Coal-fired Poland turns toward the sun

A solar boom is helping Poland take a major step towards ridding itself of coal as a new domestic photovoltaic technology is poised to become a game-changer in harnessing the power of the sun.

Poland has long lagged behind other EU members in solar energy, but recent government subsidies have seen solar panels popping up on rooftops around the country at unprecedented speeds.

Rarely associated with blue skies, the country is known for its heavy mist-dependent cities and villages, known in Poland as “black gold”.

But coal is still meeting about 80 percent of Poland’s energy needs and forced the country to seek green solutions and subsidize its mines by 2049 as part of the European Union’s plan to cut emissions has gone.

In the southern city of Skevina, one of the first residents to exchange their old coal boilers for solar panels was 6-year-old former bureaucrat Andreas Machno.

Playing with his grandson in the family’s garden, he told AFP, “The city council subsidized solar power, so we took advantage of the opportunity. Others followed. It was an excellent option.”

“We can now breathe better in Skavina,” said Machno, whose city was marked by pollution from a now-defunct aluminum plant for decades.

‘Scramble for solar’

“We are witnessing a scramble for photovoltaic micro-installations in Poland,” Ryszard Oneuk, a renewable energy expert at the National Energy Conservation Agency (KAPE), told AFP.

Currently about 70 percent of Poland’s solar farms are still small, including equipment with an average power of 8 kW.

But in five years, the installed photovoltaic capacity in Poland increased from just 187 MW (MW) to 3,935 MW in 2020, thanks to a surge in rooftop installations.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), a country of 38 million last year saw a 155 percent increase in the sector, compared with a worldwide average of 22 percent.

Wnuk attributes Poland’s enthusiasm for solar to generous public subsidies and the option to pump surplus energy generated by the rooftop panel into the local grid.

‘The only way’

“Ten years ago, no one in Poland knew how to pronounce the word photovoltaic!” David Zielinski, CEO of the firm Columbus Energy, told AFP.

Launched seven years ago, the company is at the forefront of advancing Poland’s new green energy. Employing 3,500 people, it is listed on the Warsaw Stock Exchange and has ambitions to go global.

“Today, everyone is well aware that solar, wind and other types of renewable energy are the only way to avoid paying huge electricity bills in the near future,” Zielinski, 36, told AFP.

It is with an eye on the future that he soon invested in the world’s first industrial production line of photovoltaic panels, a new generation of inexpensive solar cells, based on groundbreaking perovskite technology.

Solar panels coated with perocyte film are lightweight, flexible, efficient and come in varying colors and degrees of transparency.

They can be easily mounted on almost any surface – be it a laptop, car, drone, spacecraft, or building – to produce electricity, in the shade or indoors.

From Tokyo to Oxford

A novel inkjet printing process for perovskites, developed by Polish physicist and businessman Olga Malinkiewicz, has low production costs, which make it possible to produce solar panels under low temperatures.

His discovery in 2013 led him to top an article in the Nature Journal, as well as an award from MIT and a competition organized by the European Commission.

Researchers from Tokyo to Oxford are now working on the perovskite technique. Malinkiewicz’s company, Saule Technologies, is based in the southern Polish city of Wrocław.

Solar panels come with a major flaw, mocking Skavina resident Machno.

“I had to load six tons of coal into a boiler every month and then remove the ashes.

“Now I sit there and drink beer and my weight has increased,” he says with a laugh.

Scroll to Top