Europe’s largest coal-fired power plant could replace much of its energy generation with low-carbon sources such as renewables, batteries, or thermal capacity and maintain energy resilience, according to a report from BloombergNEF.
The Belchatow power plant in Poland is the world’s sixth-largest coal-fired power plant and is a significant piece of central Europe’s energy grid. BloombergNEF (BNEF) says making energy-efficient and low-carbon transitions to the facility would lower costs while ensuring operational security in the future.
The report says local ignition resources for the coal-powered plant will likely run out by 2036, which would cause the facility to shut down. Lignite, or brown coal, generation is forecast to drop by 75% through 2030 in Poland, and energy crunches have increased demand making transitions even more important.
BNEF finds that deploying 11 gigawatts of wind and solar energy in the region is possible to replace 80% of Belchatow’s brown coal generations is possible. The report also says finding 6 GW of wind and solar paired with a gas, biomass, or waste-to-energy plant could achieve a similar output.
A successful transition of energy resources at the plant could provide a roadmap for other coal regions around the world, BNEF says.
Coal produces 36% of the world’s electricity, according to the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration. Lignite coal is the lowest grade coal with the least concentration of carbon with a low heating value and high moisture content and is mostly used for electricity production, according to the United States Geological Survey.
Europe has been facing an energy crunch, which has been impacted by high gas prices and the war in Ukraine. European Union leaders are currently meeting in Brussels to address high energy prices and demand, and last year pledged to use 40% renewable energy by 2030.
The Lodz region of Poland currently has 600 megawatts of solar energy and 100 megawatts of wind energy projects planned by Belchatow owner PGE, but that would replace only 4% of the plant’s 2021 lignite generation. Without concrete plans for transitioning the plant to other generation sources, it could put the region’s energy security and grid infrastructure at risk, BNEF says.
The power plant also generated about 10% of Poland’s carbon emissions in 2021, and was the single largest emitter in Europe, according to the report. Those numbers also make clean energy transitions a priority for the facility.
Plans to accelerate the deployment of new low-carbon capacity could also provide the potential for the plant to receive Just Transition Fund money from the EU. Poland could receive around $3.4 billion to transition five of its regions away from coal by 2030.
The report says the EU has not disclosed how much emissions reductions are needed from the facility to qualify for financial support. However, to qualify Belchatow must establish a timeline for ending or significantly reducing fossil fuel use.
Other options to keep the power plant operational include battery storage and thermal generation. The report says battery storage could boost the renewable generation value of the wind and solar projects and help address demand fluctuations. BNEF says thermal would replace less than 15% of Belchatow’s current generation, and biomass or waste-to-energy sources could also add to generation capacity.
“The construction of new, low-emission sources in the Belchatow region must be started as soon as possible in order to maintain the security of energy supply at a high level and reduce electricity prices,” says Joanna Ma?kowiak-Pandera, CEO of Forum Energii. “Lignite resources in Belchatow are limited in time and will run out soon.”