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Should Polish industry go green?

How much energy is used by the industry in Poland?

Paradoxically, there is no simple answer to this question. There are different reports and studies that show different consumption. According to PFR’s compilation of energy market data – industry was responsible for the consumption of 24% of energy in 2019. This was therefore less than the demand of households (26%) and transport (33%). And it was basically in line with the EU average, as in the EU industry was responsible for 24.6% of energy consumption, transport for 31.3%, services for 13.9% and households for 26.9%.

However, already the data of GUS (Central Statistical Office) indicate that the Polish industry consumes about 50 TWh of electricity, which is almost ⅓ of the total consumption in our country. Half of these 50 TWh is consumed by pumps, compressors or fans, which are usually outdated, poorly selected or not optimized.

And as dr Jacek Szymczyk, Eng. once pointed out for WysokieNapiecie.pl – electricity consumption in industry could be reduced by 20-30% after replacement or modernization of all these components.

In turn, the data of Forum-Energii.eu indicate that the Polish industry is responsible for consumption of 51,4% of gas in Poland. And this gas, as we well know, is imported mainly from Russia. Similarly to coal, the import of which was recently prohibited by the Polish government. And these two raw materials are extremely important in terms of powering industry in Poland. And what is important – according to International Energy Agency globally up to 50% of energy is wasted due to heat exchange by machines or during transmission process.

In 2020, lignite and hard coal accounted for 65% of power plant capacity. Renewable energy sources (RES) accounted for more than 24% – which puts us quite far behind most EU countries. In Sweden, for example, RES accounted for 56.4% of energy demand in 2019.

Why the discrepancies in energy consumption data?

However, we are primarily interested here in the discrepancies in energy consumption by industry. Why do the PFR data differ from those of the CSO? Because the classification differs. That is, GUS in its reports treats manufacturing and construction collectively, which, incidentally, is consistent with the theory of economic development of three sectors. It is difficult to say what classification other studies or reports have adopted, because they do not always specify it.

The word “industry” may cover very different industries – not only manufacturing, but also mining, construction or energy. Therefore, paradoxically, it is difficult to indicate how much energy is consumed by industry understood as the former, i.e. factories. It is therefore easier to indicate the collective, so-called non-agricultural sector, to which this industrial processing belongs.

Regardless of whether we specify industrial processing alone, or the collective industry, which would also include power engineering, construction and mining – we use too much energy anyway. And the demand for electricity is even growing. In 2019 it increased by 2.6 p.p.

Although it should be emphasized that the use of both hard coal and lignite in Poland is decreasing. Unfortunately – it is decreasing not only in favour of RES, but also, among others, gas. And because of the Russian aggression against Ukraine we do not know how the question of its use will develop in the European Union.

Energy-intensive industry constitutes as much as 5% of the Polish GDP

According to portalprzemyslowy.pl, energy-intensive industry accounts for 5% of Poland’s GDP and employs 400 thousand people. What is this sector? It is, among others, the production (and products) of aluminium, synthetic rubber, titanium, soda, chlorine, ferrosilicon, chemical fibres or polyvinyl chloride.

The production of these materials often requires the consumption of considerable energy – not only electricity but also, for example, heat. After all, titanium, for example, melts at a temperature of around 1668 °C. And all this not only increases consumption, but also generates costs.

And unfortunately, the industry is coping with these prices more and more poorly. And in fact all over the world. Many factories or steel mills are cutting back production due to rising energy costs. After disruptions in the supply chain and decreasing resources of raw materials, this is the natural third factor reducing availability of products, semi-finished products and materials.

Companies are looking for savings and are interested in alternative energy sources. Or more precisely, the RES mentioned earlier. It is becoming more and more common in the whole European Union and simply lowers the costs of energy consumption. The most popular RES are mainly photovoltaic panels and wind energy. However, we are still far from a fully green or climate-neutral industry in Poland. Solutions from the field of Industry 4.0 may be the hope here.

Industry 4.0 – will it help or make the problem worse?

The fourth industrial revolution relies on digitalization, automation and robotics. However, all this also requires electricity. After all, robots run on electricity, and so do IoT products. Therefore, paradoxically, greater digitalization could increase energy consumption in Polish industry.

Although we have to give up the fact that these solutions often try to be more energy efficient. Also by the fact that they speed up production processes and help save natural resources.

Industry 4.0 may therefore be particularly important on the way to Poland’s green transformation. It is not that these solutions will suddenly make us stop using fossil fuels, but they may help us manage them more efficiently.

This has already been shown in the 2017 report “Accelerating Clean Energy through Industry 4.0”. According to it, Industry 4.0 will increase the use of renewable energy in manufacturing, reduce carbon emissions, and increase factory productivity and efficiency. The fourth industrial revolution basically implies sustainable development, which is described in the document: “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Global Action” signed by more than 100 UN member states.

By the way, Industry 4.0 solutions are also promoted by the European Union, offering subsidies for digital transformation of companies. The fourth industrial revolution is also promoted by various associations of private entrepreneurs, such as the Association of Aviation Industry Entrepreneurs “Dolina Lotnicza”. However, the progress of Industry 4.0 is rather slow in Poland.

Startups that help to monitor energy consumption

Because of how energy-intensive Polish industry is – many startups have emerged to create solutions to this problem. Some of them came together during the Budimex Startup Challenge. One such startup is JiTiV which offers an energy management platform. The company helps factories reduce energy consumption by monitoring energy consumption and automating equipment operation.

Startups also want to help in the field of smart lighting. We are talking about mTap or Optimo Light, which offer smart and autonomous lighting for buildings or LED lamps. Another interesting company is Smart PD, which, based on 5G technology, monitors partial discharges that are responsible for up to 90% of switchgear failures in power grids.

It is impossible not to mention – this time French – BeFC, which won the Infoshare Startup Contest in 2021. This company has developed button cells that require glucose, cellulose, oxygen and water to generate electricity. Thus, it would only need a piece of paper and tap water to generate electricity.

Startups face a huge challenge to develop Industry 4.0 solutions that will optimize and reduce energy consumption, as well as make fuller use of the raw materials and resources we already use. This will reduce not only the costs that companies generate, but also their carbon footprint and environmental impact.

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