You can now read the summary of the various discussion panels. Reports from the discussion boards are being added continually.
To read a report from a discussion panel, click on the name of the respective panel. Transcripts are also available for download at the bottom of this page.
- Discussion 1: Energy map of Central Europe
The first discussion panel provided an overview of the regional energy sector and the discussion covered three main areas of topic – energy mix and energy policies of the V4 countries, main energy sector players and energy issues specific for the Visegrad countries.
For the kick-off question on whether the energy mix should be nationally determined, the opinions of speakers differed. While some stated that the energy mix is and has always been nationally determined, others believe that EU policies have considerable impact on how this agenda is shaped nationally. National resources, historic background as well as quality of infrastructure provide a starting point for energy policy of each of the Visegrad countries and nature, technology, legacy and prices are the main drivers of the energy mix in the region. Although there is a commitment within the EU to increase the share of renewables to 27% by 2030 for example, the decision to follow this goal was taken by individual member states and not by the European Commission or Parliament. Moreover, the EU has not specified how to achieve the goal in each of the member states, it provided just a framework.
The dominance of government preferences in the energy sector is related to the fact that most energy companies in the region are owned or co-owned by state. This, in turn, determines the level of cooperation between them - energy policies differ depending on interests and objectives of the government. The economic objective is to produce electricity as cheaply as possible in order for the government to be re-elected. However, economic and political objectives are not always compatible, since the energy sector operates globally. Thus the energy sector is rather of conflicting than cooperative nature, especially in the Visegrad region.
The speakers agreed that the energy sector as such is currently undergoing an important transformation, which will lead to less centralization and will produce more and less dominant actors in the sector. In order for the transformation to be accomplished, stability and predictability of renewables as well as battery storage technology will be decisive. In panellists’ view, the ownership of the energy company is not as important as it might seem. However, they believe that the main energy sector actors not only in the region will be subjected to radical change in the years to come and will have to adapt to new market and sector conditions which are being created by technology development. Only those companies able to redefine themselves, regardless of their ownership, will survive this radical transformation and will benefit from the new market environment in the future.
- Discussion 2: Renewables and the market
The discussion on renewables focused on three main topics. It started with a debate about the current status of renewables in the EU and in Central Europe, followed by a sensitive issue of state subsidies and was concluded by the discussion on renewables under market conditions.
The discussion started by comments listing the advantages of renewables and highlighting their positive impact on energy security. In this view, renewables represent a competitive source of energy, the prices of which went down by 60% in the last five years and investments in technologies helped to make them more effective. Nowadays individuals and underdeveloped areas benefit from this source of energy as it can be built in places with no infrastructure. Despite many assets, there are several obstacles which prevent the renewables from further development. It was mentioned that the coal industry is indirectly protected by the lack of interconnectors with other countries – their development would highly benefit the renewables. So in line with this view, coal might be seen as a threat to energy security.
The panellists believe that companies are also changing their views due to climate change. They started to prefer clean sources of energy not only because of lower price, but also because of their environment-friendly character. The panellists agreed that the rapid deployment of renewables was caused by high subsidies and investments, but the right framework, stability, and predictability need to develop in order to foster this deployment further.
The panel also sought to provide an insight on the issue of subsidies. Due to high national subsidies, renewables substantially increase final electricity prices for consumers, while pushing market prices of the commodity itself constantly down as supply exceed demand. Questions arose about the possible development of renewables with no national subsidies and their potential for market competitiveness. But since renewables still need to develop and subsidies are the drivers of technology development, there is no way to avoid subsidizing the renewables for the time being. Renewable energy as such, however, is perceived as a competitive source which can soon become even more profitable vis-a-vis conventional sources even without national subsidies.
The panellists also touched upon the creation of energy islands where people share renewable source of energy on a small scale. Some speakers actually doubt that such a concept could work in Central Europe in the long-run.
- Discussion 3: How efficient is energy efficiency in the V4?
The discussion started with an overview of the positive implications of energy efficiency. The panellists agreed that it is a key priority which might be even more important than the deployment of renewables, but they also mentioned the main difficulties hindering its development. It is possible to monitor the level of energy consumption, but reduction in energy use does not automatically mean increase of energy efficiency. This, in turn, creates obstacles for policy makers. From the market point of view, the issue of energy efficiency is simple and the only indicator that matters is to spend as little as possible to achieve the same output.
The panellists also touched upon the question of financing the energy efficiency projects. As an example, the case of Hungary was mentioned, where the biggest amount of energy is spent in the residential sector. Households therefore intend to implement energy related renovations focused on reducing high energy costs mainly related to heating. Although the political objective is to support the renovations of households aimed at energy efficiency, there is no financial help provided to these households and people are simply not willing to take loans. It was also argued that the real driver of energy efficiency improvements is not energy efficiency itself but the comfort of people. Thus, when trying to increase the energy efficiency, the government and its public policy should be focused mainly on a more effective help to households.
The issue of central heating and its energy efficiency was also discussed. It was explained that there are two different areas which need to be taken into consideration in this context: the first is efficiency of power generation, and the second is efficiency of distribution system, where the main issue is concentrated. The reason is that there is neither competition nor natural motivation that would drive modernization of the distribution networks. Motivation of the private sector in increasing the energy efficiency was also touched upon. Although the energy efficiency is considered as a long-term goal and companies usually focus on short-term return on investment, the panellists argued that this is mainly the case of small companies.
The panellists finally agreed on the positive impact of energy efficiency, mentioning environment, energy security, and its ability to boost the economy and create jobs. They also highlighted that the energy efficiency should not be seen as a goal in itself but rather as a tool.
- Discussion 4: Gas for security, oil for stability?
This discussion was focused on energy security challenges, mainly related to the supply of gas and oil for Europe. In terms of introduction, theoretical aspects of energy security were touched upon. Energy security was defined as a goal or in many cases rather as an aspiration and ambition of countries.
The debate started with the topic of oil prices and its impact on the security of supply. Plummeting oil prices continue to reach new lows. The panellists were searching for answers to how the significantly decreasing oil prices influence economic situation and geopolitics in general since this, in turn, is reflected in the level of energy security. The panellists agreed that the energy security understood as a security of supply does not include only the pipeline transportation, but also sea lines used to transport the resources such as the Strait of Hormuz (strait between the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf). It was highlighted that today the oil transportation from the Middle East to Europe is much more expensive than years ago. This increase in costs was, according to the panellists, caused by the security issues.
The following part of the discussion was dedicated to the issue of gas and gas transport. The gas crisis in 2009 proved the importance of sufficient and interconnected infrastructure for the energy security in Europe. Currently, the debates focus mainly on the new Nord Stream project. The speakers agreed that the benefits of the Nord Stream 2 for energy security in Europe are rather questionable. The project, according to the panellists, would have different impact on energy security of individual European states, mentioning Ukraine and Slovakia as those countries where negative impact would be the highest. The main reason is that the Nord Stream project would circumvent the two countries completely thus depriving them of the source of energy as well as of the profit they currently have as transit countries.
It was argued that the main role in the security of supply should be played by the consumers, or in general, the market. Even the most pessimistic predictions expect the rise of Europe’s import dependence by 2030. Even if the gas consumption in Europe decreases in the future, the domestic gas production will decrease even more and the overall dependence will thus rise.
The discussion was concluded by the focus on political and economic implications of the Nord Stream 2 project, and the panellists agreed that the fight for energy security should be perceived as a continuation of war by other means.
- Discussion 5: Electricity – End of the Market?
Reflecting on the current situation at the electricity market in Europe, this session was aimed at answering the question on whether the market will survive new developments or will be replaced completely and exclusively by the regulated business. The starting point of discussion was related to the phenomenon of negative electricity prices. While wholesale electricity market prices have long been decreasing, the phenomenon of negative electricity prices is slowly becoming a commonplace, threatening proper functioning of the market.
The panelists were looking for main reasons behind decreasing electricity prices and their historic bottoms. They identified several reasons for the current developments at the electricity market – decline of fuel prices and persistently low prices of emission allowances. Stagnating demand for electricity combined growing production from renewables, however, are among the most important causes of current market turmoil. The panelists have agreed that growing production of electricity from renewable sources is crowding-out traditional sources, pushing the expenses up and prices down. On the other hand, prices for consumers increase due to subsidies paid by states for production of electricity from renewables. In such an environment, only regulated business with guaranteed prices receives investments, as panelists believe.
The discussion also touched upon the capacity payments which should ensure that electricity supply can match demand in the medium and long term. The question was raised whether they would ensure sufficient electricity supply without distorting competition and trade. Several categories of capacity payments were identified - targeted mechanisms, from which only specific operators benefit (i.e. tenders for new capacity, strategic reserves and targeted capacity mechanisms), and market-wide mechanisms, which are in principle open to participation from all categories of capacity providers. Almost two thirds of the capacity mechanisms identified in the European Union are targeted mechanisms. At the same time, most of them are market-wide. According to the panelists, these mechanisms can increase security of electricity supply; however, many member states should rigorously assess whether they are necessary and ensure that they will be cost-effective.
Another question was aimed at reliability of production from renewables. The panelists agreed that it was difficult to predict how much energy would be produced from renewable sources. Nowadays, we are still struggling with technological solution to energy storage issue in order to use renewables fully.
The panelists have also expressed doubts about the possibility of creating a truly harmonized electricity market in the European Union. According to them, many countries in the European Union want to maintain their independence in terms of energy mix in order to guarantee their own energy security and self-sufficiency regardless of European developments. The panelists believe that the energy sector is currently undergoing an important transformation and energy sector actors together with the market will have to find a way to adapt to these new conditions. In line with these predictions, the panelists concluded that the electricity market will survive, however not in the form we know and observe at the moment.
- Discussion 6: When is the right time for deregulation?
This discussion panel dealt with a complex issue of regulation in the energy sector, focusing on the situation in Europe, in general and in the Visegrad countries, in particular. Participants mainly discussed the compatibility of regulation with the market.
At the beginning of the session, the current state of regulation/deregulation in each of the V4 countries was outlined. From among the V4 countries, only the Czech Republic deregulated gas and electricity prices. Ten years ago, the country deregulated the market where possible and opened it up to competition and today it is an example of a country, where the decision to deregulate is perceived as a good one. Hungary, on the other hand, is widely perceived as a negative example - its regulation system is strict and contributes to an environment inhospitable to private investors and companies. Although the consumers enjoy low prices, it is questionable whether this corresponds to the market conditions. The debate continued with the overview of the state of play in Poland, described as a light-handed regulation. Suppliers submit their price lists to the Polish regulatory body, which usually accepts them as they are. In Slovakia the price-cap regulation is used. This raises a question whether the suppliers can effectively operate under the existing price-cap and what is the impact of such regulation on the local market.
The next part of the debate was devoted to the advantages and disadvantages of regulation and deregulation. The panellists agreed that too much regulation has a destructive impact on the market. It was further argued that price regulation can be beneficial in the energy sector since energy is not perceived as a standard good in our region like e.g. mobile phones and therefore, it is important to ensure access to energy to the most vulnerable consumers. However, even in those cases, price regulation is rather ambiguous in terms of impact. Since the price is the most important information on the market, it allows the businesses to make right decisions. The regulation is about influencing the prices. From the short-term point of view, a regulatory body can keep prices down, but it has no impact on costs. Therefore regulation might have negative consequences in the long run.
Towards the end of the discussion, the panellists agreed that the price regulation is a political issue. It was argued that for the political elites it is difficult to abandon this power enabling them to control crucial energy prices. Although it was mentioned that even price regulation can be perceived as effective, especially when the intention of regulatory body is aimed at reaching a goal without impacting the market negatively, this is a rare example which is easily misused. Therefore it is mainly about politicians’ belief in the advantages of deregulation that could potentially lead to the success of deregulation in the region.
- Discussion 7: Nuclear Central Europe?
This panel discussed the role of nuclear energy and industry in the Visegrad and wider Central European region. Undoubtedly, nuclear energy plays a prominent role in the region with new nuclear power plants under consideration or construction in all four Visegrad group countries. In this period of energy sector transformation, Visegrad is thus placing its bets on nuclear to satisfy its energy consumption in the coming decades.
However, nuclear as well is facing several challenges related to the sector transformation. The first one and the most important is economic factor, most importantly the growing time span for the return on investment. While expenses related to construction of nuclear power plants are increasing, the time in which this investment is expected to return is growing with decreasing electricity prices. Price increases in terms of construction are caused to a large extent by new regulations and safety requirements after the Fukushima incident from 2011. In cases such as Mochovce units 3 and 4 it can be expected that the investment will return no sooner than in 60 years. In this context, economic viability of Paks nuclear power plant and similar projects in the region was discussed. It was concluded that under current conditions, nuclear energy is becoming economically less viable.
Second challenge for the nuclear is related to renewables. While the technology price decreases, as in case of solar panels (prices dropped by 90% in last few years), high subsidies renewables receive from the state push their production up and in turn electricity prices down to the bottom. Renewables are thus making it much more difficult for the nuclear to survive and adapt to the new situation economically.
Last challenge the discussion touched upon concerned radioactive waste and its management. While economically it would make sense to agree on a single site in Europe for the management of radioactive waste, this option is not possible and each nuclear state thus have to seek its own solution to this issue. However, it seems that the Visegrad countries are ready to deal with this issue rather smoothly.
In the discussion the necessity of diversification of nuclear fuel sources was touched upon. However, panelists believe that in case of nuclear fuel, it might be risky to diversify, especially since some of reactors are being built with particular type of fuel in mind. They mentioned the case of Temelin Nuclear Power Plant, which changed the type of fuel in order to diversify, but had to return to the original one given its higher quality and better suitability for the particular type of reactor. Moreover, dependency on specific type of nuclear fuel does not damage energy security of the country, since nuclear countries always purchase fuel in stock for 6 to 18 months, so a temporary interruption of supply does not endanger energy security of a nuclear country in an acute manner.
In the concluding remarks, the panelists agreed that the real question is not whether the nuclear energy will remain integral part of the energy mix in the future, but what will be the balance between low-carbon nuclear and other forms of energy.
- Discussion 8: To Be or Not to Be? Investing in Infrastructure
The topic of energy infrastructure has already been touched upon in various contexts, but looking at the current state of infrastructural projects in the energy sector, many questions remain open. This discussion focused on two main types of infrastructure - electricity as well as gas.
The panellists agreed that the energy infrastructure is crucial for the future of energy sector as it allows for transmission and distribution of energy. Its development is a key element for European energy security and stability. Although the need for infrastructure is obvious, panellists identified several issues hindering development of energy infrastructure. The main problem mentioned is commercial profitability of projects, long lasting permission procedures, problematic public acceptance of projects and lack of motivation on the side of regulatory authorities to allow construction of new infrastructure. In the discussion related to financing of projects, liquidity was not identified as an obstacle. There are many well-developed infrastructural projects, which just need advice on how to become bankable.
Discussion also touched upon investment protection, costs of energy transmission and efficiency of the transmission system. The issue of circular flows of electricity between Germany and several V4 countries was also mentioned. Panellists confirmed that this is already a long-term issue having negative impact on the Slovak, Czech and Polish transmission systems. Although discussions at the EU level have already been launched in this respect, no solution has yet been found.
The discussion continued with a debate on gas infrastructure highlighting the uncertainty regarding the future of gas consumption and the political and geopolitical uncertainty related to the security of supply. It was agreed that Europe needs infrastructural projects that can help integrate internal market.
- Discussion 9: Will Energy Union Work in the V4?
This panel discussed the topic of the Energy Union, and possible implementation problems it might encounter in the Visegrad region. Speakers agreed that the Energy Union project is enlarging and widening the already existing energy policy portfolio. The Energy Union is based on 5 pillars. The first is security of supply and solidarity, the second is internal market and competitiveness, the third is energy efficiency, the fourth is decarbonization and renewables, and the last one is research and innovation. This broad concept, panelists agreed, enables all European Union member states to find something that is appealing to them from their energy sector perspective.
The panelists have also agreed that there are several challenges, which complicate the debates about a common European Energy Union. There is a question of shifting competences from national to EU level, with majority of EU member states refusing to cede additional competences to Brussels. It is thus not clear how the connection between a common Energy Union on one hand and national energy policies on the other will be created and implemented. Interests of member states in the energy sector differ, depending on their energy mix – for instance, Central Europe supports nuclear energy more than Western Europe. On the other hand, all EU member states would welcome safe supply of energy independent from external factors. The discussions and search for compromise will thus have to continue at the European level.
The panel also touched upon the relationship between regulation and the market. Although panelists believe that regulation has a place in the energy sector since market would not be able to function properly without basic regulations, however, even the project of the EU Energy Union has to avoid overregulation in the long run. There are energy policy areas where national regulation is simply insufficient such as in the energy infrastructure domain. Here the EU supervision and supranational governance should be given priority. But in general, overregulation usually leads to more problems than it solves.
The question of the Nord Stream II project was also opened during the discussion. Although the project is commercial in its character, it has huge political implications for the region and the Energy Union - economic as well as political. The main issue is that the project leaves out most of the traditional transit countries such as Slovakia who would thus not get paid for the gas transit and would become dependent on getting the Russian gas from the west. The panelists also discussed the price of the project. Some believe that the imagined political price of this project is much higher for the future of the Energy Union than the economic price of the project itself. Also the costs of refurbishment of the existing pipelines in Ukraine might be higher combined with political costs than a new Nord Stream pipeline. Some panelists argued that the European Union should provide support to Ukraine, and should help in refurbishing its old pipelines and gas infrastructure. In such situation, costs would be lower than the costs of a new pipeline for which the consumers would have to pay for via tariffs. It was mentioned that the project is damaging the security of supply for several countries and is actually damaging diversification of supply by reducing the number of transit routes of Russian gas to Europe from 3 to 2. Panelists agreed that the solution to this issue will show whether the Energy Union would work in the Visegrad region and beyond.
In conclusion, the panelists agreed that although the project of the EU Energy Union is quite expensive, its benefits highly outweigh the costs. Integration in the energy sector is the mid-term future of the EU project.
- Discussion 10: Climate Objectives – What Future for Coal?
The discussion on the future of coal evolved around three main areas – its environmental impact, its role in the V4 countries and its international standing. The panellists agreed on the negative impact of coal combustion on the environment and on the necessity to decrease coal consumption. But there was no consensus on what will be the driver of this reduction: it could be low gas prices but also high prices of carbon emissions.
The speakers also discussed the conflict between climate and air pollution objectives on the one hand and preservation of employment and energy independence on the other. It was argued that the companies naturally do not look for cleanest options but rather for the cheapest option. Therefore costs and not environment will make the energy companies move in a certain direction.
Today, coal industry in many countries struggles to adapt to low commodity prices and lack of competitiveness of coal mines. The main reason for operating coal mines and thermoelectric power plants is often to preserve employment. Apart from negative environmental impact, coal is considered an important part of national energy security. Since energy should be secure, sustainable and competitive and the V4 countries predominantly use coal from domestic resources, this reduces potential issue with the supply interruptions and transportation costs.
In the next part of the discussion, the focus turned to modern technologies dealing with carbon emissions. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology was discussed in terms of its efficiency and future prospects. The cost estimates for CCS vary widely, depending on whether the capturing part of technology is being added to an existing power plant or built into a new plant. It would be rather more cost-effective to build a new coal-fired power plant equipped with the CCS than to redesign an existing one. But the future of the CCS technology will be determined by its cost which is currently still very high.
In the concluding remarks, it was mentioned that the coal could be potentially dangerous because of its low price and flexibility on one hand and its negative impact on human health and the environment on the other. The panellists agreed that there is no simple solution to this problem, but it was suggested that the humanity should behave responsibly, be progressive and move forward with changing the energy mix.
- Discussion 11: Smart Home, Smart Transportation, Smart City
This panel was devoted to the fast developing smart technologies, especially in the context of smart cities, smart home and smart transportation. The concept of smart cities stands on three pillars - the first is energy management, the second is smart transportation, and the third is improvement of people´s quality of living.
All panelists agreed that the need for smart home is currently very low, and households, especially in the Visegrad region, are not yet ready for this kind of the smart solutions. Producers have to clarify why these solutions are worth money, and thereby create a demand. The panelists illustrated potential motivators behind the decision to invest in smart technologies. The first and the most important is saving money and energy, the second is comfort, and the last is security, which means having control over one’s home.
Large part of the discussion was dedicated to smart transportation. The panelists agreed that automobile industry will experience tremendous revolution in the years to come. The benefit of smart cars is a possibility to work with renewables. Smart transportation can also be a solution when it comes to accidents. 90% of all accidents are caused by man-made errors. These can be eliminated by smart technologies which are currently being installed into the smart cars. However, the obvious disadvantage of smart cars is currently the price. These cars are almost twice as expensive as fuel cars in the same class at the moment. Once this trend changes, the situation for the smart cars will improve.
It was agreed that smart technologies must be combined with smart security, in order to ensure that only authorized personnel gains access to private information. In panelists’ view, security is top priority in the smart technology concept. All communication has to be encrypted and secure data transfers between gateways and clouds have to be ensured.
The question of impact of political decisions on smart technologies was also discussed. Panelists expressed their belief that the goal of smart solutions is to invest in technology in order to create economic, social and environmental improvements. That is an economic and a political challenge, not a technology trend. The panelists have also expressed their dissatisfaction with political and legal environment. Especially in the Visegrad countries, the issue is further complicated by highly centralized nature of the public sector. Implementation of the smart solutions depends on both, political leadership at the local level and cooperation with regional stakeholders – businesses, developers, universities, community groups and so on.
In conclusion the panelists agreed that smart solutions and technologies will soon become an integral part of people’s lives in the future. However we cannot forget that technology should never replace a common sense.
Besides expert discussions with distinguished guests, the students also enjoyed:
- Test drives on electric cars.
- Professional debate trainings.
- Site tour of the Hydro Power Plant in Kráľová nad Váhom.
- Wine-Tasting, and visit of the 300-years-old wine cellar in the Manor House Mojmírovce.
- Site tour of the Nuclear Power Plant Mochovce.
- Visit of the Process Control Room of Západoslovenská energetika in Nitra with an exposition of smart meters.
- Discussion and reception with H.E. Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the European Commission on Energy Union.
- Site tour of the Thermal Power Plant in Nováky.
- Barbecue party.