PEP2040: We have a compass, but the road to transformation is far

At the beginning of February, the Council of Ministers approved the Polish Energy Policy until 2040. Does the new strategy document mean a breakthrough for the development of Poland’s fuel and energy sector? Experts cool emotions and assess that the assumptions are not very ambitious, and the way to achieve them is often blurred. What is going to change, and how is it supposed to affect the climate, but also our living comfort and our wallets?

The resolution on Poland’s energy policy is called by the government representatives a compass for entrepreneurs, local governments, and citizens in the transformation of the Polish economy towards a low-emission economy. However, experts believe that the term is too imposing. PEP2040 assumes, among other things:

  • Commissioning of the first 1-1.6 GW nuclear power plant unit in 2033.
  • Reducing the share of coal in electricity generation to a maximum of 56% (by 2030).
  • Increasing the importance of biomass, biogas, geothermal and heat pumps.
  • Increasing the use of RES technology.
  • Increasing the use of alternative fuels in transport.
  • Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30% (by 2030, compared to 1990).
  • Reducing primary energy consumption by 23% by 2030 (compared to the 2007 PRIMES projections).

As Minister of Climate and Environment, Michał Kurtyka, explains in the ministry’s official communiqué, the document, which is the first of nine integrated strategies for “Responsible Development”, is a detailed description of guidelines that aim to exploit the country’s economic, raw material and technological potential. All this while respecting the principles of a just transition, which considers, among other things, the starting point and the social context of the changes to be made, bearing in mind the well-being of the people of each region and the protection of workers. During planning, the economic needs resulting from the weakening of the COVID-19 pandemic are not ignored either. 

PEP2040: 3 pillars of success

The assumptions presented by the Ministry of Climate are based on three pillars:

Equitable transformation
Equitable transformation – the main objective is to provide new development opportunities for the regions most affected by the transformation in relation to low-carbon energy transmission. It is to support the local community on a vocational level – new industries (including but not limited to those related to RES, nuclear energy, electromobility, network infrastructure, digitisation and thermal modernisation of buildings) are expected to provide additional jobs. Individual energy consumers are to be protected from increases in the price of energy carriers and encouraged to take an active part in the energy market, which in turn is to prevent the deepening of energy poverty. In addition, the coal regions will receive financial aid in the amount of around PLN 60 billion. 
Zero carbon energy system
Zero carbon energy system – which involves decarbonising the energy sector through the deployment of nuclear and offshore wind power. This pillar additionally includes increasing the role of distributed and civic energy, based on local capital. This one is set to continue to grow, thanks in part to funding from the government’s “Mój prąd” programme.
Good air quality 
Good air quality – every year more important also from the perspective of Poles, who are more and more consciously moving away from fossil fuels in favour of other energy sources. It is also the electrification of transport and the use of state-of-the-art technology in construction.
Minister Kurtyka assures that the PEP2040 assumptions will not exacerbate the energy poverty we face in Poland. It promises to support specific professional groups and regions that will bear a disproportionate cost of the transformation. 

Polish Energy Policy until 2040 – 8 main objectives 

The three pillars presented above laid the foundation for the 8 main objectives of the PEP2040 for Poland, which are to ensure our energy security, energy efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of the energy sector. 

The targets, which are treated by representatives of the Polish government as a compass, indicate to the national economy (and its constituent entities) the path to follow in order to adapt to the EU regulatory environment, related to the climate and energy targets for 2030, the European Green Deal and the economic recovery plan after the COVID pandemic. 

The individual points on this map are:
  • Optimal use of own energy resources
  • Extension of electricity generation and network infrastructure
  • Diversification of supplies and development of network infrastructure for natural gas, crude oil and liquid fuels
  • Development of energy markets
  • Implementation of nuclear energy
  • Development of renewable energy sources
  • Development of district heating and cogeneration
  • Improvement of energy efficiency.
By implementing individual guidelines, Poland intends to pursue climate neutrality under the Paris Agreement concluded in December 2015 during the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21). This means that by 2030:

At least that is the assumption, which the World Wide Fund for Nature, among others, believes to be inadequate. The organisation’s website says that efforts to achieve Poland’s neutrality must gather pace:

The date indicated by the government, 2049, is not acceptable from a scientific point of view. We need to move faster.

For one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the EU, such a task is not easy. Although we are at the very end of the transformation race, the action plan is rather devoid of ‘boosters’. Experts believe that we are too cautious when it comes to making resolutions and setting goals. Furthermore, it is hard to disagree with this opinion when comparing the plans for achieving climate neutrality that other countries are setting themselves.
Poland is at the very end of the transformation race. Other countries are way ahead of us. 
If we are to achieve climate neutrality in 30 years’ time, we must step up our action. We can be well motivated by the other participants in this “run for the health of the planet”, who have definitely sped up. 

At the top of the list is the United Kingdom, which has a GREAT action plan:
  • It aims to reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 68% by 2030 (compared to 1990).
  • It announces the suspension of funding for fossil fuel projects conducted in other countries.
  • It will double its contribution to international climate funds.
  • From 2021, it will not finance fossil fuel projects abroad (France is introducing similar legislation from 2025 for crude oil and from 2035 for gas).
Apart from the UK, the following countries are rapidly overtaking Poland
  • Canada – which targets emissions reductions of 32-40 percent by 2030. 
  • Finland – climate neutrality by 2035.
  • Australia – by 2040.
  • Sweden – by 2045.
  • China – climate neutrality by 2060.
  • Barbados and Maldives – climate neutrality by 2030 (subject to sufficient support)
  • Israel and Slovakia have announced a gradual shift away from fossil fuels.
  • Pakistan intends to stop funding investment in coal-fired power plants.
  • India doubles its renewable energy target.
  • United States – target to reduce emissions and achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

Polish Energy Policy until 2040: What are the specialists’ concerns?

Experts assess that the PEP2040 in practice blocks the Polish potential for energy transformation and RES development. They also point out that we are masters of clipping our own wings when it comes to action. As early as 1990, the Sejm of the Republic of Poland adopted a resolution on the assumptions of Polish Energy Policy until 2010. More than 30 years ago, we assumed that the choice of energy technologies had to be dictated by environmental protection and that the proportion of hydrocarbon fuels and renewable energies was greater than that of solid fuels. History has shown that fulfilling these assumptions goes... differently.

President of the Polish Wind Energy Association Janusz Gajowiecki assesses that the document presented by the government “presents the direction of transformation, but does not use the full potential of RES in Poland nor the global trend, which is currently implemented in Europe and in the world by the largest economies”.

The above words are supported by a statement to the Polish Press Agency by the President of EC BREC Institute of Renewable Energy SP. z o.o., who says:

This is a document that is absolutely not in line with EU policy and the objectives that we now have to pursue.

The transitional and compromise approach of the document is somehow confirmed by the Deputy Minister of Climate and Environment. Ireneusz Zyska reassures that PEP2040 is a final document, but it may be updated in the future.

“This document is conservative when it comes to renewable energy sources. For example, the capacities contracted under the RES action show that the levels we declare in PEP2040 for 2030 will be reached earlier,” says Zyska at the EEC Trends conference.

Experts warn also about the inevitable rise in energy prices due, among other things, to increased expenditure on adapting conventional power generation to the runaway emissions reduction target.

The construction of new nuclear units is very expensive – their assumed cost is about PLN 150 billion. This makes the technology uncompetitive, especially when set against the falling prices of wind or photovoltaic energy conversion. Attention is also drawn to the fact that we do not have our own reactors and will therefore have to import technology. This in turn undermines the crowning argument of local communities for the provision of additional jobs in regions particularly affected by energy policy changes. It is estimated that 60 per cent of the work is to be carried out by Polish companies.

A further aspect is global trends, which Poland finds difficult to fit into. Last year, for the first time, more electricity was produced in European Union countries from renewable sources than from fossil fuels. Almost everywhere (except China), investors are saying goodbye to coal. According to Deloitte – the consultancy that produced the report ‘The 2030 Decarbonisation Challenge’ - this is key in the global decarbonisation process. 

According to a report by the Ember and Agora Energiewende think tanks, our country is unfortunately at the bottom of the list of countries undergoing this transition. In 2020, the climate ministry assured that the share of coal in electricity generation would be 60 percent. In PEP2040, we get a range of 56-60 percentage points of coal in electricity generation in 2030. Ten years later, this share is set to halve. 

We are trying to catch up with the other European Union countries, but there is still a long way to go. We will be helped by the exhaustion of most of the exploited deposits, which is expected to come after 2035. The dirty problem will solve itself. However, we do not have a proper path and a ready-made solution for closing the gap by 2030. 

PEP2040 – still at the beginning of the road?

The rapid pace of modifications introduced as part of the EU’s environmental and energy trends and the fight to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 is quite a challenge for Poland. No other EU Member State has such a high proportion of coal-fired power stations in electricity production as Poland. However, the assumptions made within PEP2040 protect us as much as possible from getting tired too quickly. Some even believe that they inhibit potential.

Deputy Minister of Climate and Environment Ireneusz Zyska reassures that PEP2040 can be updated. In the experts’ view, more ambitious targets are necessary - otherwise, we will not achieve climate neutrality by the set deadline. And this will cost us dearly – literally and figuratively.