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Słupsk Bioenergy Cluster: a new paradigm for a local circular economy in renewable energy and waste recycling in Poland

Municipal officials and local business leaders in the Polish city of Słupsk are not waiting for the benefits of the circular economy in renewable energy production and waste recycling to come to their corner of the Baltic Sea Region. They are making it happen now from the ground up and demonstrating how these transitions can be designed and operationalized at the city-county level.

Mark Rasmussen, Karina Barquet, Arno Rosemarin / Published on 15 January 2020

Rasmussen M., Giełczewski M., Wójtowicz A., Barquet K. and Rosemarin A. 2020. Slupsk Bioenergy Cluster: a new paradigm for a local circular economy in renewable energy and waste recycling in Poland. Policy Brief.

Aerial view of the Słupsk Waterworks wastewater treatment plant in Poland

Aerial view of the Slupsk Waterworks wastewater treatment plant in Slupsk, Poland. Photo: SEI.

In 2020, the Słupsk Bioenergy Cluster will reach a critical milestone when completion of a new energy distribution system will link 20 participating businesses and city facilities, 40 000 electricity users and 120 000 wastewater customers, all part of an innovative renewable energy sharing and waste recycling system. The cluster is the brainchild of Słupsk Waterworks (Wodociągi Słupsk), the publicly owned agency that operates the Słupsk Wastewater Treatment Plant. It builds on the plant’s 20-year track record of success in pollution reduction, sludge composting and reuse, and biogas energy production.

This brief looks at how the innovative cluster serves as a living laboratory for small cities seeking to make the transition to a circular economy model founded in low-cost shared renewable energy production and waste recycling.

Słupsk is located in northern Poland, near where the Słupia River drains into the Baltic Sea. Its population is approximately 90 000 and the city is the administrative centre for the surrounding county, which has approximately the same number of residents.

The Słupsk wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) is considered by many to be the model WWTP in Poland. In addition to its core function of providing the highest standard of sewage treatment, it has been a leader in biogas generation as well as sludge composting and reuse for more than 20 years. A profitable by-product is the successful BIOTOP fertilizer, which is high in phosphorus and certified for field application. It thereby returns nutrients from wastewater to the same catchment, providing an early example of a circular economy for waste.

Recommendations for further action

The design of the Słupsk Bioenergy Cluster and its transition from idea to functional infrastructure exposes policy and regulatory changes needed to advance similar decentralized energy-waste reuse systems in the Baltic Sea Region.

  • The locked-in position of large traditional fossil-fuel based energy companies presents serious challenges to the integration of distributed, renewable energy sources. The Słupsk Bioenergy Cluster is required to construct a parallel energy distribution network for its partners. National policy changes are required to provide new local producers of renewable energy better access to the existing energy market.
  • All levels of government can do more to stimulate cooperation platforms such as the Słupsk Bioenergy Cluster, especially through incentives for developing local energy production from renewable sources. For example, encouraging the integration of waste recycling in the energy production system through enhanced tax system incentives would help guide the energy sector toward more circular economy solutions.
  • Beyond the local level, faster and effective implementation of European Union regulations, such as the “RED II” directive (2018/2001) “on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources”, and initiatives such as the Clean Energy for all Europeans Package or so-called “Winter Package” into national legal and implementation systems would ease the scaling up of models such as Słupsk Bioenergy Cluster. There is presently a gap between supportive and aspirational goals in EU policy and local innovation.

This brief is part of a series of three briefs describing real-world examples of policies or programmes intended to accelerate implementation of ecotechnologies that reduce nutrient losses, and encourage nutrient reuse in the three BONUS RETURN case study basins: Fyrisån (Sweden), Vantaanjoki (Finland) and Słupia (Poland).

SEI authors

Profile picture of Mark Rasmussen
Mark Rasmussen

SEI Affiliated Researcher

Karina Barquet
Karina Barquet

Team Leader: Water, Coasts and Ocean; Senior Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Arno Rosemarin
Arno Rosemarin

Senior Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

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