Efficiency of conventional thermal electricity and heat production
Between 1990 and 2012 the efficiency of electricity and heat production in public conventional thermal power plants in the EU28 improved from 42.2% in 1990 to 47.6% in 2012. In the non-EU EEA countries, this efficiency improved from 34.4% in 1990 to 42.1% in 2012. Between 2005 and 2012, the efficiency in public conventional thermal power plants stabilized more or less in both the EU28 and the non-EU EEA countries. An efficiency improvement in the EU28 of about 2 percentage points between 2005 and 2010 is attributed to an increased use of natural gas. Between 2010 an 2012 the efficiency in the EU28 dropped by the same amount, due to increased use of coal in stead of gas in combination with the use of existing, low efficiency coal plants.
The efficiency of electricity and heat production from autoproducers conventional thermal power plants in the EU and non-EU EEA countries decreased between 2005 and 2012 by about 5 percentage points, from about 60% in 2005 to about 55% in 2012.
Is the European energy production system becoming more efficient?
- For public conventional thermal power plants the average efficiency increased in most EU28 countries over the period 1990-2012, resulting in an average efficiency of 47.6% in 2012 (Figure 1). This is however the same level as was reached earlier in 2005. Since 2005 efficiencies of conventional thermal electricity and heat production in the EU15 the 13 newer EU member states have been similar. Between 2005 and 2012 the average efficiency of public electricity and heat conventional thermal power plants increased up to 2010 but decreased afterwards.
- The increase between 2005 and 2010 is explained by an increased use of natural gas (natural gas power plants have relatively higher efficiencies) and a decreased use of coal, lignite and nuclear fuels (coal, lignite and nuclear power plants have relatively lower efficiencies) (ENER38). In addition, the continued decommissioning of old plants and the addition of new, more efficient plants contributed to the overall improvement in efficiency over time. After 2010, the average efficiency of public electricity and heat conventional thermal power plants decreased due to the increased use of coal, lignite and biomass fuels, and the decreased use of natural gas fuels. About half of the decrease in efficiency between 2010 and 2012 could be attributed to the changes in fuel mix based on data from the ENER38 indicator. In addition, the increased use of coal and lignite may have led to an increased utilisation of existing lower efficiency coal plants.
- For district heating by conventional thermal power plants, the average efficiency in the EU28 does not show a clear trend (See Figure 2). The increases in average efficiency in the nineties were driven by increases in Eastern European countries. The efficiencies derived from the energy statistics on district heating from non-EU EEA countries, were often over 100% indicating incomplete or wrong data. Hence, total efficiencies in district heating for the EEA as a group have been excluded.
- For autoproducers the average efficiency in the EU28 increased over the period 1990-2012, resulting in an efficiency of 55.2 % by 2012 (See Figure 3). The higher efficiency for autoproducers compared to public conventional thermal power plants is largely explained by the fact that the installations of autoproducers are often specifically designed to suit the heat and electricity demand on a location.There was a stronger increase in efficiency between 1999 to 2001 by more than 5% percentage points (from about 50% in 1999 to 55% in 2001), see Figure 3. This is partly explained by the substantial increases in efficiency in France. In France for example, the heat output of autoproducers increased strongly between 1999 and 2001 resulting in an increase of France’s autoproducers overall efficiency with 22 percentage points. Then there was a fall in efficiency between 2005 and 2012 by about 6 percentage points (from 60% in 2005 to 54% in 2012), see Figure 3. This is largely explained by substantial reductions in efficiency in France, Spain and a number of smaller EU countries in that period. In France for example, the heat output of autoproducers decreased with more than 80% between 2005 and 2012, while the electricity output only decreased with more than 20%. The total efficiency for autoproducers in France dropped from 67 to 37%. The situation in France may be attributed to a change in the allocation of energy use for heat production between autoproducers and district heating in France.
- Between 2005 and 2012, the top-3 countries registering efficiency improvements between 3 to 5 percentage points in electricity and heat production from public conventional thermal power stations, occurred in Malta, Bulgaria and Denmark, see Figure 4. Decreases in the efficiency between 2005 and 2012 were seen in 17 out of the 32 EEA countries with the largest decreases occurring in Turkey, Portugal and Iceland (between 3 to 4 percentage points). This ranking of countries according to their efficiency improvements is sensitive to the period that is taken into account (e.g. 2005-2010 compared to 2005-2012).
- In 2010, 75% of district heating used in EU28 was recycled heat from electricity production, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes with the rest being generated directly from fossil fuels and renewables (Euroheat&Power, 2013). So increasing the share of district heating will have significant environmental benefits. Between 2005 and 2012, the top-3 countries with highest efficiency improvements in district heating from conventional thermal power stations seemed to have occurred in especially Belgium, France and Slovakia (Figure 5). Decreases in the efficiency between 2005 and 2012 were seen in 9 EEA countries with the largest decrease occurring in Iceland, Germany and Estonia. We also found an indication that an allocation issue disturbed the statistics. When, looking at France’s reported strong efficiency improvements in district heating between 2005 and 2012 on one side and the strong decreases in reported heat output by autoproducers conventional thermal power on the other side (Figure 6), this may indicate that changes have occurred in the allocation of heat outputs.
- In cities like Copenhagen, Helsinki, Warsaw, Vilnius, Riga as much as 90% of residential heat demands are satisfied by district heating. The European share of district heating in industry is about 3.5% with higher shares (10-15%) in Hungary, Poland, Finland, Netherlands, and Czech Republic. District cooling currently has a share of 2% of total cooling market in Europe (some 3TWh) but this share is increasing fast (over the last decade the growth in installed capacity increased ten fold). Sweden for instance succeeded in achieving 25% district cooling market share for commercial and institutional buildings. Cities that have reached or are on the way towards reaching 50% district cooling shares include Paris, Helsinki, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Vienna, Barcelona, Copenhagen (DHC+technology platform, 2012).
- Between 2005 and 2012, the top-3 countries with highest efficiency improvements in autoproducers conventional thermal power stations seemed to have occurred in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia (Figure 6). Decreases in the efficiency between 2005 and 2012 were seen in 13 EEA countries with the largest decrease occurring in France, Spain and Romania. As indicated before, the decrease in France may be linked to changing allocations of energy use for heat production over the categories district heating and autoproducers.
Indicator specification and metadata
The energy efficiency of conventional thermal electricity production (which includes both public plants and autoproducers) is defined as the ratio of transformation outputs from conventional thermal power stations ( electricity and heat) to transformation input to conventional thermal power stations (%).
The 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 power stations (public or main activity), district heating, and autoproducer thermal power stations.
The gross electricity generation is measured at the outlet of the main transformers, i.e. the consumption of electricity in the plant auxiliaries and in transformers is included. Public supply is defined as undertakings which generate electricity (and heat) for sale to third parties as their primary activity. They may be privately or publicly owned. Autoproducers are defined as undertakings which generate electricity wholly or partly for their use as an activity which supports their primary activity (e.g. industrial processes).
Fuel inputs 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.
Fuel input and electrical and heat output are measured in thousand tonnes of oil equivalent (ktoe)
Policy context and targets
The indicator shows the efficiency of electricity and heat production from conventional thermal plants. A distinction is made between public conventional thermal plants (i .e. main activity producers), district heating conventional thermal plants and autoproducers conventional thermal plants. 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 of energy transformation 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 European Commission published its proposal for an Energy Efficiency Directive on 22 June 2011. The proposed EED is expected to repeal two existing Directives: the Cogeneration Directive (2004/8/EC) and the Energy Services Directive (2006/32/EC).
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
- Community guidelines on state aid for environmental protection (2008/c 82/01)
- 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
- 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
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.
Action Plan for Energy Efficiency: Realising the Potential ( COM(2006) 545). The Commission will develop minimum binding energy efficiency requirements for electricity generation facilities, heating and cooling for facilities operating with less than 20 megawatts of power, and possibly for more powerful facilities too (not published yet).
Directive on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from large combustion plants; Directive 2001/80/EC. Aims to control emissions of SOx, NOx and particulate matter from large (>50MW) combustion plants and hence favours the use of higher efficiency CCGT as opposed to coal plants.
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 primary energy consumption by 2020. Member States are requested to set indicative targets. It is up to the Member states whether they base their targets on primary energy consumption, final energy consumption, primary or final energy savings or energy intensity. Art.14 (Promotion of efficiency in heating and cooling) and Art.15 (Energy transformation, transmission and distribution) are directly relevant to the indicator.
Related policy documents
Action Plan for Energy Efficiency
Europe can save more energy by combined heat and power generation
DHC Technology Platform - District Heating and Cooling
This document contains the European Vision for District Heating and Cooling (DHC) technology.
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
EEA greenhouse gas - data viewer
The EEA GHG viewer provides easy access and analysis of the data contained in the Annual European Union greenhouse gas inventory and inventory report. The EEA GHG data viewer can show emission trends for the main sectors and allows for comparisons of emissions between different countries and activities.
Eurocoal (2010) - Guaranteeing Energy for Europe — How can coal contribute?
The energy supply of the 21st century is more than ever shaped by coal. Almost all developing and threshold countries trust that coal is a longterm, reliable basis for the development of the economy and society. In industrialised countries, coal remains the key energy for a reliable supply of electricity and for heavy industries. According to estimates of the International Energy Agency (IEA), coal will have the same importance as oil for the world-wide supply of energy until 2030.
Euroheat and Power (2013). District Heating and Cooling country by country Survey 2013
This 2013 survey reflects the current position, possibilities and trends of CHP/DHC from over 30 countries around the globe. It is an invaluable companion to all who supported by take an interest in DHC.
Euroheat4 - Executive summary report
The document is a summary of the actions and outcomes of the ‘EcoHeat4EU’ project supported by the European Commission’s Intelligent Energy Europe programme
EuroStat(2013) - Energy, transport and environment indicators
The 2013 edition presents facts and figures from the Energy, Transport and Environment sectors, all in a single volume. With a view of the growing global political importance of issues such as climate change and energy security, the three sectors have become increasingly interconnected. This creates the need for a comprehensive approach, comprising reliable and comparable statistical data, necessary for the better understanding of the complexity of the issues,for sound policy-making and the setting of effective measures.
OECD (2005) - International Energy Technology Collaboration and Climate Change Mitigation
Case Study 4: Clean Coal Technologies
The EU climate and energy (CARE) Package
The climate and energy package is a set of binding legislation which aims to ensure the European Union meets its ambitious climate and energy targets for 2020. These targets, known as the "20-20-20" targets, set three key objectives for 2020: A 20% reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels; Raising the share of EU energy consumption produced from renewable resources to 20%; A 20% improvement in the EU's energy efficiency.
Methodology for indicator calculation
- The following datasets by Eurostat have been used to derive efficiencies from conventional thermal power stations, distric heating plants, and autoproducer plants:
- B_101101 - Transformation output - Conventional Thermal Power Stations - Electrical Energy
- B_101121 - Transformation output - Main Activity Conventional Thermal Power Stations - Electrical Energy
- B_101122 - Transformation output - Autoproducer Conventional Thermal Power Stations - Electrical Energy
- B_101101 - Transformation output - Conventional Thermal Power Stations - Derived Heat
- B_101121 - Transformation output - Main Activity Conventional Thermal Power Stations - Derived Heat
- B_101122 - Transformation output - Autoproducer Conventional Thermal Power Stations - Derived Heat
- B_101101 - Transformation output - Conventional Thermal Power Stations - All Products
- B_101121 - Transformation output - Main Activity Conventional Thermal Power Stations - All Products
- B_101122 - Transformation output - Autoproducer Conventional Thermal Power Stations - All Products
- B_101009 - Transformation input - District heating plants - All Products
- B_101109 - Transformation output - District Heating Plants - All Products
- B_101020 - Non-specified Transformation input - All Products
- B_101001 - Transformation input - Conventional Thermal Power Stations - All Products
- B_101021 - Transformation input in Main Activity Producer Conventional Power Stations - All Products
- B_101022 - Transformation input in Autoproducer Conventional Power Stations - All Products
- Geographical coverage:
The Agency had 33 member countries at the time of writing of this fact sheet. These are the 28 European Union Member States and Turkey, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Information for Switzerland and Liecthenstein was not availabile and is not included in the above indicators
- Temporal coverage: 1990-2012.
- Methodology and frequency of data collection:
Data collected annually.
Eurostat metadata for energy statistics http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/statistics/metadata
- Methodology of data manipulation:
Average annual rate of growth calculated using: [(last year / base year) ^ (1/number of years) –1]*100The coding (used in the Eurostat New Cronos database, see table above).
Efficiency of electricity and heat production in main activity conventional thermal power plants = (electrical output + heat output)/fuel input
Efficiency for district heating = transformation output district heating plants divided by transformation input district heating plants
Efficiency for autoproducers = transformation output in autoproducers conventional power stations divided by transformation input autoproducers conventional power stations
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
Reliability, accuracy, robustness, uncertainty (at data level):
Indicator uncertainty (historic data)
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. Wherever efficiencies above 100% were detected, this has been mentioned in the notes to the figures and in texts with this indicator.
Overall scoring - historical data (1 = no major problems, 3 = major reservations):
Comparability over time: 2
Comparability over space: 1
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.
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)
Reliability, accuracy, robustness, uncertainty (at data level):
Indicator uncertainty (historic data)
Efficiencies include electrical outputs and heat outputs: 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.
Efficiencies above 100%: Wherever possible country specific data has been scrutinized for efficiencies above 100% which indicates incorrect input and/or output data. Wherever this has been detected, country data was removed from the indicators as mentioned in the notes to the figures and in texts with this indicator. The data collection of inputs and ouputs and subsequent derivation of efficiencies for District Heating and Autoproducers power plants revealed efficiencies over 100% for a number of EU28 countries. These incorrect data was removed from the indicators presented in Figures 2b and 2c, see the notes to the Figures. However, these incorrect data are probably also included in the EU28 aggregated input and output data that were taken from Eurostat and used in the trend Figures 1a, 1b and 1c.
Overall scoring - historical data (1 = no major problems, 3 = major reservations):
Comparability over time: 3
Comparability over space: 1
No uncertainty has been specified
Energy statistics (Eurostat)
provided by Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat)
Energy (Primary topic)
Typology: Efficiency indicator (Type C - Are we improving?)
- ENER 019
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoAnca-Diana Barbu
EEA Management Plan2014 1.3.2 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
- 24 Apr 2013 - Efficiency of conventional thermal electricity generation
- 30 Apr 2012 - Efficiency of conventional thermal electricity generation
- 08 Aug 2011 - Efficiency of conventional thermal electricity generation
- 14 Sep 2010 - Efficiency of conventional thermal electricity generation
- 27 Nov 2008 - EN19 Efficiency of conventional thermal electricity and heat production
- 22 May 2007 - EN19 Efficiency of conventional thermal electricity production
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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