Monday, February 03, 2014

Welcome to the Nuclear Club, Poland!

It’s always particularly interesting when a country that has never used nuclear energy – when it could have – decides to start an industry. UAE is a recent example of this. Poland is another:

Donald Tusk, the prime minister, and his cabinet finally adopted the Polish nuclear power program on January 28th, giving the green light to construction of the country's first nuclear-power plant.

I somehow bypassed Poland while touring around eastern Europe in the mid-80s, but I would say that based on my experience of Hungary and East Germany’s wretched air quality, it is not a big surprise why Poland might turn this way.

Currently, hard coal and lignite are used to produce roughly 88% of the electrical grid. Dependence on Russian gas imports, and pressure from Brussels to reduce carbon emissions by 2020 beyond the 20% level previously already agreed, have pushed the government to look for alternatives.

That’ll do it, all right. The Economist put this story in its Ex-Communist blog and I’d say 30 years is a long enough time for Poland to consider its options before moving off lignite. As it is, the first facility, which France (that is, EDF and AREVA) seems to have an inside track on building, is expected to run at 3000 megawatts, enough to take over 17 percent of Poland’s electricity generation. And it’s just a start. Poland was building a nuclear facility when the Communist government collapsed and that’s one of the potential sites for the new one.

I read a story from a Polish news source that says the country wants to follow up quickly with a second facility – which I guess would get nuclear energy up to 34 percent of the country’s generation – and the Polish electricity authority is certainly not holding back on enthusiasm:

Nuclear power turns to be one of the most sought after/prospective sources of energy, which apart from being CO2 emission free, guarantees independence from the typical ways of obtaining energy sources.

Not sure what that means  - awkward translation effort - but I suppose it refers to trying to get Russia to keep the natural gas spigot on – and the benefits of no longer having to do that. What about renewable energy? Well:

Energy prices have soared in Poland, with the hike partially caused by high subsidies having to be paid out to develop the so-called 'renewable sector', including wind and solar power.

Poland signed up to the pledge to bring renewables up to 20 percent of its energy mix by 2020, though now the EC has indicated that in the period, 2021 to 2030, national governments will be allowed to decide how achieve cuts in carbon emissions.

I’m not sure from reading the stories why nuclear energy is more attractive than these subsidies, but it probably has to do with what you get: baseload energy for a reasonably low levelized price. By that I mean that the cost of building the plant may be high, but the cost of running it is quite low. And that can bring down the cost of electricity a lot. And it’s 24/7, not just when the wind decides to blow. But that’s a guess – the stories I’ve read haven’t really explained the economics of the decision.

1 comment:

jimwg said...

Good positive article!

"By that I mean that the cost of building the plant may be high, but the cost of the resulting electricity is quite low."

If this could only be stressed a lot more to the public while de-FUDing shrill opponents!

James Greenidge
Queens NY