BNEF outlines scenarios to replace Europe’s largest coal plant with 10.7 GW of solar, wind


BNEF has examined the feasibility of gradually transitioning from lignite generation at Poland‘s Belchatow coal plant – which is the largest such facility in Europe and the sixth largest in the world – to a mix of renewables, storage and low-carbon thermal capacity.

In its optimal scenario, BNEF said that 5 GW of solar, 5.7 GW of wind, 1 GW of storage and 0.1 GW of thermal capacity could replace 80% of Belchatow’s generating capacity, which stood at 5.1 GW in 2021.

BNEF based its analysis on local weather patterns and land availability. It said this combination would result in the highest economic value. In Poland, electricity produced by PV is reportedly about 50% cheaper than lignite.

“BNEF analysis finds that the cheapest electricity mix in Poland can be achieved when wind and solar account for most of overall generation and more expensive, flexible technologies generate only during the few hours or days when wind and solar output is low,” said the company.

It also said that a solar and wind combination has the potential to create a better overall generation profile than either technology on its own.

“Solar and wind in the region often generate at different times, complementing each other,” said Felicia Aminoff, energy transition analyst at BNEF and the lead author of the report.

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The greatest challenge for the optimal scenario in terms of solar is its significant use of land. To install 5 GW of utility-scale PV, Belchatow’s land would have to be reclaimed, given that the lignite fields would be flooded with water once mining ends. In a “land-constrained” scenario, BNEF estimates that 3.6 GW of solar, 2.9 GW of wind, and 1.5 GW of thermal capacity could replace 80% of the plant’s total generation, based on 2021 levels.

BNEF said that Polish lignite generation will drop by 75% between 2021 and 2030, with the resource likely to run out by 2036. That will force the plant to shut down unless it transitions to other power sources.

The report also looks at technologies that could be deployed in Belchatow after 2030, including green hydrogen, floating solar, pumped hydro storage, and small nuclear reactors (SMRs).

“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,” said Joanna Maćkowiak-Pandera, CEO of Forum Energii.

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