by aligning it with certain key players.
Germany and Poland have divergent energy transitions which pose different possibilities for Russia. Whilst Germany envisions eventual independence from fossil fuel extractives and is concerned primarily about sustainability, it is pragmatic in the short-term and there is demonstrable potential for higher imports from Russia. Meanwhile, Poland’s primary concern is of energy security, and is less concerned about the environmental impacts of its current energy mix.
In brief, Germany and Poland’s energy transitions have different implications for Russia. Whilst it may be too early to predict what might happen in the future, it is safe to say that the position of Russian gas on the continent will inevitably change – in the short term possibly to the benefit of the Russian economy but in the long term there will be a shift away. The primacy of energy security in Poland and sustainability in Germany creates a need for different approaches from policymakers in these countries.
Polish and German transitions have long diverged – ‘energy security’ for Poland, and ‘sustainability’ for Germany. Russia faces change on the continent that it will need to adapt to, but not in a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Poland is mainly dependent on coal, and has been making small moves away from this. Germany has a diverse energy mix that will see significant change – investing heavily in renewables in the long term and gas power in the short term. Germany aims to create a sustainable, innovative, and low carbon economy with its energy policy (energiewende). Meanwhile, Poland hopes to maintain industry and strengthen its own energy security, whilst complying with minimal EU climate rules and regulations.
Germany holds significant clout for energy policy within the EU as its largest consumer and importer, as well as being an important hub for gas and electricity. Poland, as a challenger to EU norms, holds not insignificant influence in the union – despite Germany’s preeminent role.
The energy transition of Germany and Poland may have a measurable impact on Russia’s economy, energy policies both abroad and domestically, and diplomatic leverage with EU member states.