Green shoots emerging

Climate activists attend the March for Climate in a protest against global warming in Katowice as the COP24 UN Climate Change conference takes place in the city. Photo: Maciej Jarzebinski /FORUM
Despite the government dragging its heels, some notable Polish companies are joining the fight against climate change.

Poland fell under the international spotlight at the end of last year when the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24) landed in Katowice – which just happens to be the historical heart of Poland’s coal mining industry. While the international community discussed measures to combat climate change around the world, Poland carried out its own conversation. Inconvenient questions were raised, namely about Poland’s dependency on carbon-intensive power generation. It came just as the Polish Supreme Audit Office (NIK) raised doubts over whether the country could achieve its stated target of generating 15% of its total power from renewable resources by 2020. At the same time, private corporations and consumers alike have called out for transparency, certainty and action.

To shine a light on companies which are leading Polish efforts for a more sustainable energy-oriented country, Poland Today reached out to Trendy w Energetyce (Energy Trends), a leading industry portal that tracks market trends in the energy sector in Poland. Scratch the surface, they say, and it might not be all coal-black. Although there is a mountain to climb, there are some companies which are starting the ascent, with multiple commercial and governmental initiatives coming along.

Here is what they had to say.

Along the road to electromobility

There is plenty going on in the area of electromobility in Poland. The Polish Development Fund (Polski Fundusz Rozwoju, PFR), set up in 2016 to invest in sustainable social development and national economic growth, is supporting and promoting the country’s fledgeling E-Bus and Electromobility industry. Along with various ministries, PFR signed a letter of intent with 41 Polish cities and towns, which together account for 45% of the country’s total bus fleet. The purpose of this agreement is to develop Poland’s electric public transportation system.

At present, only 31 electric buses are in operation throughout Poland’s largest cities. The programme aims to add another 1,000 electric buses by 2021. A significant portion of the fund has also been allocated to technical and technological development, including in the private sector.

The Rafako Group, the largest manufacturer of power generation equipment in Poland, has become an unlikely new player in the industry. Sensing an opportunity to diversify and grab a piece of the multi-billion dollar world market, the company decided to apply its engineering expertise to producing its own e-bus. It’s a classic example of cross-fertilisation, with Rafako bringing a truly out-of-the-box approach to the design. The design team presented their prototype at COP24 Katowice to considerable fanfare.

The e-Car-Sharing industry is also becoming more prominent. The energy company Tauron announced its arrival on the e-Car scene by providing 10 electric cars for the use of COP24 participants in Katowice. In February last year, Innogy Polska, a nationwide energy provider, released their e-Car-Sharing app, which allows users to rent electric cars by the minute. The company later announced that they hope to expand the service and network of charging stations should their market research bring positive results.

PKN Orlen, Poland’s state-controlled oil refiner, has followed its international counterparts by adding electric charging stations alongside their petrol bowsers. With a station already in operation on the Katowice-Warsaw highway, the company plans to open 150 extra charging stations by the end of 2019.

The big international providers have also arrived in Poland to take advantage of the new green wave. In June last year, the city of Warsaw received 61 hybrid electric buses from MAN Truck & Bus Polska, which is part of the mega Volkswagen Group. 

Presentation of electric buses with the participation of President of Katowice Marcin Krupa. Fot. Maciej Jarzebinski / FORUM

Five months later, Toyota began production of hybrid transaxles at its Walbrzych plant in Lower Silesia. Mercedes-Benz announced this January the opening of a new battery pack factory in Jawor in West Poland, which is expected to create 300 jobs.

Companies go green

A number of global brands operating in Poland have themselves taken the initiative to transition into green energy and technology. Apart from the future cost-savings on offer, these companies have begun to factor in ecological considerations when choosing power providers.

A good example of this is the PepsiCo Group, which has chosen PGE Obrót’s special offer called ‘Naturalnie, że energia’ (Naturally, that’s energy). The special contract guarantees the supply of electricity sourced mainly from wind farms. The corporation is also planning to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 20%. “According to the PepsiCo strategy ‘Performance with a purpose’, we are continuously seeking solutions that will allow us to significantly reduce our environmental impact and limit our carbon footprint”, said Michał Jaszczyk, PepsiCo Poland General Manager.

Energa, another energy operator based in Northern Poland, offers a similar green-energy package to its corporate clients, whereby participating clients are given a 100% guarantee that the electricity supplied is generated from renewable sources.

IKEA is another global brand turning to ecological measures in Poland. Just a few years ago, the IKEA Group purchased its first wind farm in the country, the idea being to generate as much renewable energy as consumed by all IKEA stores, shopping centres, factories, distribution centres and offices. The same company also offers its Polish clients photovoltaic installations.  

But it’s not just the private sector pressing ahead. The government has started several initiatives to develop and promote green energy. For example, the new national energy strategy demands that the core of the nation’s energy needs be fulfilled by renewable energy sources, such as photovoltaics and offshore wind farms. Initially, the Energy Ministry had planned to gradually discontinue onshore wind farms. However, recent developments in the ministry have suggested a change of tack, opening the way for the construction of new onshore turbines.

Cities strike back

Poland’s issues with smog are well known. Year after year, a number of Polish cities rank among Europe’s most polluted. But local governments around Poland have begun to fight back. The Warsaw City Council allocated 300m zł to replace nearly 17,000 outdated boilers by 2022. This initiative is further complemented by a 135m zł tree-planting campaign.

The city of Krakow applied for EU support  to develop its metropolitan heating system and improve the thermal insulation in its public buildings, as well as various other energy efficiency upgrades. These funds have been used to modernise more than 35 public buildings. The city made the pledge to increase the energy efficiency of over 90 public buildings by 25% within two years.

There is still a lot to be done in the fight against smog. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel and it is lit by city dwellers themselves, who are standing up to fight for their right to clean air. Enter Grażyna Wolszczak, an actress who had the audacity in 2018 to sue the State Treasury for not satisfactorily protecting citizens against polluted air. This year the court found in her favour.

A precedent has been set and the people of Poland are beginning to voice their concerns – and their voices are only getting louder.

Grazyna Wolszczak sued the State Treasury in 2018 for failing to deal with the smog problem and the court ruled in the actress's favour. Photo:
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Written by: Dorota Uslu (edited by William Hastings Burke)