Poland emerges as Eastern Europe’s rising solar power
Joining the club of European countries that have installed at least 1 GW in total solar power in 2019, Poland has been called "Europe's latest shooting star" on near-tripling its installed capacity to reach 3.6 GW in a report by trade body SolarPower Europe.
Bulgaria and Romania also raised their solar game. Bulgaria and Romania, with over 1 GW capacity each, entered the trade body's top 10 EU solar growth markets through 2024. The Czech Republic reached 2 GW of capacity in 2019 but has lower solar targets, so Poland is set to lead the regional solar market in the short term.
Poland's solar market should remain the largest of these four over the next three years, reaching 11.9 GW by the end of 2024, followed by Bulgaria with 3.8 GW and Romania with 3.3 GW. The predictions are based on solar targets presented in each country's EU-mandated 10-year national energy and climate plan.
Bulgaria and Romania will account for 3% of the European solar power market, and Poland will account for 6% by 2024, as the EU pressures these countries to phase coal-fired generation out. Currently, Romania and Bulgaria help their coal plants to buy required EU carbon emission allowances (EUAs), but risk coming into conflict with the EU's State Aid rules, according to a study released by the Southeast Europe Energy Transition Network. It estimated that coal plants in Bulgaria and Romania receive subsidies amounting to €450 million ($546.9 million) and €200 million per year, respectively.
The solar power levels per capita targeted by these Eastern European countries are currently below the European average. The country with the most planned solar per capita and the greatest installed capacity is Germany at 54.6 GW. Across the entire EU, last year's level of solar growth is predicted to continue, implying average EU-wide growth of 19.8 GW per year.
Residential "prosumers" and the "clear will" of the government drove the near trebling of solar capacity in Poland. Poland added 1.7 GW between October 2019 and 2020, with an average capacity of 6.5 kW in addition to its established net metering, feed-in-tariffs, auctions and power purchase agreement (PPA) segment. "Poland has experienced an unexpectedly strong boom of prosumer installations in 2020, helped by the My Electricity program," said IHS Senior Analyst Susanne von Aichberger, citing preliminary IHS Markit figures.
Poland launched the My Electricity scheme in August 2019, and it saw a rush of last-minute applications ahead of the closing of an application round in December 2020. Under the program, residential consumers added solar (photovoltaic) PV through subsidized arrays ranging from 2 to 10 kW, for which 50% of the costs were paid. Residents received electricity bill discounts in exchange for delivering surplus solar electricity back to the grid.
The scheme should further boost solar capacity over the early 2020s as the government may launch another application round with a broader scope in the first half of 2021, according to Aichberger.
SolarPower Europe forecasts 46% annual solar capacity growth in Poland through 2024, as renewable energy prices drop, coal is phased out, and distributed energy technology emerges. Adding it up, SolarPower Europe sees the potential for another threefold increase in Polish PV capacity by 2024. Yet, relative to the rest of the EU, Poland is expected to shrink from a 12% solar market share today to 6% in 2024 amid the rise of France and other EU solar markets.
"The current state of solar in Poland indicates that it is finally becoming a relevant market at the global scale," Stanislaw Pietruszko, Chief Executive of the Polish Society for Photovoltaics, wrote in the SolarPower Europe report.
Solar power volumes in Poland are accelerating even though 75% of the country's power demand is met by coal, and direct energy supply laws and EU Emissions Trading Scheme cost exemptions for energy-intensive firms hinder PPAs, according to the trade body.
Poland finally consented to the EU's preliminary deal on its 55% emissions cuts goal for 2030, having won more time to try to gain concessions for cleaning up its coal-based energy system. Deputy Climate Minister Adam Guibourgé-Czetwertynski said the country is committed to "climate neutrality."
Meantime, "introducing an auction system could provide incentives and unlock the immense solar potential in Bulgaria, one of the highest in Europe," said SolarPower Europe. The country lacks an auction system for utility-scale PV, but such an auction would allow the Bulgarian solar market to truly take off.
Bulgaria, which like Poland depends largely upon coal for its power, will grow its solar sector. However, it will leave its ample sunshine resources untapped. Its 3 MW target for 2030 does not reflect the full potential of the country's sunny south, according to an IHS Markit report. Bulgaria intends to put 94 MW of smaller PV projects (between 0.5 and 1 MW) out to tender on the free market under changes to the 2003 Energy Act (EA), writes law firm CMS, and Bulgaria is also looking to expand solar by enabling businesses to purchase systems for their direct energy needs, according to IHS Markit analysts.
As with Bulgaria, SolarPower Europe contends that Romania has significant unused solar resources, but it has more praise for the country's solar-related targets in its national energy and climate plan. The country aims to reach over 5 MW of solar capacity by 2030. While no specific targets for batteries and energy storage are made in the plan, and its auction plans are not concrete, Romania does plan for a prosumer support scheme, a smart meter rollout, dynamic pricing, and market design rules to accommodate energy storage. Plans like these could benefit solar, SolarPower Europe said.
Romania's energy efficiency plan under development, the EU-mandated Long Term Renovation Strategy, foresees adding 2.5 TWh in rooftop solar power by 2030, accounting for 46.3% of the total projected solar increase by 2030, it added.
Unlike Poland, Romania did not resist the EU's proposed 55% emissions reduction goal even though coal accounts for about 20% of the energy mix and it plans to use natural gas to ease its transition.
The Czech Republic appears to be falling behind in the race to install solar power. The solar target outlined in its national energy and climate plan is "underwhelming," according to the report by SolarPower Europe. The country's solar power is set to grow by 1.9 GW by 2030, according to a recent statement by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry and Trade Karel Havlíče. But that falls shy of its economic potential of 3-7 GW, said SolarPower Europe, citing data from the Czech Solar Association. The country will install the majority of its solar arrays at a 5-kW capacity level or less.
"Overall, it appears that the Czech plan is in line with the government plans to rely on nuclear power in the future," wrote the trade body in its analysis of the plan on its website. It also said that the Czech government's plans to introduce retroactive changes on the level of support for solar schemes "could significantly endanger the development of solar PV in the country."
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