Originally published on Power Engineering International.

Europe’s largest coal-fired power plant could replace most of its lignite generation with renewables paired with batteries or lower-carbon thermal capacity, research group BloombergNEF (BNEF) has found in a new report.

Such a transition would lower overall power system costs in the Łódź region of Poland, where the plant is located, while maintaining critical energy security.

The Belchatow power station today plays a vital role in the central European energy grid and is the sixth largest coal-fired power plant on Earth.

BNEF has found that deploying 11 GW of wind and solar in the region to replace 80% of Belchatow’s brown coal generation is possible from a land-use perspective. Alternatively, some 6 GW of wind and solar paired with a gas, biomass or waste-to-energy plant could achieve similar output.

Its analysis examines the feasibility of deploying lower-carbon technologies and offers a possible transition roadmap to do so. The report was released by Bloomberg Philanthropies and BNEF, in partnership with Forum Energii at an event in the Polish region of Łódź, where the Belchatow plant stands.

Michael R. Bloomberg, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Ambition and Solutions and founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies, said: “As the effects of climate change worsen, Europe’s energy crisis and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine only underscore countries’ urgent need to choose clean energy and cut their reliance on fossil fuels. This new report shows a promising path to replacing Europe’s biggest coal-fired power plant with alternative and resilient clean energy sources – and it can serve as an example for coal regions in Europe and globally that are looking to reap the health and economic benefits of clean energy.”

Belchatow supplies a fifth of Poland’s power and sits at the heart of the Polish power system and energy security. The successful transition of this coal-fired power plant could serve as an example for coal-regions around the world.

Joanna Maćkowiak-Pandera, PhD, CEO of Forum Energii, said: “The construction of new, low-emission sources in the Bełchatów 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. Lignite resources in Belchatow are limited in time and will run out soon. This report proposes options for replacing generation with clean capacity that will ensure Poland’s security of supply.”

Maciej Kozakiewicz, Plenipotentiary of the Board of the Łódź Province for the transformation of the Belchatow region, said: “This is an optimistic report in the context of Belchatow’s energy future. It proves that with the involvement of all stakeholders, the region’s prosperity can still be built on energy generation.

“The realization of such a scenario requires full mobilization around constructive scenarios, but it clearly shows how the energy of both activities and generation should be directed.”

BNEF also finds that very little new generation capacity is currently planned for the Łódź region. The current lack of transition plans for replacing lignite puts Poland’s energy security at risk and could see valuable grid infrastructure around Belchatow become stranded.

BNEF’s analysis presents several alternatives for replacing the decline in lignite generation at Belchatow alongside wind and solar, including thermal plants such as gas, biomass or waste-to-energy. However, fuel availability and price would limit the feasible size of thermal plants.

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While Poland is expanding its import capacity for liquefied natural gas to make up for lost imports from Russia, securing investments for a new gas pipeline to Belchatow could be challenging in the current market environment. Nuclear is unlikely to replace lost lignite generation on time as new capacity often takes more than 10 years to plan and build.

Concrete plans to prepare for Belchatow’s retirement and accelerate the deployment of new low-carbon capacity could open the door for the plant to benefit from Just Transition funding from the EU.

Poland has the potential to receive around 3.5 billion euros ($3.4 billion) to support five of its region’s transition away from coal by 2030. The funds would create reskilling and economic opportunities to boost the country’s economy.

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