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Efficiency of conventional thermal electricity generation

Indicator Assessment Created 03 Aug 2011 Published 08 Aug 2011 Last modified 04 Sep 2015, 07:00 PM
Topics: ,
Indicator codes: ENER 019

Key messages

The efficiency of electricity and heat production from conventional thermal power plants improved steadily from 43.5% in 1990 to 50.1% in 2005, but decreased to 49.8% in 2008 because of lower heat production. The improvement until 2005 was due to the closure of old inefficient plants, improvements in existing technologies, often combined with a switch from coal power plants to more efficient combined cycle gas-turbines. The environmental benefits resulting from the increase in efficiency of the conventional thermal electricity and heat production (including biomass were offset by the rapid growth in fossil-fuel based (oil, gas, coal & lignite) electricity production (38 % in the period 1990-2008, see ENER009).

Is the European energy production system becoming more efficient?

Efficiency (electricity and heat) from public conventional thermal plants, 1990, 2008

Note: For public thermal power plants the average efficiency increased in most countries over the period 1990-2008, resulting in a net efficiency of 49.8% in 2008 (48.2% excluding district heating). The EEA efficiencies exclude Norway (for conventional), and Norway and Switzerland (for public conventional) - their efficiencies are above 100% in either 1990 or 2008 because the electricity consumed for heating is not considered as an input although the heating from electric boilers is considered in total output. Swedish conventional and public conventional efficiencies are above 100% in some years (when including district heating), but not in 1990 or in 2008, so Sweden is included in the charts.

Data source:

Eurostat 2010 (historical data), http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/energy/data/database

Output from public thermal power stations - Supply, transformation, consumption:

  • Electricity
  • Heat
  • All products

 

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Efficiency (electricity and heat) from autoproducers conventional thermal plants, 1990, 2008

Note: For public thermal power plants the average efficiency increased in most countries over the period 1990-2008, resulting in a net efficiency of 49.8% in 2008 (48.2% excluding district heating). Due to inconsistencies in the Eurostat data set Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Luxembourg and Lithuania are excluded for all years (efficiencies >100%). For Cyprus, Iceland and Malta data on autoproducers is not available, therefore they are also excluded for all years.

Data source:

Eurostat 2010 (historical data), http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/energy/data/database

Output from public thermal power stations - Supply, transformation, consumption:

  • Electricity
  • Heat
  • All products

 

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Efficiency of conventional thermal electricity and heat production

Note: The average energy efficiency of conventional thermal electricity and heat production in the EU-27 improved over the period 1990-2008 by 6.3% to reach 49.8 %in 2008 (48.5 % excluding district heating). 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.

Data source:

Eurostat 2010 (historical data), http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/energy/data/database

Output from public thermal power stations - Supply, transformation, consumption:

  • Electricity
  • Heat
  • All products

Downloads and more info

Efficiency (electricity and heat) production from conventional thermal plants, 1990, 2008

Note: The average energy efficiency of conventional thermal electricity and heat production in the EU-27 improved over the period 1990-2008 by 6.3% to reach 49.8 %in 2008 (48.5 % excluding district heating). The EEA efficiencies exclude Norway (for conventional), and Norway and Switzerland (for public conventional) - their efficiencies are above 100% in either 1990 or 2008 because the electricity consumed for heating is not considered as an input although the heating from electric boilers is considered in total output. Swedish conventional and public conventional efficiencies are above 100% in some years (when including district heating), but not in 1990 or in 2008, so Sweden is included in the charts.

Data source:

Eurostat 2010 (historical data), http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/energy/data/database

Output from public thermal power stations - Supply, transformation, consumption:

  • Electricity
  • Heat
  • All products

 

 

 

Downloads and more info
  • The average energy efficiency of conventional thermal electricity and heat production in the EU-27 improved over the period 1990-2008 by 6.3% to reach 49.8 %in 2008 (48.5 % excluding district heating). The greatest efficiency improvements in both electricity and electricity and heat production occurred in Luxembourg (construction of a new CCGT) and in Romania (more efficient plants). Significant decreases in the efficiency of electricity and heat production were seen in France, Estonia, Poland, Bulgaria and Iceland between 1990 and 2008. A closer examination of the more recent trend for France shows a fluctuating but seemingly stable efficiency, with the decrease in overall efficiency primarily due to a higher share of inefficient coal power in 2008. The efficiency of the new, electricity -only capacity is higher than older electricity generation but remains lower when constrasted to the combined production of both heat and electricity (when there is an uptake of the produced heat). Same is valid for heat production. Estonia, Poland, Bulgaria and Iceland show a decline of efficiency in the last few years, however, there are sizeable fluctations in the data indicating these may be less reliable. (See Figure 1 and Figure 2).
  • For public thermal power plants the average efficiency increased in most countries over the period 1990-2008, resulting in a net efficiency of 49.8% in 2008 (48.2% excluding district heating). For autoproducers the average efficiency also increased in most countries over the period 1990-2008, resulting in a net efficiency of 49.9 % by 2008. The higher efficiency for autoproducers is largely explained by the fact that the installations of autoproducers are often designed or dimensioned more suitable for the heat and electricity demand on a location. (See Figure 3 and Figure 4).
  • Although overall improvements in electricity and heat generation efficiency were seen over the period 1990 to 2008, a marginal stagnation in the late 1990s and a decline in efficiency in the last three years was observed. This was due primarily to an increased utilisation of existing lower efficiency coal plant (see ENER 27). Between 2007 and 2008, the overall efficiency decreased again with 0.2 percentage points due to the higher share of electricity production by inefficient coal power in some countries.
  • The positive impacts on the environment (particularly decreased emissions) from the efficiency improvement in the electricity production, may be offset by the fast increase in electricity consumption, which is growing at an average rate of 1.6 % per year since 1990 (see ENER018), especially considering that over half of this electricity (53 % in 2008) is produced from coal, gas and oil (see ENER0 27)[1].


[1] Specific details of emission levels from electricity generating plants can be obtained for a variety of pollutants at the European Pollutant Emission Register.

What are the main technological developments underlying the observed trends in efficiency of the European energy production system?

  • The growth in the use of combined cycle gas turbine plants (CCGT) has been an important factor in improving efficiency in the EU-15 Member States. CCGT plants can achieve conversion efficiencies in the order of 60%, with the prospect of even higher efficiencies in future power plants. However, continued improvements have also been made in conventional coal generation with plants capable of efficiencies in the range 40-45% (for instance in Denmark), and further advances that may allow this to exceed 50% (IEA, 2005).
  • CHP provides a large potential for increasing efficiency of electricity production and reduction of CO2 -emissions (see ENER 020). Descentralised CHP could bring about larger benefits as a recent study carried out in the UK shows (ICE,2009). Acording to this study, descentralised, gas-fired CHP plants could deliver energy with a carbon content of about 300gCO2/kWh compared with 501gCO2/kWh which was the average in the UK (given its specifc fuel mix) in 2007. These benefits are additional to further savings of about 5gCO2/kWh compared to a modern combined cycle gas turbine.
  • Larger benefits (fuel savings, environmental benefits, efficiency) could also be achieved by using CHP combined with district heating and cooling. In Europe there are currently some 5000 district heating systems supplying some 9% of the total EU-27 heat demand, with Nordic countries having the highest penetration rate of district heating but with Poland and Germany having the largest amount of district heating delivery. 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 is expected to reach a 25% district cooling market share for commercial and institutional buildings in two to three years time.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).

    What are the key differences among European countries as well as between European countries and other countries and regions in the world?

    • At the beginning of the 1990s, the energy sector particularly in the new EU Member States was characterised by low generation efficiencies due to obsolete plant technology. However, in the second half of the 1990s investments were made to improve the performance of existing plants which led to efficiency improvements which explain efficiency gains in 2008 compared to 1990 higher than the European average in countries like Romania (the efficiency increased with 32.0%), Lithuania (the efficiency increased with 17.8%) and Slovakia (the efficiency increased with 13.2%) but also in the EU-15 countries such as Luxembourg (the efficiency increased with 34.1%), Netherlands (the efficiency increased with 16.0%), and Belgium (the efficiency increased with 12.6%). See Figure 2 (see also ENER 011).
    • Among the EEA, non-EU countries, Turkey registered the highest efficiency gain. For Turkey the efficiency increased in 2008 with 12.7% compared to 1990.
    • Efficiencies of fossil-fired electricity and heat production in different countries have been compared in a recent study (Ecofys, 2007). It appears that efficiencies in European countries (France, UK, Ireland, Nordic countries and Germany) are higher than the worldwide average. When the worldwide average is set at 100%, efficiencies in India and China are typically 15–19% lower than those in the investigated European countries. The efficiencies in the USA are 1% below the average level.

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

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

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

Context description

Environmental context

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 11). 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 (see ENER 27) and the extent to which abatement technologies are used (see ENER 06).

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.

 

Policy context

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.

    Targets

    No targets have been specified

    Related policy documents

    • 443/2009
      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.
    • 2008/101/EC
      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
    • 2008/952/EC
      Detailed guidelines for the implementation and application of Annex II to Directive 2004/8/EC
    • 2008/c 82/01
      Community guidelines on state aid for environmental protection (2008/c 82/01)
    • 2009/28/EC
      Directive 2009/28/ec of the European parliament and of the Council on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources
    • 2009/29/ec
      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.
    • 2009/31/EC
      Directive 2009/31/ec of the European parliament and of the Council on the geological storage of carbon dioxide.
    • COM(2006) 545
      Action Plan for Energy Efficiency
    • COM(2008) 771
      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
      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

    Methodology

    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:

    Numerator:

    •  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)

    Denominator:

    • 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

    Geographical coverage:
    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: 1990-2009.

      Methodology for gap filling

      No methodology for gap filling has been specified. Probably this info has been added together with indicator calculation.

      Methodology references

      No methodology references available.

      Uncertainties

      Methodology uncertainty

      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.
      There are also slight differences in the calculation of efficiencies between the historical and projected data. In contrast to the Eurostat data, the projections take into account non -marketed steam, i.e. steam generated - either in boilers or in CHP plants - and used on site by industrial consumers. The calculation of projected efficiencies therefore takes into account both the non-marketed steam generated in CHP units as well as the corresponding fuel input whereas the calculation of historical efficiencies excludes both these components.

       

      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


      Rationale uncertainty

      No uncertainty has been specified

      Data sources

      Generic metadata

      Topics:

      Energy Energy (Primary topic)

      Tags:
      electricity | energy | heat
      DPSIR: Driving force
      Typology: Efficiency indicator (Type C - Are we improving?)
      Indicator codes
      • ENER 019
      Dynamic
      Temporal coverage:
      1990-2008
      Geographic coverage:
      Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom

      Contacts and ownership

      EEA Contact Info

      Cinzia Pastorello

      Ownership

      EEA Management Plan

      2010 2.8.1 (note: EEA internal system)

      Dates

      Filed under: , ,
      European Environment Agency (EEA)
      Kongens Nytorv 6
      1050 Copenhagen K
      Denmark
      Phone: +45 3336 7100