The Polish Energy Drought

The extreme heatwave this summer has put additional pressure on the Polish power system. Energy planners and policy makers in the country should no longer just be worried about power outages in winter, argues Michal Olszewski. Summer heat could be just as disruptive.

Polish Heat Wave August 2015

Heat Wave in Poland, August 2015 (Photo by Henryk Borawski, modified, CC BY-SA 4.0)


Poles pray for rain these days. It has not been raining for months, in parts of the country the soil looks like ash and the farmers count their losses. Last winter was another one with very little snow, while the summer sun was burning like hell. As a result, the water levels in Poland’s rivers and lakes have decreased dramatically. Poles suddenly wake up to a landscape that resembles that of southern France in August. Though California and its dramatic drought still seems far away, Poles need to worry about getting enough snow this winter, or the situation next year could be worse than ever.

Poles are beginning to realise that the risk of power blackouts is not at its highest in winter, but during summer when air conditioners and fans are working at full steam. High temperatures and low water levels (water is necessary for cooling the blocks in coal plants) meant that – at the beginning of August – the PSE Operator (the company responsible for transmitting and distributing power) imposed power restrictions to 1,600 of the biggest companies in the country. And Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz announced that summer renovations for coal plants would be delayed until energy deficits were no longer so severe. Some Poles remembered the same rhetoric of that from 30 years ago when similar power deficits occurred.

The energy security portal Defence24 suggests that the heat wave is not the only reason for the problems in Poland’s current energy supply. Equally important is the disastrous quality of transmission grids – as many as half of the high-voltage lines is 40 years or older. Professor Z. Maciejewski from Radom University of Technology has calculated that between 1995 and 2008, Poland saw an increase in the length of transmission lines of 4%, while energy consumption increased by 13% and generation increased by 11% in the same period. According to Professor Maciejewski, there is a growing disparity between the power needs of the manufacturing sector and the feasibility of the transmission system.

There is also a third element to this. Poland has an installed capacity of around 36 GW and a peak demand at around 25 GW (from February 2012). Theoretically, this means a secure surplus of supply; the problem is that this only exists on paper. If we subtract the power blocks that are excluded for various reasons (e.g. renovations, lack of fuel etc.), Poland only has a power surplus of about 2-3 GW. And that means that Poland is on the edge of the power blackouts. To avoid this risk, Poland should invest in new generation capacity of at least 1 GW every year. Total capital expenditures of Polish energy companies over the next 10 years may reach up to 40 billion Euros in total. But so far, nobody knows how to achieve this goal and where take the money from.

The government pays power producers for maintaining power reserves, but this summer, reserves have not been enough. Over the coming years, and due to climate policy, the operator will have to switch off 3 GW. The big question is whether it will be equally hot next summer as this year. How will Poland secure supply of power? This autumn, the energy interconnector connecting the power systems between Poland and Lithuania will start to operate, but this is will have only an insignificant impact on the situation.

Polish power troubles strangely coincide with the predictions by many energy experts: in 2012, the Polish Energy Regulatory Office (URE) warned that the real risks of power outages will come in 2015. However, URE did only pay attention to the situation in winter. It turns out that a hot summer is just as dangerous.

Michał Olszewski (born 1977) – journalist, reporter, writer. For more than twelve years he worked for Gazeta Wyborcza and Tygodnik Powszechny, where he concentrated mostly on environmental issues. He is engaged in a Krakow-based campaign against air pollution.

by

Michał Olszewski

Michał Olszewski (born 1977) – journalist, reporter, writer. For more than twelve years he worked for Gazeta Wyborcza and Tygodnik Powszechny, where he concentrated mostly on environmental issues. He is engaged in a Krakow-based campaign against air pollution.

13 Comments

  1. Ulenspiegel says

    Heinbloed,

    the article is a little bit too much propaganda from the Austrian side, the Austrian newspaper “Die Presse” published a much more honest analysis of the German/Austrian situation in the Thursday 24.09.2015 edition :-).

    “Zur Frage einer möglichen Teilung der gemeinsamen Stromhandels- bzw. Strompreis-Zone Deutschland/Österreich, wie sie die Vereinigung der europäischen Energieregulierer ACER Mitte dieser Woche empfohlen hat, hielt sich Staschus inhaltlich bedeckt.”

    No wonder, Austria makes 300 million EUR per year, with most investments done by the German side. Therefore, the scenarios published by the German Transmission Net Agency are clearly understood as warning on the Austrian side. 🙂

    A common market would require – at least as long as there is a transmission bottleneck in Germany- that the Austrians provide more power, this is according to Austrians much cheaper than 300 million per year. 🙂

  2. heinbloed says

    @Ulenspiegel:

    The investments in the grid between Austria and Germany are done by the Bavarian grid operators, they connect to the cheapest supplier. To Austria and not to Eastern or Northern Germany.
    Or to Poland or Czech.

    Austrian utilities have invested in Bavarian power plants as well(and in French ones as well) to supply the Southern German market with back-up power.
    Many of these back-up power plants are idle at the moment, just waiting for the reactors to go off-line.
    The capacity which the Austrian utilities have available is more than enough to compensate for the Bavarian/Southern German atomic exit:

    http://www.energynewsmagazine.at/de/%C3%96sterreich+lockt+mit+stromangebot_n5541

    A lousy 30km cable is missing to go nuke-free without Northern Germany’s aid.
    And this would be much cheaper and faster for Bavaria to build than the planned North-South cables intended to supply Bavaria with power once the reactors are idled.

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