Turning Europe's Lignite Regions from Emitters to Renewable Energy Suppliers

The EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) 2024 panel titled "Turning Europe's Lignite Regions from Emitters to Renewable Energy Suppliers" gathered experts to discuss transforming lignite dependent regions into renewable energy hubs. The conversation, moderated by Ewa Krukowska from Bloomberg News, began with an introduction from Arkadiusz Pluciński, Deputy Permanent Representative of Poland to the EU, who highlighted Poland's commitment to energy transformation.

Keynote speakers, including dr Joanna Maćkowiak-Pandera from Forum Energii and Lidia Wojtal from Agora Energiewende,emphasized the importance of a holistic approach to energy transition. Dr Maćkowiak-Pandera shared insights from Poland's experience, noting the significant reduction in coal usage over recent years. Wojtal highlighted the socioeconomic dimensions of the transition, stressing that it should be seen as an opportunity rather than a burden for fossil fuel dependent regions.

Dr. Aleksandra Gawlikowska-Fyk from Forum Energii discussed Poland's energy transition efforts and the importance ofpreparing lignite regions for the inevitable phaseout. She stressed the need for comprehensive planning and investment in renewables, highlighting Poland's strides in reducing lignite generation by 27% in the previous year. Dr. Gawlikowska-Fyk also noted the significance of leveraging existing infrastructure and ensuring job creation in renewable sectors to replace lost lignite jobs.

Daniel Balinski from ZE PAK S.A. shared insights on managing the transition in Poland, highlighting the importance ofearly engagement with trade unions and the role of supportive policies. He emphasized the necessity of creating new jobs in renewable sectors to replace those lost in lignite.

Nga Ngo Thuy from Agora Energiewende provided examples from Germany, where former coal regions have been successfully transformed into renewable energy hubs and innovation centers. She highlighted projects like the Lusatian Lake District, created by flooding former lignite mines, and the Brainergy Park, where energy companies and scientists collaborate on new technologies.

Julian Popov from the European Climate Foundation stressed the potential for lignite regions to drive European competitiveness by leveraging their existing infrastructure, such as strong grid connections and engineering expertise, noting the importance of creating industrial clusters focused on new technologies, such as energy storage and hydrogen production.

BSP asked the panelists if there is a business case and a plan in place for Poland to mitigate the phasing down of carbon-based energy, exemplified by the planned 2036 shutdown of the Bełchatów power plant, especially the face of a delayed launch of nuclear power. In response, the panelists agreed that it is crucial importance to develop clear transition plans across every level of resolution, from the local governments all the way to national and EU levels, as well as to invest in energy grid capacity expansion, while simultaneously utilizing the current areas of lignite power production as spaces for installing PV and on-shore wind power.

The discussion also touched on international cooperation, with participants noting the importance of sharing knowledge andexperiences globally to accelerate the transition to sustainable energy. An emphasis was placed on the need for supportive policies, private investment, and a coordinated approach to carrying out the transition.

Main points of the discussion:

·       Holistic Approach: Integration of social, economic, and environmental considerations.

·       Regional Cooperation: Essential collaboration between local and national governments.

·       Infrastructure Utilization: Using existing grids and assets for renewable energy.

·       Renewable Energy Potential: Significant opportunities for solar and wind energy.

·       Industrial Transformation: Attracting new industries to replace lignite.

·       Job Creation: Ensuring new employment opportunities in renewable sectors.

·       Knowledge Sharing: Learning from successful transitions in other regions.

·       Market Solutions: Encouraging private investment in renewable projects.

·       Policy Support: Need for supportive legal and regulatory frameworks.

·       International Collaboration: Sharing experiences and strategies globally.

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