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EN06 Energy-related emissions of acidifying substances

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This content has been archived on 12 Nov 2013, reason: Content not regularly updated

Assessment made on  01 Apr 2007

Generic metadata


Energy Energy (Primary theme)

DPSIR: Driving force


Indicator codes
  • ENER 006
Geographic coverage:

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


Key assessment

Energy-related emissions account for the majority of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions, while only a small fraction of ammonia (NH3) emissions occur from energy production and use. These pollutants all contribute to acid deposition, leading to potential 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 because acidifying pollutants also contribute to the formation in the atmosphere of fine particulates it also indirectly contributes to human respiratory diseases. Other adverse health impacts can arise if acidification affects groundwater that is used for public water supply.

EU-25 energy-related acidifying emissions are responsible for 65 % of the total acidifying emissions in 2004, underlining the large contribution that energy use makes to both local and transboundary air pollution. In the case of NOx and SO2, the share of energy-related emissions is even higher with energy-related sectors contributing over 95 % to total emissions for each of these respective pollutants.

Energy-related acidifying emissions decreased by 58 % over the period 1990-2004, more than from other sources. In the EU-15 this has mainly been due to improved abatement technology and increased rates of implementation of these technologies, switching from coal and heavy fuel oil to natural gas, the increased share of low sulphur fuels, and improved energy efficiency. In the new EU-10 Member States, the main reasons for the decrease in emissions include the combined effect of economic restructuring, reduced energy consumption, closing of inefficient plants, reduced use of sulphurous fuels and the increased market penetration of pollution abatement technologies such as flue gas desulphurisation.

The energy supply sector (power production etc) was responsible for the largest decrease in emissions of energy-related acidifying pollutants in the EU-25 between 1990 and 2004 in absolute terms as well as in relative terms (-65 %), with the 'services and household' sectors showing a similar percentage decrease of emissions. In the latter sectors, this was mainly due to a decrease of SO emissions caused by use of less sulphurous fuels (including fuel switching etc). 2In the electricity production sector, combustion modification and flue-gas treatment have been used to reduce NOx emissions (see EN09 for details). One of the most common forms of combustion modification is to use low NOx burners, which typically can reduce NOx emissions by up to 40 %. Flue gas treatment can also be used to remove NOx from the flue gases. Transport emissions of acidifying pollutants across the EU-25 have also decreased significantly by 36 % between 1990 and 2004, largely due to the introduction of catalytic converters on new cars since the early 1990s. Across Europe there is an increasing awareness of the contribution made to acidifying pollutant emissions by ship traffic. (A detailed discussion of this issue is contained in TERM indicator fact sheet TERM03 - Transport emissions of air pollutants.) Many of these actions were implemented as a result of various European policies and measures, including the IPPC Directive, the Large Combustion Plant Directive and vehicle EURO standards (see section 2.2).

The majority of EU-25 Member States have contributed to the reduction in overall emissions of acidifying substances. In particular, many of the EU-10 Member States have already met or exceeded their indicative targets under the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD) due to structural changes in their economies, such as the decline in heavy industry and the closure of older inefficient power plants. This has led to a decline of over 50 % in many cases, even though total per capita emissions often still remain high. However, some EU-15 Member States are currently not well on track to meet their 2010 emissions targets under the NECD.


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