There are a lot of new challenges resulting from the war in Ukraine. One of them is the energy market and we are going to face the crisis in the winter. Veolia is a key player on this market. Are you prepared for winter?

We already have an energy crisis. It emerged after two years of covid, which was already difficult; gas prices were extremely high. The aggression against Ukraine in February made it even worse. So, there is a clear scarcity of gas and unfortunately a scarcity of coal in Europe. If gas may touch Poland less, the coal touches Poland directly. We are preparing ourselves to the best extent we can. The main topic for us is to find the coal which is not available on the local market. So, we started to investigate finding the coal further, outside Europe. We are these days importing from South Africa, Australia, and even Colombia. The only question is that this coal has a very high price. We are also putting plans of savings, so we do our best.

For instance, in Germany, policies promote energy and heat conservation. Even special heat islands are being built for the poorest. How Veolia is approaching this area?

Solutions that have already been implemented in Germany or France make already sense, although the crisis may not be that hard. We are ready to come out with ten proposals for district heating. I think it should also be done at the government level to propose such stronger measures as heating staircases during certain hours or the sanitary hot water production regime. Things of this nature should be announced now. If it turns out that there is no crisis, the energy will be saved. We need to prepare ourselves to lower the level of our comfort.

Now, the most important seems to be the heating sector. Does the energy crisis change Veolia’s strategy in any way?

Our final goal will remain the same. We will target to exit coal by 2030 and achieve neutrality. This crisis creates an impulse to be faster. But you cannot ignore the fact that costs have risen sharply, either. We have to be able to afford to change. We are not changing the strategy. We still want to achieve carbon neutrality and reduce our CO2 footprint. But it may be slower due to the increased costs.

What technology has the greatest potential to contribute to solving problems in the district heating sector?

There is no miracle technology. You may need to implement up to ten of them. I think there is still a very big resource in pure energy efficiency in Poland that costs nothing. This really needs to be tackled and it is the time to do it. There is a lot of waste heat. This needs to be addressed. Biomass is also an example of clear and sustainable energy. We have a detailed plan, but its implementation may take longer due to the costs.

If I consider the domestic coal price, it is at the same level as our price for heat. No one can run business with the costs that are on the same level as the price of the service. Prices for imported coal are up to twice as high. We should not transfer the whole burden to the companies. We should find another way to share it. This will encourage companies to save energy and improve energy efficiency.

We cannot face bankruptcy. We will keep going as long as we can, but we need to be supported by regulators and our clients to get through the crisis.

— Recorded by Grzegorz Balawender

Partner: Francusko-Polska Izba Gospodarcza, której członkiem jest Veolia Polska