Polish coal giant doubles down on 2.5GW solar push despite business retrenchment

Image cThe owner of Europe's self-styled largest lignite plant (the Bełchatów station, pictured here) PGE agreed last year to develop 500MW of solar for miner KGHM. Image credit: Greenpeace Polska / Flickrredit:

The owner of a double-digit-gigawatt portfolio of coal-fired power will press ahead with a shift to renewables even as it shuts down its non-essential business over the COVID-19 crisis.

Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE), the largest utility in its home country of Poland, said in recent days it will shutter projects “outside of its core business” in a bid to shore up its finances, at a time when pandemic-driven shutdowns are hitting power use worldwide.

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PGE’s statement did not spell out the areas it would cull as part of its “rationalisation” drive. The state-run firm made clear, however, that it will continue to implement its decade-long wind and solar growth programmes, set in motion prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The firm wants to take its offshore wind fleet to an installed capacity of 2.5GW by 2030 – it is aiming to become a national leader on this front – and intends to amass an identically-sized 2.5GW solar PV portfolio by the same year. It will also refocus on district heating and waste-to-energy projects.

PGE did not specify the solar projects it will be working on most immediately. However, last September it emerged the solar push will include rolling out a 500MW pipeline for mining group KGHM Polska Miedź, who claims to be Poland’s second top energy user.

Reports coming through in the months since indicate that as of March 2020, the 500MW mine-side solar venture remains underway. Speaking to Polish media, KGHM said it will begin its investment in solar systems in 2020, with larger project acquisitions set to follow in 2021 and beyond.

Coal’s long shadow as Polish solar goes big

PGE’s decision to persist with its renewable plans despite the COVID-19 emergency does not mean its portfolio focus as Poland’s top utility – coal-fired power – is likely to change any time soon.

The firm’s records for 2019 show that its generation volumes of 58.32TWh continued to be dominated by lignite (32.2TWh) and hard coal (18.94TWh). Even as they saw 2018-to-2019 declines, both coal variants towered last year over natural gas (4.49TWh) and wind (1.27TWh).

Conventional generation also remained PGE’s top money-maker by far in 2019, scoring a 41% share of group-wide EBITDA that overtook distribution's (35%), district heating's (14%), renewables' (8%) and supply's (3%).

The utility’s partnership with miner KGHM is one of the largest solar schemes Poland has seen to date. The country – thought by IRENA to have boosted installed PV from 560MW in 2018 to 1.3GW in 2019– has historically been known for the smaller PV schemes of ReneSola and others.

The announcement of the PGE-KGHM solar deal last September took place as another was signed for a separate 600MW PV project, a scheme by partners NeoInvestments, China Sinogy Electric Engineering and Strategic Swiss Partners.

Contacted by PV Tech at the time, a NeoInvestments spokesperson said the firm will own the project, while the Chinese and Swiss partners will source components and finance, respectively. The 600MW project will be split into instalments of 200MW, the spokesperson added.

This publication has set up a tracker to map out how the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting solar supply chains worldwide. You can read the latest updates here.

If you have a COVID-19 statement to share or a story on how the pandemic is disrupting a solar business anywhere in the world, do get in touch at [email protected] or [email protected].

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