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Coal To Gas: How GE Is Helping Poland Advance Its Energy Strategy To Cut Carbon And Promote Renewables

Gregor Macdonald
July 06, 2022

Four years ago, Polish authorities were planning to construct what was to be possibly the last large coal-fired power plant in Europe. Workers had already laid the foundations and cooling towers, and coal boilers were selected for the 1,000-megawatt (MW) project in Ostroleka, a small city northeast of Warsaw.

But then Polish utility Energa SA (part of the ORLEN Group) decided to change course. Citing changing marketplace conditions and a desire to reduce CO2 emissions, Energa opted instead for a gas-fired plant that would be powered by GE’s 9HA.02 heavy-duty turbine, one of the most efficient gas turbines the industry offers. Once in operation in 2025, the plant will deliver up to 745 MW of electricity, equal to the energy required to power about half a million Polish homes.

Power plants using natural gas can emit nearly 70% fewer carbon emissions than coal-fired power stations — depending on the technology and its configuration. They can also play an important role in accelerating the adoption of renewable sources of energy, since they can quickly ramp up power output when sun and wind aren’t available. “The biggest benefit for the customer is that we were able to smoothly transfer the existing coal project to a gas project, using one of the most competitive products, the 9HA.02,” said Andrzej Twardowski, project director at GE Gas Power.


Ostroleka plant overhead

Like other European countries, Poland has been looking to diversify its energy mix, including phasing out coal, which now supplies about 70 percent of its power. Years before the war in Ukraine, Poland also decided to consume less Russian gas, letting its long-term contract with Gazprom expire. Six years ago, it opened a liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal on the Baltic Sea in Swinoujscie, near Szczecin. The country is also finishing a major natural gas pipeline, the Baltic Pipe. Scheduled for completion later this year, it will carry gas from Norway’s North Sea to Poland, according to Slawomir Zygowski, the CEO of GE Poland. “Poland is to become one of the most attractive countries for power, because it is on the verge of quickly diversifying its energy sources,” he says.

Renewables will naturally play a big role in that diversification. Poland is set to embark, for instance, on a big expansion of offshore wind, according to Zygowski. Eventually, offshore wind may produce as much as 20 gigawatts (GW) of electricity, he said. By comparison, the Eastern Seaboard from Massachusetts to Virginia is aiming to get to 30 GW of new offshore wind by 2030. GE Renewable Energy is involved in Poland’s strategy, having signed a memorandum of understanding with PKN ORLEN last August to explore the development of offshore wind.

The GE 9HA.02 turbine is nicely suited to support renewable energy sources. Because it comes online quickly, it can play a huge role in addressing the variability of wind and solar. In addition, the turbine is hydrogen-ready, in the sense that it has the capability to burn up to 50 percent by volume of hydrogen when blended with natural gas. Hydrogen fuel by itself doesn’t produce any carbon emissions when burned at the power plant.

The power plant will also use the 9HA.02 in a combined-cycle configuration with a steam turbine. The steam will be produced with the waste heat coming off the gas turbine. This setup will make the plant more efficient. “With units that are extremely responsive and able to help ensure the reliability of the energy system, we will be able to support Energa in making an important contribution towards the growth of lower-carbon, dispatchable energy for all of Poland,” says Amit Kulkarni, head of product management for heavy-duty gas turbines at GE Gas Power.

The new Ostroleka plant, due to finish in late 2025, will be a beehive of construction activity, supported by GE’s global team and a Polish network of 5,000 suppliers. Says Twardowski: “During construction, there will be 1,000 workers on-site at the peak.”