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You are here: Home / Data and maps / Indicators / Emissions from public electricity and heat production - explanatory indicators (ENER 009)

Emissions from public electricity and heat production - explanatory indicators (ENER 009)

This content has been archived on 12 Nov 2013, reason: Content not regularly updated
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Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)
  • No published assessments

Justification for indicator selection

Public electricity and heat production contributes around 30% of all CO2 emissions and 26% of all GHG emissions in the EU-27, thus contributing to global climate change. Carbon dioxide, along with other gases, reduces the earth’s albedo, thus increasing the warming effect of the sun. This warming effect is thought to be responsible for rising sea levels and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns resulting in increased flooding and drought. These geophysical impacts are linked with reduced fertility of soils, reduced areas of fertile land, increased human and animal disease, and increased damage to property and changes to the natural biodiversity.
Emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide cause acid deposition, which leads to changes in soil and water quality and damage to forests, crops and other vegetation, and to adverse effects on aquatic ecosystems in rivers and lakes. Acidification also damages buildings and cultural monuments and potentially has links to human respiratory diseases. Other health impacts can arise if acidification affects groundwater used for public water supply. Public electricity and heat production emits 56% of all SO2 emissions (energy and non-energy-related).
NOx is also a tropospheric ozone precursor, which reacts in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight to from ozone. High levels of ozone can cause adverse impacts on health and can damage crops and other vegetation. Tropospheric ozone is also a contributor to climate change. The sector contributes 19% of all NOx emissions.

Electricity and heat production from public thermal power plants leads to significant emissions of both air pollutants and greenhouse gas. Reduction of emissions, including from the power sector, are needed in many countries to achieve the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets as agreed under the Kyoto Protocol and those for air pollutants as agreed under the NEC directive. Understanding what is driving the trend in emissions from public electricity and heat production can help identify successful policies for reducing the environmental impacts of this sector.

Scientific references:

  • No rationale references available

Indicator definition

Historical emissions of CO2, NOX and SO2 from the common reporting format category 1A1a Public electricity and heat production. Output from public thermal power stations covers gross electricity generation and any heat also produced by public thermal power stations. Public thermal power stations generate electricity and/or heat for sale to third parties, as their primary activity. They may be privately or publicly owned. 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.


Emission of pollutants:  Mtonnes

Policy context and targets

Context description

Emissions of CO2 from public electricity and heat production contribute significantly to total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. Emissions of SO2 and NOx from public electricity and heat plants contribute significantly to acidification in the EU and are responsible for over 80% of SO2 and NOx emissions from the energy industries sector. The indicator estimates to what extent changes in efficiency, fuel mix and pollution abatement have influenced the reduction of emissions. These changes cannot directly be associated with the policies and measures introduced, but can provide an indication of their aggregate impact.
The trends evident in this factsheet, together with projections in other factsheets (e.g. see EN01), indicate that additional policy measures will need to be implemented in order to meet the EU’s longer-term emissions reduction targets, particularly for CO2. In addition to the EU’s commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (of which CO2 is the main gas) under the Kyoto Protocol, In March 2007, the Council of the European Union decided that EU would make a firm independent commitment to achieving at least a 20 % reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 1990. It also endorsed an EU objective of a 30 % reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 1990 provided that other developed countries commit themselves to comparable emission reductions.
The total emissions of CO2, SO2 and NOx from electricity and heat production depend on both the amount of electricity and heat produced as well as the emissions per unit produced (which are also fuel specific). Therefore the policies and measures to reduce emissions need to address both demand (e.g. through improvements in the energy efficiency of buildings and appliances) to stem the rapid increase in electricity and heat production, as well as emissions per unit of electricity and heat produced (e.g. by fuel switching, generation efficiency, abatement of SO2 and NOx).
A number of EU policies have contributed to efforts to curb total electricity and heat produced and emissions per unit produced. For example, the Directives establishing rules for the common market for electricity (2003/54/EC) and gas (2003/55/EC) have encouraged switching to cheaper and more efficient technologies, in particular to gas. The market liberalisation and competition resulting from these Directives also contributed to cheaper energy prices in the 1990s which may have encouraged energy consumption. However the steep increases in energy prices since 2000 and particularly after 2004, may help to constrain energy demand.
Another important policy is the integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) Directive (96/61/EC) which requires plants of less than 20MW to meet a set of basic energy efficiency provisions. For larger plants energy efficiency is covered by the plants’ participation within the EU greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme established by Directive 2003/87/EC. Under the Directive, each Member State was required to draw up a National Allocation Plan that included caps on CO2 emissions from all thermal electricity generating plant greater than 20 MW. A shift to less carbon intensive fuels for electricity generation, such as gas, and improvements in efficiency are important options to help generators meet their requirements under the directive.
The EC’s Green Paper on Energy Efficiency (COM(2005)265 final) highlighted opportunities to improve the efficiency of electricity and heat production by ensuring that: the most efficient CCGT technology is used; research is expanded to improve the efficiency of coal generation; the use of distributed generation is expanded particularly to make greater use of waste heat, and that in combination with this a greater use of combined heat and power (cogeneration) technology is realised. The Green Paper identified that 20% of EU energy use could be saved. The EC’s recent Action Plan for Energy Efficiency (COM(2006) 545 final) moved towards realising these savings and includes initiatives to make energy appliances, buildings, transport and energy generation more efficient, and introduces stringent new energy efficiency standards and financing mechanisms to support more energy efficient products. The EC also proposes to create a Covenant of Mayors of the 20 to 30 most pioneering cities in Europe and an international agreement on energy efficiency.
Two recently adopted directives should also result in energy efficiency gains: Directive 2005/32/EC establishes a framework for the setting of eco-design requirements for energy-using products and Directive 2006/32/EC on energy end-use efficiency and energy services requires Directive Member States to adopt national action plans in order to achieve 1% yearly energy savings over nine years, starting in January 2008.
Building on the emissions reductions achieved through improvements in generation technology (particularly CCGT), the EC’s Green Paper ‘A European strategy for sustainable, competitive and secure energy’ (March 2006) considers how new technologies can be promoted in the projected one trillion euro investment in energy networks over the next 20 years. It also identifies the EU’s cohesion policy as a useful tool to support investment in renewable energy where there is evidence of market failure, ie the initial capital outlay is expensive and externalities are not accounted for.
The EEA’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Trends and Projections in Europe (2006) indicates that in the energy supply and use sector, Member States’ policies and measures implemented under the Directive to promote high-efficiency cogeneration (2004/08/EC) and renewable electricity (2001/77/EC ) are projected to deliver the largest reductions in CO2 emissions by 2010. Measures to improve the energy performance of buildings and of appliances are projected to deliver smaller reductions in CO2 emissions.
In addition to Directives and other policy measures aimed at reducing overall emissions from public electricity production are those relating more specifically to SO2 and NOx. Flue gas desulphurisation and the use of low NOx-burners in power generation have been encouraged by the use of best available technologies required by the IPPC Directive (96/61/EC), and by the large combustion plant Directive (2001/80/EC). The latter plays an important role in reducing emissions of SO2 and NOx from combustion plants with a capacity greater than 50 MW. It sets emission limits for new plants and requires Member States to establish programmes for reducing total emissions. Emissions limits for all plants are also set under the IPPC Directive in 2007.
EN09 Emissions (CO2, SO2 and NOx) from public electricity and heat production – explanatory indicators 7
The national emission ceilings Directive (2001/81/EC) sets targets for Member States for 2010 for emission reductions of SO2, NOx and other pollutants, as well as setting interim environmental objectives for reducing the exposure of ecosystems and human populations to damaging levels of acid pollutants. Proposals for a revised directive setting targets for 2020 are expected in 2020.
Sulphur emissions from oil-fired electricity and heat production will also be limited by the Directive for the sulphur content of certain fuels (93/12/EC). The Directive requires Member States to cease the use of heavy fuel oil with a sulphur content greater than 1 % by mass from 2000, and the use of gas oil with a sulphur content greater than 0.2 % from 2000 and greater than 0.1 % from 2008.


No targets have been specified

Related policy documents

  • 2003/54/EC
    Directives concerning common rules for the internal market in electricity
  • 2003/55/EC
    Directives concerning common rules for the internal market in gas
  • COM(2005) 265 final. Green paper on energy efficiency or doing more with less. European Commission.
  • COM(2006) 545
    Action Plan for Energy Efficiency
  • Council Directive 96/61/EC (IPPC)
    Council Directive 96/61/EC of 24 September 1996 concerning Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC). Official Journal L 257.
  • DIRECTIVE 2001/77/EC Renewable electricity
    Directive 2001/77/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 September 2001 on the promotion of electricity produced from renewable energy sources in the internal electricity market
  • 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 2001/81/EC, national emission ceilings
    Directive 2001/81/EC, on nation al emissions ceilings (NECD) for certain atmospheric pollutants. Emission reduction targets for the new EU10 Member States have been specified in the Treaty of Accession to the European Union 2003  [The Treaty of Accession 2003 of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia. AA2003/ACT/Annex II/en 2072] in order that they can comply with the NECD.
  • DIRECTIVE 2005/32/EC
    The Directive establises a framework for the setting of ecodesign requirements for energy-using products and amends Council Directive 92/42/EEC and Directives 96/57/EC and 2000/55/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council
  • DIRECTIVE 2006/32/EC
    The directive is relatefd to energy end-use efficiency and energy services and repeals Council Directive 93/76/EEC

Key policy question

Is the use and production of energy having a decreasing impact on the environment?


Methodology for indicator calculation

CO2 emissions data are annual official data submissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and EU Monitoring mechanism. Combination of emission estimates based on volume of activities and emission factors. Recommended methodologies for emission data collection are compiled in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories (IPCC, 2006). supplemented by the Good Practice Guidance and Uncertainty Management in National Greenhouse Gas Inventories (IPCC, 2000) and UNFCCC Guidelines (UNFCCC, 2000). SO2 and NOx emissions data are annual country data submissions to UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) CLRTAP (Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution) and EMEP (Co-operative programme for monitoring and evaluation of the long range transmission of air pollutants in Europe). Combination of emission measurements and emission estimates based on volume of activities and emission factors. Recommended methodologies for emission data collection are compiled in the Joint EMEP/CORINAIR Atmospheric Emission Inventory Guidebook 3rd edition EEA Copenhagen EEA (2009). Energy data collected annually by Eurostat. Eurostat definitions for energy statistics Eurostat metadata for energy statistics
Average annual rate of growth calculated using: [(last year/base year) ^ (1/number of years) –1]*100.Average. These indicators estimate the contribution that various changes in the EU public electricity and heat sector have on reducing harmful emissions. The changes that have been analysed are:

• the increase in the share of non-fossil fuels (increased electricity production from nuclear and (non-combustible) renewable sources);

• the increase in efficiency with which electricity and heat is produced from fossil fuels;

• the changing mix of fossil fuels used for electricity and heat production;

• the introduction of emissions abatement techniques (e.g. low NOx burners to control NOx emissions and flue gas desulphurisation or use of lower sulphur coals to control SO2 emissions). No direct quantitative information is available on the effect of abatement techniques, so the effect of these measures on SO2 and NOx emissions have been assumed to be equal to the residual effect, once the contribution of the other changes has been identified.

a) Reference emissions: These are first calculated by assuming a constant structure of production in 1990 and that emissions in this base year then scale linearly with net electricity production (the sum of Eurostat New Cronos Database codes: Transformation output from public conventional thermal power plants (ktoe) 101121; Transformation output from nuclear power plants (ktoe) 101102; Electricity generation from hydro plants 5510 - 100900; Electricity generation from wind plants 5520 - 100900).

Emission reference (year) =  total production (year) *  (Emission (1990)/ total net production (1990)

b) Emissions reduction due to the increased share of nuclear and renewable energy: The share of fossil fuels is given by public production of electricity from thermal plants (101121) divided by total public production from all sources (transformation output of electricity and heat for conventional thermal and nuclear plant, plus gross production for renewables – i.e. the sum of all components in a) above). However, the production of electricity from public thermal plants (101121) is modified to account for the components of biomass and geothermal energy which should be subtracted as they are classed as renewable (note that for SO2 and NOx, the share of fossil fuels also includes biomass, as the combustion of biomass leads to the emissions of SO2 and NOx). For geothermal energy this is achieved by subtracting Gross electricity generation - Geothermal power plants (code 6000 – 107002) from the production of electricity from thermal plants (101121). For biomass an estimate is made of the gross electricity generation from biomass (6000 – 107011) from public thermal generation as opposed to all thermal generation by taking the ratio of the biomass inputs of the former to the latter (code (5500 – 101021 renewable energies input to public thermal power stations) divided by (5540 – 101001 biomass and wastes input to conventional thermal power stations)) and multiplying this by the gross electricity generation from biomass (6000 – 107002).

Emission fossil(year) = (share fossil fuel(year)/share fossil fuel (1990)) * Emission reference fossil(year)

The specific nuclear effect can be separated from the renewable effect in an additive way. These two factors will then be additive to each other and the combined renewable and nuclear effect will remain multiplicative to the fuel-switching and efficiency factors.

c) Emissions reduction due to fossil fuel switching: Using emission factors from IIASA's RAINS model for each Member State, the relative contribution of coal, oil, gas and a few other
EN09 Emissions (CO2, SO2 and NOx) from public electricity and heat production – explanatory indicators
fuels to 1990 EU emissions is estimated. Using the transformation input from conventional thermal energy by fuel data from New Cronos (Total fuel input to public conventional thermal power plants 101001 minus Renewable energy input to public conventional thermal electricity plants 5000 - 101021), implied 1990 emission factors for the use of these fuels are determined. From this the apparent or implied EU-27 emission factor for each year is calculated. The 1990 emission factors for EU-27 are the weighted averages over Europe. 

Emission fossil mix(year) = SUM ((implied emission factors (year)/implied emission factors (1990)) * Emission fossil(year)

d) Emissions reduction due to efficiency improvements:
The emissions due to the change in fuel efficiencies (obtained from the transformation output (electricity and heat) from public fossil fuel plants (101121) divided by transformation input to public fossil fuel plants (101001, but also subtracting code 5000 – 101021 to account for renewable energy input in the case of CO2 emissions) were estimated by assuming that the emissions as calculated in the previous step decrease as efficiency increases:

Emission efficiency (year) = (Efficiency(1990)/Efficincy (year)) * Emission fossil mix(year)

Note as in part b), for SO2 and NOx, the efficiency of fossil fuel plants also includes those using biomass as a fuel input (i.e. code 5000 – 101021 is not subtracted from 101001), as the combustion of biomass leads to the emissions of SO2 and NOx.

e) Reduction due to abatement technologies: This reduction is assumed to be the residual difference between the reference emissions in a) and the factors that influence a reduction in emissions in b) to d).

Methodology for gap filling

ETC-ACC gap-filling methodology. Where countries have not reported data for one or several years, data for emissions from public conventional thermal power production has been calculated as a proportion of the emissions from all energy industries (which includes emissions from refineries, etc.) by applying a scaling factor. This scaling factor has been calculated as the ratio of emissions from public conventional thermal power production to emissions from all energy industries for a year in which both datasets exist (usually 2005). It is recognised that the use of gap-filling can potentially lead to inaccurate trends, but it is considered unavoidable if a comprehensive and comparable set of emissions data for European countries is required for policy analysis purposes.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Data specifications

EEA data references

External data references

Data sources in latest figures


Methodology uncertainty

Energy 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.
Emissions: Officially reported data following agreed procedures. E.g. CO2 data are based upon annual submissions under the
UNFCCC, and SO2 and NOx emissions data are annual submissions to UNECE/CLRTAP/EMEP.

Data sets uncertainty

The indicator utilises a frequently used approach for portraying the primary driving forces of emissions, and it is based on the multiplicative IPAT and KAYA identities. IPAT identity: Impact = Population × Affluence × Technology KAYA identity: CO2 Emissions = Population × (GDP/Population) × (Energy/GDP) × (CO2 /Energy) For the CO2 explanatory factors the identity used is: CO2 emissions from electricity and heat production = Total electricity and heat output x electricity and heat fossil fuels/total electricity and heat output x fossil fuel input/electricity and heat from fossil fuels x CO2 emissions from electricity and heat production/fossil fuel input. The multiplicative identity is an accounting method since a factor could be estimated through the remaining factors by simple addition and subtraction. It is important to note that the components should not be seen as fundamental or completely independent from each other (i.e. existence of interaction). Despite of its limitations, the method provides a useful illustration of the importance of different factors in explaining changes in CO2 emissions. The IPCC (IPCC, 2000) suggests that the uncertainty in the total GWP-weighted emission estimates, for most European countries, is likely to be less than ± 20 %. The IPCC believes that the uncertainty in CO2 emission estimates from fuel use in Europe is likely to be less than ± 5 %. Total GHG emission trends are likely to be more accurate than the absolute emission estimates for individual years. The IPCC suggests that the uncertainty in total GHG emission trends is ± 4 % to 5 %. This year for the first time uncertainty estimates were calculated for the EU-15 in EEA (2005). The results suggest that uncertainties at EU-15 level are between ± 4 % and 8 % for total EU-15 greenhouse gas emissions.

For energy related greenhouse gas emissions the results suggest uncertainties between ± 1 % (stationary combustion) and ± 11 % (fugitive emissions). For public electricity and heat production specifically, which is the focus of the indicator, the uncertainty is estimated to be ± 3 %. For the new Member States and some other EEA countries, uncertainties are assumed to be higher than for the EU-15 Member States because of data gaps. The uncertainties of sulphur dioxide emission estimates in Europe are relatively low, as the sulphur emitted comes from the fuel burnt and therefore can be accurately estimated. However, because of the need for interpolation to account for missing data the complete dataset used here will have higher uncertainty. EMEP has compared modelled (which include emission data as one of the modelparameters) and measured concentrations throughout Europe (EMEP 2005). From these studies the uncertainties associated with the modelled annual averages for a specific point in time have been estimated in the order of ± 30 %. This is consistent with an inventory uncertainty of ±10 % (with additional uncertainties arising from the other model parameters, modelling methodologies, and the air quality measurement data etc). In contrast, NOx emission estimates in Europe are thought to have higher uncertainty, as the NOx emitted comes both from the fuel burnt and the combustion air and so cannot be estimated accurately from fuel nitrogen alone. EMEP has compared modelled and measured concentrations throughout Europe (EMEP 2005). From these studies differences for individual monitoring stations of more than a factor of two have been found. This is consistent with an inventory of national annual emissions having an uncertainty of ±30% or greater (there are also uncertainties in the air quality measurements and especially the modelling). For all emissions the trend is likely to be much more accurate than individual absolute annual values - the annual values are not independent of each other. However not all countries apply changes to methodologies back to 1990.

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Further work

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.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Anca-Diana Barbu


European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
ENER 009
Version id: 1
Primary theme: Energy Energy


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DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Efficiency indicator (Type C - Are we improving?)

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