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CO2 intensity of heat and electricity generation (ENER 002) - Assessment DRAFT created Oct 2011

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Generic metadata


Energy Energy (Primary topic)

energy | pollutants | emissions
DPSIR: State
Typology: Efficiency indicator (Type C - Are we improving?)
Indicator codes
  • ENER 002
Temporal coverage:

Key policy question: How fast are we shifting towards a less carbon intensive electricity system in Europe?

Key messages

Renewable energy contributed significantly to reduction in CO2 intensity of the energy sector. In 2008, renewables contributed 10% in final energy consumption (see ENER28). Adding biomass to the traditional fossil fuel mix reduced the amount of CO2 (electricity-only) emitted per KWh electricity produced by 8% in 2008. Combining fossil fuels, nuclear and renewables led to a reduction of 44% in CO2 (electricity-only) emissions per KWh electricity produced in 2008.

Between 1992 and 2007 g CO2 emission per kWh of electricity and heat output decreased by 17% within the EU27 compared to the USA and China, where g CO2 emissions per kWh decreased by 6% and 5% respectively.  However, looking at the global trend CO2 emissions per kWh have increased by 8%.

CO2 Emissions per kWh of Electricity and Heat Output

Note: The figure shows the CO2 emissions per kWh of Electricity and Heat Output for the EU-27 level compared to the world, United States, the Russian Federation and China

Data source:


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CO2 (g) per KWh in 2009 (electricity only)

Note: The figure shows the CO2 generated electricity per kilo-Watt hour in 2009 per member country

Data source:
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Reduction in CO2 public electricity (g) per kWh 2000 to 2008

Note: The figure shows the CO2 public electricity reduction per kilo Watt hour from 2000 to 2008

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Estimated CO2 emission factors for public electricity production in EU-27, 2008

Note: The figure shows the estimated CO2 emission factor for public electricity production in EU-27

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Key assessment

Over the period 1990 to 2008 total electricity production increased by 35% whereas CO2 emissions from public electricity plant decreased by 4.3% in EEA 32 Member States. The electricity production from fossil fuel increased by 38%. Nuclear and renewables energy increased by 18% and 54% over the same period (see ENER27).

In 2008, a combination of high coal and carbon prices accompanied by a drop in natural gas prices in induced heat and electricity producers to replace more polluting coal by gas and as a result, reduce their GHG emissions. The use of biomass and other renewable sources (wind and hydroelectric power) has also increased significantly in 2008. The economic recession, which started in December 2007 also contributed to emission reductions from several sectors including the manufacturing and construction, and road transport sectors. Road transport emissions were also affected by high oil prices, the continued decline in gasoline consumption and a reversal of the upward trend in diesel sales.

Figure 2 shows the CO2 intensity of electricity production in the EEA32 countries. Iceland and Norway have the lowest CO2 emissions (in g) per KWh produced due the very high share of geothermal and hydro electric and wind power used respectively.  Estonia and Malta have a very CO2 intense electricity production sector due to the high share of fossil fuels in electricity production.

In January 2008, the European Commission proposed a new directive that mandates a 20% share of renewable energies in the EU's energy mix by 2020.  By the 30th June 2010 EU states have to present their National Renewable Energy Action Plans showing how they will meet their 2020 target sourcing 20% of energy from renewable sources.

Specific policy question: What is the contribution of various non-fossil generation capacities to the decarbonisation of the electricity system in Europe?

Specific assessment

Under the IPCC guidelines CO2 emissions from combustion of biomass fuels are not included in totals for the energy sector if the biomass is sustainably produced because it is assumed that the CO2 would have been released anyway from natural processes. If biomass is harvested at an unsustainable rate (e.g. faster than annual re-growth) the emissions will have to be reported in MS Inventories under Energy, creating an incentive for MS to firstly use biomass to reduce CO2 emissions and secondly use sustainably produced biomass. Figure 3 clearly indicates that the penetration of biomass into the fuel mix reduces overall CO2 emissions from electricity production.

The switch towards less polluting fuels was driven by a combination of factors including market liberalisation, an extended gas infrastructure and environmental legislation. The liberalization of the EU energy sector enables the consumer to choose more freely between suppliers increasing the competitiveness amongst energy providers. The EU has made even further proposals to separate the production and distribution of large energy firms to further dilute the monopoly status of large ERYU energy providers.

Figure 4 clearly indicates that an update of biomass within the fuel mix reduces the CO2 emissions/kWh by 8%. CO2 emissions reduce even further by 44% per kWh when mixing fossil fuels with nuclear and renewable to generate electricity.

Electricity produced in the EU-27 from nuclear fuels continued to grow in absolute terms from the 1990s through to 2004 and has declined since then. Nevertheless, it grew at a slower rate than total electricity production. This meant that by 2008 its share of total production was 27.5%, down from 30% in 2005. More recently, environmental concerns and concerns over security of supply and high energy prices led to a new debate in Europe over the prospects of nuclear power. 
Another important contributor to electricity production came from renewable sources, whose share grew over the period to reach 17.6% in 2008, up from 14% in 2005. The drop in 2002 and 2003 was due primarily to low hydro production, from lower than average levels of rainfall. Coal and gas maintain a high share in electricity production of about 50%, with natural gas increasing at a fast pace. For more information see EEA2010 draft report (insert link once published).


Specific policy question: How can the decarbonisation of the electricity system help the shift towards a more sustainable transport sector?

Specific assessment

The decarbonisation of the electricity system will become more and more important with the increasing use of electric cars. Emissions from electricity consumption in the transport sector are currently not allocated to the transport sector but rather to the utilities according to UNFCCC GHG inventory guidelines. One of the climate mitigation options in the transport sector, the only sector in Europe where GHG emissions continue to increase at accelerated pace, is a switch to electric and hybrid cars. Therefore decarbonisation of the electric network, together with increase in energy efficiency and energy savings, is essential if we aim to achieve substantial GHG emissions reductions in the transport sector. The iTREN-2030 project showed that the contribution of electric cars to the EU27 car fleet will increase in the future[1]

Data sources

More information about this indicator

See this indicator specification for more details.

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Cinzia Pastorello


EEA Management Plan

2010 2.8.1 (note: EEA internal system)


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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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