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Decarbonising Poland’s Power System: A Scenario-Based Evaluation

A Synthesis of Quantified Carbon's Modelling of the Polish Power System for Clean Air Task Force

March 4, 2024 Category: Policy, Technology Work Area: Advanced Nuclear, Carbon Capture, Energy Access

Über diesen Bericht

Complementing A Vision for Poland’s Clean Energy Transition, this technical study, commissioned by Clean Air Task Force and performed by Quantified Carbon, explores scenario-based pathways for Poland to achieve a decarbonised power grid by 2050.

By exploring a range of scenarios, from optimistic to conservative, the study presents a nuanced view of potential futures for Poland’s electricity system, highlighting the importance of a diverse technological portfolio. With 19 scenarios considered, it provides a broad spectrum of possibilities, ensuring a well-rounded understanding of the pathways toward decarbonisation, and considers aspects such as energy security, land use,  and infrastructure requirements.

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The historical dominance of coal in Poland’s energy sector presents unique challenges as the country strives for a sustainable and low-carbon future. As the tenth most manufacturing-reliant economy in Europe with a carbon-intensive energy system, Poland needs to navigate complexities and uncertainties of transitioning a large energy system while maintaining its economic competitiveness. To do so, Polish policymakers need to provide investors, industries, and customers robust policies hat address uncertainty and endure political changes. Doing so will ensure that the energy system can decarbonise quickly while also remaining economically competitive to support industry.

The technical study presented in this report was commissioned by Clean Air Task Force (CATF) as a complementary resource to ‘A Vision for Poland’s Clean Energy Transition’ report1, which provides thematic deep-dives and policy recommendations for the newly formed Polish government to aid its efforts on rapid and sustainable decarbonisation. The modelling for this study was performed by Quantified Carbon (QC)2, and the full technical study can be found here.3  A summary of the key metrics and study outcomes is shown in Figure 1.

As Europe attempts to move away from imported Russian fossil fuels and Poland attempts to transition to an emission-free economy, the modelling study concludes that Poland’s decarbonisation strategy will need to manage risk and uncertainty through a technology optionality-based strategy to ensure a feasible, reliable, and socially responsible energy transition. As with many other countries, the modelling study shows that wind and solar will likely be the cornerstone of Poland’s decarbonised grid. Accomplishing such a buildout, however, will require substantial amounts of non-weather-dependent, always-available zero-carbon power, i.e. clean firm power,4 to maintain reliability and contain costs.

With significant forecasted demand increases from electrification and a shift away from its dispatchable and firm coal generation, which currently stands at 70%, managing the complex task of decarbonisation while maintaining reliability at low cost is likely to be a significant challenge. The study results suggest that Poland should incentivise a diverse set of solutions, including wind and solar, nuclear, storage, demand response, and biomass. The modelling across various scenarios and sensitivities indicates that limiting technological options, such as excluding new nuclear power or carbon capture plants, could significantly increase the cost of a decarbonised system and triple the amount of necessary energy infrastructure, such as transmission networks. As such, a pathway that excludes a wide portfolio of technologies is likely infeasible. While not modelled, the viability of other emerging technologies, such as superhot rock geothermal, should also be continuously assessed.

Lastly, the study underscores the need for Poland to significantly accelerate its decarbonisation pace, from expanding renewable energy capacity to advancing other technological projects, in order to reach its climate goals.

*The calculated electricity price is subject to inherent uncertainty and should be treated as illustrative rather than predictive.

Study Approach

The modelling study was designed to achieve the following objectives:

A.  Build decarbonised Polish power systems that meet power demand and capacity reserve requirements every hour of the year, while ensuring profitability for the producers5 under various scenarios and sensitivities.

B.  Subject power systems to 35 historical weather years to ensure the construction of reliable power systems, making adjustments as necessary.

C.  Compare decarbonised power systems based on their total system investment and operational costs, and conduct comprehensive scenario analyses based on key metrics, such as cost and infrastructure requirements.

The study seeks to enhance the existing body of evidence from previous studies tailored to the Polish context. It achieves this by integrating detailed and comprehensive power system optimisation, placing a particular emphasis on realistic electricity market modelling, resilience to diverse weather scenarios, and pathways to full decarbonisation. Furthermore, the study utilises transparent inputs firmly rooted in Polish-specific conditions. 

In addition to the optimisation modelling, the study also estimates the amounts of necessary transmission, CCS and hydrogen infrastructure necessary to meet climate targets across all scenarios, under optimistic, neutral, and pessimistic input conditions. These essential infrastructure investments are crucial to understanding the complete scope of the decarbonisation challenge and are often overlooked in other studies concerning the Polish context.

To understand the trade-offs of different potential futures, the study investigates decarbonisation pathways for the Polish power system through a scenario- and sensitivity-based approach. The scenarios were developed to cover a spectrum from optimistic to conservative views on technology and economic trajectories, with a total of 19 scenarios envisioned. In the table below, we highlight five scenarios that are the focus of this summary, though a comprehensive set of explored pathways available in the full study.6

This study does not take into consideration other wider socio-political aspects that could impact the system. These include opposition to land use by energy infrastructure, supply chain constraints, local preferences for generation technologies related to jobs, among other factors. As such, these scenarios are not predictive. Instead, they should be used to illustrate how pathways might evolve under different assumptions and conditions. This, in turn, should guide policymakers in devising a robust strategy that can withstand future challenges.

The electricity demand until 2050 was projected and segmented by final use, as shown in Figure 3. Electricity demand is forecasted to increase to accommodate the electrification of transport and heating, as well as power electrolysers for green hydrogen production. By 2040 electricity demand is projected to increase to over 250 TWh/yr from just over 150 TWh/yr in 2021. 

For further information on study assumptions, please refer to the Quantified Carbon study.


In the base scenario depicted in Figure 4, the Polish power system undergoes a rapid and transformative change between 2025 and 2050. Up until 2030, renewables dominate capacity expansion with an unprecedented build-out of solar and wind energy. In the 2030s, the majority of coal plants are decommissioned, new conventional nuclear reactors are built, and the remaining gas generation functions operates in a balancing capacity, with 4GW being equipped with carbon capture technology. The 2040s witness a significant growth in onshore wind capacity, growing from 30 GW at the beginning of the decade to 73 GW in 2050. As the system approaches “net-zero” between 2045 and 2050, the model scales back the generation of unabated sources but maintains some gas capacity for reliability purposes, though it is sparsely used. In this context, the combination of gas power plants equipped with CCS and small number of hydrogen gas turbine power plants take the role of dispatchable power capacity in the Polish power system.

Across most scenarios (shown in Figure 5), onshore wind emerges as the dominant generation source in the Polish power system.7 To achieve this level, the central ‘base’ scenario requires a sustained and increased long-term build rate of approximately 3 GW/year for onshore wind. This is double the rate observed in Poland in 2022 and is expected to peak in the early 2040s at a challenging 7 GW/year. Failure to reach such high levels would necessitate the adoption of another clean technology, likely nuclear, as shown in the `VRE –’ scenario. A swift phase-out of coal is also a common theme across all scenarios, driven by its cost ineffectiveness compared to gas power plants — attributed to anticipated significant CO₂ prices and development of other clean technologies.

Nuclear power also plays a substantial role across all scenarios that permit deployment of this technology with non-conservative cost forecasts. Capacity ranges from 8 GW in the base case, accounting for 15% of the annual generation, to 21 GW by 2050 across the scenarios. Importantly, the extent of nuclear deployment has a minimal impact on total system costs, as shown in Figure 8, which depicts this metric across selected scenarios. In effect, this suggests that increased nuclear capacity can enhance power system reliability and robustness — reducing exposure to weather variability and balancing challenges — at negligible additional cost to the system. 

In scenarios where nuclear power is not permitted, two main trends emerge. First, the need for dispatchable power leads to an increased reliance on hydrogen combustion, which is likely to be a limited and expensive resource better utilised in hard-to-decarbonise sectors.8 In addition to hydrogen, fossil gas with CCS is also in higher demand doubling the amount of captured CO2 as shown in Figure 7. Second, variable renewable sources and transmission infrastructure (Figure 6) need to be expanded substantially to compensate for their intermittency consuming vast areas of land, which may prove difficult due to land-use competition. This underscores that nuclear power in the Polish system has the potential to free up land to use for other purposes and reduce reliance on an expanded transmission infrastructure. This prospect is further enhanced by the possibility of repurposing coal sites for nuclear power to further facilitate the rapid deployment of fossil-free energy enabling drastic emissions reductions following the coal phase-out.

The scenarios that include a diverse set of technologies demonstrate comparable electricity prices and system costs given the uncertainty of future cost forecasting over several decades. However, relying solely on a narrow set of solutions, such as solar and wind, poses risks to affordability and necessitates overcoming additional infrastructure challenges and off-model risks.

Such outcomes suggest that policies embracing and facilitating the development of a broad set of technologies are better positioned to manage uncertainties, including unforeseen obstacles in technology development, resistance to onshore wind expansion, and complexities associated with large-scale nuclear and CCS projects.

In stark contrast, scenarios excluding both nuclear and CCS technologies fail to deliver an affordable and reliable outcome. 

Note system costs Figures do not include costs associated related to imports, which are greater in the “nucl. –” scenario.

Key Barriers to Decarbonisation

To achieve the results of the modelling in many of the scenarios, several key barriers will need to be overcome. The ‘base’ scenario envisions notable progress across various technologies, with sustained cost reductions for renewables until 2050 and a high land-availability-based cap of 74 GW on onshore wind expansion, not accounting for potential local opposition, which has been rising in most regions. Simultaneously, the scale and size of new nuclear power capacity require rather successful and minimally delayed projects. Further, the scenario assumes the establishment of CO₂ transport and storage infrastructure by 2035 and nearly 100% carbon capture efficiency for CCS-equipped power plants by 2050. Finally, the ‘base’ scenario presupposes groundwork, including regulatory frameworks, for the expansion of all technologies. Lastly, the study does not consider many off-model factors, such as supply chains, critical mineral supply, and other factors, nor does it evaluate the complexity of managing a weather-dependent power system in real-time, such as managing uncertainty of weather forecasting. The existence of these additional barriers further underscores the need for an optionality-based strategy to ensure multiple parallel pathways are under development to manage new information as it arises.    

Policy Recommendations

This study resulted in a number of actionable policy recommendations that can help in navigating the complex landscape of transforming the Polish power system. 

1. Establish Technology-Inclusive Foundational Groundwork

  • Develop regulatory frameworks and permitting processes to support the expansion of a diverse set of clean technologies.
  • Focus on reducing costs, eliminating barriers, and resolving conflicts of interest to facilitate cost-effective and scalable deployment.

2. Promote Onshore Wind Expansion

  • Maximise the deployment of onshore wind power within the limitations of conflicts of interest. This corresponds to approximately 70 GW in this study, a sevenfold increase from the current capacity.
  • Maximise the build rate to expedite the phase-out of costly and environmentally detrimental coal power, thereby limiting CO₂ emissions.

3. Advance Nuclear Power

  • Target the establishment of a nuclear fleet surpassing a total capacity of 8 GW in the long term.
  • Investigate measures to facilitate the repurposing and repowering of coal power plant sites with nuclear reactors.

4. Facilitate Natural Gas Power Plants with Carbon Capture

  • Facilitate the implementation of natural gas power plants equipped with carbon capture capabilities, providing dispatchable capacity to complement weather-dependent wind power.
  • Establish infrastructure for the transport and storage of captured CO₂.

5. Swift Transition away from Coal

  • In the short term, replace coal power with more cost-effective natural gas combined-cycle and open-cycle gas turbine power plants.
  • Promote CCS retrofitting of natural gas power plants to achieve climate targets in time.

6. Encourage Demand-Side Flexibility

  • Promote initiatives to increase demand-side flexibility, particularly in electric vehicles and industrial hydrogen demand as well as household heating with accumulator tanks. Significant demand-side flexibility is an important ingredient in all modelled scenarios.
  • Develop robust policy and regulatory environment to assure optimum scaling and operation of demand-side flexibility.

7. Reinforce Transmission Grids

  • Reinvest and make new investments to strengthen local, regional, and national transmission grids. Significant grid reinforcement is a prerequisite for the extensive deployment of cost-effective onshore wind capacity.

Beyond the points discussed above, we urge Polish policymakers to remain open to many plausible futures that will evolve dynamically. Recent macro-economic and geopolitical events have shown that the costs of technologies, capital, and the availability of supply chains are all subject to significant uncertainty.9 A timely and periodic review of crucial technologies, along with their costs and associated uncertainties, will be necessary. Moreover, we encourage Polish officials to conduct risk assessments at the portfolio level to clearly identify any shortcomings in chosen decarbonisation pathway across all its elements. This will enable targeted actions to safeguard against the failure to meet Polish climate and economic targets.

For more on best practices for energy system planning, please see the following resources:

Explore Poland’s Power Pathways

Leverage the comprehensive data from Decarbonising Poland’s Power System with our interactive dashboard. This digital tool allows you to engage directly with the data that shaped the study, offering a hands-on experience in exploring Poland’s energy transition scenarios. To use it, apply various filters and navigate through different decarbonisation pathways, each reflecting a unique combination of technology adoption, policy choices, and infrastructure development. 

Dashboard author: Leslie Abrahams


  1. CATF. (2024). A Vision for Poland’s Clean Energy Transition’ report. https://www.catf.us/resource/a-vision-for-polands-clean-energy-transition
  2. Quantified Carbon (QC). (2024). Website. https://www.quantifiedcarbon.com/

  3. Quantified Carbon (QC) + CATF. (2023). Power System Expansion Poland. https://cdn.catf.us/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/21085850/Power-System-Expansion-Poland-Study.pdf

  4. CATF. (2023). We need clean firm electricity for a decarbonized energy system. https://www.catf.us/2023/05/we-need-clean-firm-electricity-decarbonized-energy-system/

  5. To specifically address CO₂ emissions in the power sector, the modelling study incorporates the CO₂ reduction target derived from the most recent ‘Poland Energy Policy until 2040 – Scenario 3’ report. The 2030 CO₂ emission target is set at 90 Mt. Looking ahead to the year 2050, the study assumes an emission target constraint of 2 Mt corresponding to 99% reduction relative to 1990s level of 190 Mt for the power sector with the remaining 2 Mt being offset by negative emissions.

  6. Quantified Carbon (QC) + CATF. (2023). Power System Expansion Poland. https://cdn.catf.us/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/21085850/Power-System-Expansion-Poland-Study.pdf

  7. Note that the study did not model transmission expansion within Poland, which may present speed limits to how quickly wind could be deployed, among other factors such as social acceptance of land use for energy technologies. Any speed limits would require a scale up of other technologies, such as nuclear.

  8. CATF. (2023). Hydrogen for Decarbonization: A Realistic Assessment. https://www.catf.us/resource/hydrogen-for-decarbonization-a-realistic-assessment/

  9. CATF. (2023). Forecast with caution: Decarbonized electricity cost projections vs reality – an offshore wind case study. https://www.catf.us/2023/12/forecast-caution-decarbonized-electricity-cost-projections-reality-offshore-wind-case-study/

  10. CATF. (2024). A Vision for Poland’s Clean Energy Transition’ report. https://www.catf.us/resource/a-vision-for-polands-clean-energy-transition

  11. CATF. (2023). Bridging the Planning Gap: Transforming European NECPs to Deliver on Climate Targets. https://www.catf.us/resource/bridging-planning-gap/

  12. CATF. (2023). Pledges to Plans: Principles & Components of Durable Energy Transitions. https://www.catf.us/resource/pledges-plans-principles-components-durable-energy-transitions/


Report Authors

Kasparas Spokas, Director of Insights and Integration Strategy, CATF

Malwina Quist, Senior Analyst, CATF


Tamara Lagurashvili, Regional Manager, Europe, CATF

Sara Albares Martin, Regional Associate, Europe, CATF

Leslie Abrahams, Director of Energy Systems Analyses, CATF