Efficiency of conventional thermal electricity generation
Published (reviewed and quality assured)
Justification for indicator selection
The majority of thermal generation is produced using fossil fuels but can also include biomass, wastes, geothermal and nuclear. Associated environmental impacts at the point of energy generation are mainly related to greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. However, other environmental impacts, such as land use change, biodiversity loss, ground water pollution, oil spills in the marine environment, etc, occur during upstream activities of producing and transporting the primary resources or final waste disposal. Whilst the level of environmental impact depends on the particular type of fuel used and the extent to which abatement technologies are being employed, the greater the efficiency of the power plant, the lower the environmental impact for each unit of electricity produced (assuming that the increase in efficiency leads to an absolute decrease of fossil fuel input).
- IEA (2008), Energy Efficiency Indicators for Public Electricity Production from Fossil Fuels, OECD /IEA , July 2008
- Ecofys (2007) - International comparison of fossil power efficiency, Ecofys, august 2007
- DHC+technology platform (2012) - District Heat and Cooling – a vision to 2020 – 2030 – 2050
- EEA (2008) - Greenhouse gas data viewer
- Eurocoal (2010) – Guaranteeing Energy for Europe – How can coal contribute? European Association for Coal and Lignite AISBL
- Euroheat4, Executive Summary Report
- Energy, transport and environment indicators, EuroStat (2011) ISSN 1725-4566
Output from conventional thermal power stations consists of gross electricity generation and also of any heat sold to third parties (combined heat and power plants) by conventional thermal public utility power stations as well as autoproducer thermal power stations. The energy efficiency of conventional thermal electricity production (which includes both public plants and autoproducers) is defined as the ratio of electricity and heat production to the energy input as a fuel. Fuels include solid fuels (i.e. coal, lignite and equivalents, oil and other liquid hydrocarbons, gas, thermal renewables (industrial and municipal waste, wood waste, biogas and geothermal energy) and other non-renewable waste.
Units: Fuel input and electrical and heat output are measured in thousand tonnes of oil equivalent (ktoe)
Efficiency is measured as the ratio of fuel output to input (%)
Policy context and targets
The indicator shows the efficiency of electricity and heat production from conventional thermal plants. A distinction is made between public (i.e. main activity producers), thermal plants and autoproducers. Public thermal plants mainly produce electricity (and heat) for public use. Autoproducers produce electricity (and heat) for private use, for instance in industrial processes.
The efficiency of electricity and heat production is an important factor since losses in transformation account for a substantial part of the primary energy consumption (see ENER 36). Higher efficiency of production therefore results in substantial reductions in primary energy consumption, hence reduction of environmental pressures due to avoided energy production. However, the overall environmental impact has to be seen in the context of the type of fuel and the extent to which abatement technologies are used.
Compliance with environmental legislation (for example the Large Combustion Plant Directive 2001/80/EC, the CARE package, etc) requires the application of a series of abatement technologies (e.g. to reduce SO2 emissions requires retrofitting the plant with flue-gas desulphurisation technology, carbon capture and storage to capture CO2 emissions, etc) increasing the energy consumption of the plant, thus reducing its efficiency. This is why it is important to promote highly efficient generation units, such as IGCC (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle), which can operate at higher efficiencies.
The Directive 2012/27/eu on energy efficiency establishes a common framework of measures for the promotion of energy efficiency within the European Union in order to achieve the headline target of 20% reduction in gross inland energy consumption. Member States are requested to set indicative targets. It is up to the Member states whether they base their targets on gross inland consumption, final energy consumption, primary or final energy savings or energy intensity.
Council adopted on 6 April 2009 the climate-energy legislative package containing measures to fight climate change and promote renewable energy. This package is designed to achieve the EU's overall environmental target of a 20 % reduction in greenhouse gases and a 20 % share of renewable energy in the EU's total energy consumption by 2020. The climate action and renewable energy (CARE) package includes the following main policy documents:
- Directive 2009/29/ec of the European parliament and of the Council amending directive 2003/87/ec so as to improve and extend the greenhouse gas emission allowance trading scheme of the community
- Directive 2009/31/ec of the European parliament and of the Council on the geological storage of carbon dioxide
- Directive 2009/28/ec of the European parliament and of the Council on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources
- Communication from the Commission; COM(2008) 771 final. The main objectives of this communication are to report on the current status of the combined heat and power generation (CHP or cogeneration), and to present possibilities for its development.
Detailed guidelines for the implementation and application of Annex II to Directive 2004/8/EC; 2008/952/EC. Guidelines for the calculation of the electricity from high-efficiency cogeneration
Directive 2010/75/eu of the European Parliament and of the Council on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control) recast. The Directive establishes a general framework for the control of the main industrial activities in order to prevent, reduce and as far as possible eliminate pollution arising from industrial activities in compliance with the ‘polluter pays’ principle and the principle of pollution prevention.
No targets have been specified
Related policy documents
Regulation (ec) no 443/2009 of the European parliament and of the Council setting emission performance standards for new passenger cars as part of the community's integrated approach to reduce CO2 emissions from light-duty vehicles.
Directive 2008/101/ec of the European parliament and of the Council amending directive 2003/87/ec so as to include aviation activities in the scheme for greenhouse gas Emission allowance trading within the community
Detailed guidelines for the implementation and application of Annex II to Directive 2004/8/EC
Community guidelines on state aid for environmental protection (2008/c 82/01)
Directive 2009/28/ec of the European parliament and of the Council on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources
Directive 2009/29/ec of the European parliament and of the Council amending directive 2003/87/ec so as to improve and extend the greenhouse gas emission allowance trading scheme of the community.
Directive 2009/31/ec of the European parliament and of the Council on the geological storage of carbon dioxide.
Action Plan for Energy Efficiency
Europe can save more energy by combined heat and power generation
Directive 2001/80/EC, large combustion plants
Directive 2001/80/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2001 on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from large combustion plants
DIRECTIVE 2004/8/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 11 February 2004 on the promotion of cogeneration based on a useful heat demand in the internal energy market and amending Directive 92/42/EEC
Ecofys (2007): International comparison of fossil power efficiency,
With energy and climate markets and technologies continuously changing, profound knowledge is key to all decision making. Ecofys supports authorities and corporate organisations alike in meeting the energy and climate challenge of the 21 st century. The strategic studies, reports or market assessments we conduct provide valuable and reliable information on the latest developments and anticipated trends. Ecofys, august 2007
IEA (2005) - Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions The Potential of Coal, International Energy Agency
The Directorate of Sustainable Energy Policy and Technology (SPT) is responsible for sustainable (demand-side) energy policy and energy technology policy. The Director serves as Chief IEA Technology Co-ordinator responsible for ensuring linkages between the Committee on Energy Research and Technology (CERT) , the IEA Implementing Agreements and the Secretariat in terms of technology issues.
OECD (2005) - International Energy Technology Collaboration and Climate Change Mitigation
Case Study 4: Clean Coal Technologies
Key policy question
Is the European energy production system becoming more efficient?
Methodology for indicator calculation
Average annual rate of growth calculated using: [(last year / base year) ^ (1/number of years) - 1]*100
Efficiency of electricity and heat production = (electrical output + heat output)/fuel input
The coding (used in the Eurostat New Cronos database) and specific components of the indicator are:
Electricity output from conventional thermal power stations 101101 (6000 electrical energy) + Heat output from conventional thermal power stations 101101 (5200 derived heat)
Electricity output from public thermal power stations 101121 (6000 electrical energy) + Heat output from public thermal power stations 101121 (5200 derived heat)
Electricity output from autoproducer thermal power station 101122 (6000 electrical energy) + Heat output from autoproducer thermal power station 101122 (5200 derived heat)
Input to conventional thermal power stations 101001 (0000 all products)
Input to public thermal power stations 101021 (0000 all products)
Input to autoproducer thermal power stations 101022 (0000 all products)
Data collected annually.
Eurostat metadata for energy statistics http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/statistics/metadata
The Agency had 32 member countries at the time of writing of this fact sheet. These are the 27 European Union Member States and Turkey, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
Total: Norway, displays efficiencies higher than 100% for thermal generation due to the extensive use of electric boilers for heat production. In the Eurostat statistics, the heat is included in the output, while the electricity input is not. For power plants the consumption of electricity is attributed to the energy sector while partly may be in fact used as input for heat. For these reasons, Norway was excluded from the calculations
Public: Norway is excluded as the data was considered unreliable, giving efficiencies ≥ 100%. Autoprocucers: Bulgaria, Greece, Lithunia, and Slovenia are excluded as they were considered unreliable, giving efficiencies ≥ 100%. No autoproducers data was available for Cyprus, Iceland and Malta
Temporal coverage: 1990-2010.
Methodology for gap filling
No methodology for gap filling has been specified. Probably this info has been added together with indicator calculation.
No methodology references available.
EEA data references
- National emissions reported to the UNFCCC and to the EU Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Mechanism provided by Directorate-General for Environment (DG ENV) , United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
External data references
Data sources in latest figures
The efficiency of electricity production is calculated as the ratio of electricity output to the total fuel input. However, the input to conventional thermal power plants cannot be disaggregated into separate input for heat and input for electricity production. Therefore the efficiency rate of electricity and heat production equals the ratio of both electricity and heat production to fuel input, which assumes there is an efficiency rate for heat production.
Also, electricity data (unlike that for overall energy consumption) for 1990 refers to the western part of Germany only, so there is a break in the series from 1990-1992.
Data sets uncertainty
Strengths and weaknesses (at data level)
Data have been traditionally compiled by Eurostat through the annual Joint Questionnaires, shared by Eurostat and the International Energy Agency, following a well established and harmonised methodology. Methodological information on the annual Joint Questionnaires and data compilation can be found in Eurostat's web page for metadata on energy statistics.
http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/statistics/metadata See also information related to the Energy Statistics Regulation http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/energy/introduction
No uncertainty has been specified
Short term work
Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.
Long term work
Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.
Responsibility and ownership
EEA Contact InfoAnca-Diana Barbu
Frequency of updates
ClassificationDPSIR: Driving force
Typology: Efficiency indicator (Type C - Are we improving?)
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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