Interview with Mr. Andrzej Zarazka

The interview with Mr. Andrzej Zarazka, the Regional Renewable Energy Cluster in Nowy Sącz


You have been acting as a coordinator of the Regional Renewable Energy Cluster in Nowy Sącz for many years. What are the possibilities of using this kind of energy in Nowy Sącz region?

I am a graduate of the Faculty of Metallurgy at the AGH University of Science and Technology, which at the end of previous century educated energy engineers – experts on the utilisation of coal-based fossil materials for the production of fuels and coal-derivatives and their use in energy generation. Our lecturers, professors and academic staff of the AGH UST have already at that time pointed at enormous wastage and low efficiency of fuels and energy use in industrial processes, as well as the necessity to increase the share of other energy sources. Today, or rather at the end of the 20th century, these suggestions proved to be a requirement and a precondition for further economic growth of Poland, Europe and of the world.

It should be remembered that Małopolska province, it’s southern part in particular (Nowy Sącz sub-region) throughout 70 years of the post-war period has undergone economic revolution – and the basis of this process lied at the access to inexpensive energy sources by the electrification of both urban and rural areas. Thanks to the policy of industry development a part of it has also gained access to the gas network. In fact, in 2 generations’ time it has succeeded in the transformation from the so-called “Galician poverty” to the region famous for its millionaires.

It is true that the energy-supply system of Nowy Sącz area undergoes permanent modernisation, but from the perspective of other Polish and European regions we can still call it the “energy-poor” region. The continuity of energy supplies in Southern Małopolska is at great risk due to abandonment of the development of the supplementary grid. And nearly 40% of Sądecki region has no access to natural gas network.

The last century policy consisting in the fight with “underdevelopment and poverty”, has at the same time led to the removal of local infrastructure able to utilise the potential of water from streams and rivers of Sądecki region and turn it into energy driving small plants (mills, fulling mills, sawmills). As a matter of fact, the level of technical thought back then allowed to use only this one local source of energy.

Unfortunately, the result of this policy by which we are still affected is the lack of knowledge about other available local energy sources. This lack of information has led to distrust and reserve in accepting the present technical and technological progress. In addition, conditions resulting from the shape of the terrain, the focus on economic development based on the use of tourist and therapeutic potential, dynamic development of housing construction, limit the possibilities of using a wide range of local, renewable energy sources, which could be exploited as in the other regions.

Taking this into account, in my opinion the economical growth will be facilitated when a local, adapted to local needs and possibilities, action plan referring to the utilisation of local renewable energy sources is developed. I need to stress the word “facilitated” – that means actions should be two-directional. We need to increase the efficiency of the use of fuels and energy presently satisfying the subregion’s needs and, at the same time, to draw up sub-regional program for identification and utilisation of the local renewable resources. This way, sustainable economical development with greater dynamics will become possible. And in particular:

when we combine counteracting increasing and more and more often happening drought periods with the care of stable groundwater level, what is possible through rising the retention of river and stream waters and then linking this with the construction of micro hydro-power plants producing electric energy which can satisfy local needs.

when high level of sunlight in our area is effectively utilised for the production of electric energy. Only today when photovoltaic cells became popular (and space science came down to earth) they represent a potential which can be used with very good results. In our conditions the development of this method of local electric energy production, in sources which are very dispersed, requires a local collaboration system between “mini power plants” and a collection of energy surpluses.

when our traditional model of agriculture is in death throes, because a substantial part of land shredded into tiny pieces cannot bring income or even sustain their owners, specialised orchard cultivation can come to aid. Yet it requires not only appropriate land resources, but also a full wallet. This is why a majority of small plots of land (apparently of agricultural use) grow weed and self-seeded trees. This kind of plots have a potential which can allow the introduction of systemic solution aimed to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels in favour of utilisation of local biomass resources for fuel production i.e. the production of thermal and electrical energy.

In my opinion these three directions of RES development are possible and should really become a part of the future growth of Sądecki Subregion. Will this happen? Probably it will. Will it happen quickly? Well I’m afraid not. We need a mindset shift, not only to be aware of possibilities but foremost of the necessity to get involved in these kind of actions. Because nobody will do it for us. Because it is possible to make profit on local energy production and to positively affect local economic growth by shortening circulation of money.

The establishment of the Regional Renewable Energy Cluster in Nowy Sącz was an attempt to integrate residents of the region. The preamble of the Cluster’s agreement has the following wording: (…) In order to create conditions conducive to streamlining energy efficiency and to foster activities aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Sądecki subregion, we decide to: commence cooperation and stimulate local initiatives and business ventures; share experiences and contacts; organise trainings and promotional activities.”.

Recently the topic of smog fighting in Małopolska has been widely discussed, especially in wintertime. The topic of air condition in Kraków got a lot of publicity, but it does not refer to big cities only. How to deal with it in local communities?

The concept of smog always accompanies a chemical process conventionally called combustion. If we wish to have (relatively) clean air, we would need to ban using fuels for heating, for preparation of hot water, for the supply of technological processes and transportation. This is a utopia.

By-products appear in the result of each combustion process – less or more harmful. But this is what technical and technological progress is for – to identify and determine the degree of their impact and establish thresholds for their harmfulness. This is why standards of fuel quality and levels of pollutants emitted by various machines are defined and updated (tightened) from time to time, followed by determination of air cleanness degrees.

At the end of the 20th century the threshold for harmfulness of fuels released to market sale was defined and specified in the scope of the permissible level of SO2 and lead oxides emission. As a result, fuels with high level of sulphur and lead have been eliminated. Another result was the elimination of machines with high emission of these substances in the exhaust gas. At the same time, a number of technological solutions absorbing SO2 from the exhaust gas have been developed. After a few years, leaded petrol disappeared from gas stations and cars emitting lead oxides disappeared from the streets.

For several years or more, scientists have been alarming about the ozone hole, emerging as a result of excessive emission of CO2 and other gaseous combustion products. They call for a reduction in wasteful use of fuels and the elimination of obsolete equipment. The call is accompanied by less or more successful actions of politicians and scientists. However, new generations of machines and cars are created with the minimum fuel consumption and emission of exhaust gas in a form of water vapour.

Easier access to quality analyses and possibilities of improving the conditions of human existence on Earth led in consequence to the degree of harmfulness of dusts emitted in industrial processes being defined, including the processes of combustion. The arrangements of international authorities have resulted in the settlement of thresholds of harmful dust emissions at a level which is safe for humans. We are able to follow their concentration in real time – in our phones. However, the consequence of their adoption (implementation by obliging ourselves to their use before an international body) has unveiled the scale of problems we are facing. It is necessary to review the standards for fuels quality (in case of Poland to finally establish standards for coal quality), adoption and strict (!) compliance with emission standards and certification of fuel combustion equipment. It is also crucial to raise the awareness of the effects of individual negligence on the quality of other people’s lives. From the experience of state functioning it is long known how unsuccessful restrictive measures are when not accompanied by actions for the improvement of awareness and without demonstration of good practices. So I’m afraid that the entire effort does not go in the right direction. Mobilization of local communities (what is one of our Cluster’s goals) is by all means worth supporting, as simple measures in the form of prohibitions may bring meagre effects. They are only a reason for complacency for those who set them.

Please pay attention that another substance which is emitted in combustion process, very harmful and lethal in fact (carcinogenic) is benzo(a)pyrene – the product created during combustion of all kinds of fuels, including the one considered by policymakers a panacea for smog, i.e. natural gas. This substance cannot be eliminated from the exhaust gases. It’s emission can be merely limited by raising effectiveness of the use of energy generated in combustion process. This is why raising the effectiveness of fuel utilisation is so important, as well as elimination, wherever possible, of fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy sources. It is the only measure to limit the presence of this poisonous exhaust component in the air. It is probably best understood by car designers who worked out solutions eliminating gasoline engines and introduced hybrid or electric motors instead. A forerunner of such protective measures taken on a very large scale is the approaching date of Poland’s commitment towards other countries to adopt very demanding energy efficiency standards in the construction industry. Poland, as a member-state of the European Union, has joined the legislative processes and has undertaken, towards other states, on the European Parliament forum and before the Council of Europe, to respect and implement limitations set by the Directive 2010/31/EU of 19 May 2010 on energy performance of buildings. Like other countries, Poland has committed that from the beginning of 2021 all newly erected buildings will be of “nearly zero-energy performance”! In 3-4 years designers and investors will face another problem. In order to obtain permission to use a newly-erected building it is not enough to use classic thermal insulation and install a gas heating appliance even in its most sophisticated version which, in the future, may turn out to be needles or even considered dangerous.

Nowy Sącz is a second town in Małopolska in terms of a number of millionaires living in it. From here Kazimierz Pazgan (Konspol), Ryszard Florek (Fakro) or Koral brothers come. Do sizes of their wallets reflect the level of pro-environmental activities in the region?

You forgot about Mr. Andrzej Wiśniowski – a potentate among doors manufacturers, and about Mr. Roman Kluska, a founder of OPTIMUS and recently a producer of cheeses, and about many more who got the publicity in Poland and in Europe. Residents of Sądecki region are hard-working people, full of initiative but keeping both their feet on the ground. Nobody has given anything to our millionaires. Our millionaires are very hard-working people. To establish a strong business one needs a firm financial base. At the stage of enhancing the company’s presence on the market deep involvement in side activities cannot be required. It can be already noticed, however, that they put a lot of stress to pro-environmental activities of their companies. The “Fakro” company deserves a distinction here. It utilises post-production waste (of pure wood) for heat generation for the company’s needs. It has also set up a specialised enterprise (a signatory of our Cluster agreement) taking care of energy use optimisation and testing various solutions in the field of RES. They have many kinds of photovoltaic cells on their test stands and are also testing the utilisation of a Stirling heat engine. The enterprise is preparing to the implementation of systemic biomass use and launching of a biomass cogeneration plant. It should be appreciated that a very clear trend of companies and entrepreneurs’ involvement in cost reduction through the limitation of energy consumption and utilisation of local energy potential becomes a reality. Fines examples are the production of heat and electrical energy from biogas for own needs, specifically sewage gases on a landfill and of sewage gas at a wastewater treatment plant. These plants satisfy up to 75% of electric energy demand for processes of waste utilisation and management!

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