Indicator Assessment

Large combustion plants operating in Europe

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-426-en
  Also known as: INDP 001
Published 30 Oct 2019 Last modified 30 Oct 2019
7 min read

There are 3 664 large combustion plants in the EU-28.

Installed capacity increased by 4 % overall between 2004 and 2017. The trend reached a maximum in 2012.

The use of biomass, tripled from 2004 to 2017, although it was still used in relatively low amounts (6 % of the total in 2017).

Solid fuels (coal, lignite, peat and other solid fossil fuels) and natural gas remain the main sources of fuel input but the amount used decreased by around 25 % in the period. This could reflect the shift in Europe’s energy system from oil, coal and gas to renewable sources. 

The installed capacity of large combustion plants is not equally distributed across Europe: Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Poland, Spain and France (in order of rank), accounted for more than 65 % of total fuel input and operating capacity in 2017.

Number of large combustion plants in the EU-28 by capacity class


Installed thermal capacity in large combustion plants in the EU-28 by capacity class


Reported fuel input used in large combustion plants in the EU-28 by fuel type


In the period 2004-2015, large combustion plant (LCP) reporting was covered by Directive 2001/80/EC, while in 2016 LCPs were subject to reporting in accordance with Directive 2010/75/EU. The scope of this latter directive is slightly wider and thus covers plants that were not subject to reporting before 2015. This partly explains the increase observed in the number of LCPs between 2015 and 2017.

LCPs release emissions to air, water and land. The aim of EU policy on LCPs is to reduce such emissions — including waste — to protect the environment. One focus of current EU policy is to reduce the emissions of acidifying pollutants, particulate matter and ozone precursors from LCPs.

Directive 2010/75/EU (Industrial Emission Directive, IED) entered fully into force in 2016 and replaced, with its Chapter III, Directive 2001/80/EC (the LCP Directive). The IED sets minimum requirements for emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and dust (PM10) from plants under its scope (those with greater than 50 MWth of installed capacity). The IED also sets requirements beyond these three pollutants for other aspects of LCP functioning, which must be met in order to obtain an integrated permit.

It is important to note that the change of legal regime, in 2016, hampers the comparability of data from the period 2004-2015 with data from 2016 onwards, as the definition of an LCP is slightly different in the IED from in the LCP Directive, as a result of the so-called aggregation rules of the IED.

LCPs vary significantly in size. Four capacity classes have been established for this indicator:

  • small LCPs, with a thermal input between 50 and 100 MWth
  • medium-sized LCPs, with a thermal input between 101 and 300 MWth
  • large LCPs, with a thermal input between 301 and 500 MWth
  • very large LCPs, with a thermal input greater than 500 MWth.
  • Number of large combustion plants and capacity class trends

    In 2017, 3 664 LCPs were reported on under the scope of the IED. As shown in Fig. 1, this is a 27 % increase since 2004. Part of this increase can be explained by the slightly wider scope of reporting from 2016 as a result of the implementation of the IED.

    However, this increase occurred mostly between 2004 and 2010 and, between 2012 and 2015, the number of plants decreased. The increase between 2015 and 2016 is likely to be a result of this difference in scope, although a detailed analysis to confirm this had not been done at the time of writing.  

    In 2017, small (50-100 MWth) and medium-sized (100-300 MWth) LCPs dominated in Europe, accounting for 70 % of the total number of LCPs. Large LCPs (300-500 MWth) were relatively less common in the EU while very large LCPs (greater than 500 MWth) represented nearly 21 % of total capacity. This reflects the various uses of LCPs in Europe, where different sizes are more suitable for certain activities. For example, smaller plants are better suited to district heating or the co-generation of heat and power, while large plants offer economies of scale in the power sector.

    Installed thermal capacity

    Very large LCPs clearly dominate in terms of total installed capacity, accounting for 65 % of total European capacity in 2017 (832 GWth). Total capacity peaked in 2012 and has declined since then but remained 4 % higher in 2017 than in 2004. In the context of the EU's 2050 long-term strategy, a systemic transition is required to shift Europe towards a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions economy [1] . While the trends in installed capacity start to show changes in that direction, a recent study by the European Environment Agency (EEA) (EEA, 2018) highlighted that a more fundamental restructuring of the power sector will, however, be needed to meet the EU's long-term decarbonisation goal [2].

    Reported fuel input use: overall quantity and trends for specific fuels

    Fuel input data offer interesting insights on (1) how much capacity is effectively used and (2) the proportions used of the various fuel types, which give rise to very different environmental concerns.

    In the first case, LCP fuel consumption varied between 2004 and 2017 (Fig. 3). Overall, fuel consumption decreased by 21 % between 2004 and 2017. The majority of this decrease occurred between 2010 and 2017 (during which time there was a decrease of 18 %) and can be attributed to decreases in the consumption of solid fuels (-27 % since 2010) and natural gas (-14 % since 2010) . This trend directly follows the dip in fuel input in 2009, which was most likely a result of the economic downturn. Biomass is the only type of fuel for which consumption steadily increased over the period 2004-2017.

    The proportions used of the various fuel types give rise to very different environmental concerns. Fossil fuels are a concern because of their contribution to climate change. Solid fuels, including coal and lignite, are considered the worst fuel option in terms of the impacts on climate change and air pollution. While natural gas is considered a 'cleaner option' (less SO2 and dust emitted), there are still concerns from a climate change perspective. The mix of fuels has remained largely stable across the years. However, the overall trend seems to indicate that solid and liquid fuel use is decreasing more rapidly than for other fuel types. Still, in 2017, solid fuels accounted for 44 % of total fuel consumption, with the next largest contribution from natural gas (35 %). The amount of fossil fuels used in the sector decreased by around 25 % between 2004 and 2017, with the downward trend starting in 2009. This reflects the shift in Europe’s energy system from oil, coal and gas to renewable sources (EEA, 2018 [3]). Use of biomass as a fuel more than tripled between 2004 and 2017, but in 2017 still accounted for only 6 % of total fuel consumption. The use of liquid fuels decreased over this period by 70 %. Solid fuel consumption (for which coal represents 57 %) remained the largest contributor to total LCP fuel consumption between 2004 and 2017, despite a decrease of 38 % during the same period.



    [2] EEA, 2018, 'Greening the power sector: benefits of an ambitious implementation of Europe’s environment and climate policies', EEA Briefing No 18/2018.

  • [3] EEA, 2018, Renewable energy in Europe 2018: recent growth and knock-on effects, EEA Report No 20/2018.

Installed capacity in 2017 by country and capacity class


Fuel inputs used in 2017 by country and fuel type


Trends in installed capacity

LCPs are not distributed evenly across Europe and a few countries dominate in terms of total fuel input and operating capacity. In 2017, four countries — Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and Poland (in order of rank) — accounted for 50 % of total operating capacity (Fig. 4). In these four countries, the installed capacity is heavily dominated by the very large LCPs class. In Germany, for example, 73 % of total installed capacity is accounted for by very large LCPs (greater than 500 MWth). Nonetheless, in 2017 Germany had the highest operating capacity within three of the capacity classes in the EU-28: 14 % of the total for small LCPs (50-100 MWth), 18 % of the total for medium LCPs (101-300 MWth) and 23 % of the total for very large LCPs (greater than 500 MWth). Italy was responsible for 15 % of operating capacity for large LCPs (301-500 MWth). Estonia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Croatia, Slovenia, Cyprus,  Latvia, and Malta (in order of rank) on the other hand each accounted for less than 1 % of total operating capacity.

Trends in fuel input

Germany, Poland, Italy and the United Kingdom (in order of rank) accounted for 54 % of total fuel input (Fig. 5). In 2017, Germany accounted for the largest proportion of fuel input for solid fuels (26 % of the EU-28 total, followed by Poland with 23 %) and other gases (26 %). France accounted for the largest proportion of fuel input for liquid fuels input (17 % of the EU-28 total, followed by Germany with 15 %). The United Kingdom and Italy accounted for the largest proportions of natural gas input (20 % and 19 %, respectively, of the EU-28 total). Sweden and the United Kingdom accounted for the largest proportions of biomass input (21 % and 17 %, respectively, of the EU-28 total). In 2017, the reported quantity of biomass input was 1.8 times more than the reported quantity of liquid fuel input. Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia, and Slovenia each accounted for less than 1 % of total fuel consumption.

Supporting information

Indicator definition

This indicator provides a profile of the number of LCPs operating in Europe, their installed capacity and the mix of fuels they use. It is based on data from 2004 onwards. The geographical coverage comprises the EU-28 countries (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom).

In 2019, Luxembourg did not report any data for 2017. Only one facility was declared the previous year.

In the period 2004-2015, LCPs were covered by Directive 2001/80/EC, while in 2016 LCPs were subject to reporting in accordance with Directive 2010/75/EU. The scope of this latter directive is slightly wider and thus covers plants that were not subject to reporting before 2015.

The temporal coverage is the period 2004-2017 (latest dataset: LCP_database_v5.2).


Total fuel consumption is measured in terajoules (TJ) per year or gigajoules (GJ) per year.

Rated thermal input is measured in megawatt thermal (MWth) or gigawatt thermal (GWth).


Policy context and targets

Context description

The EU has had policies on emissions from combustion plants since the 1980s. Between 2004 and 2015, two pieces of EU law were in place: the LCP Directive and the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive (EC, 2010). This EU legislation imposed specific emission limit values on emissions of NOx, SO2 and dust from plants with a thermal rated input equal to or greater than 50 MW. Since 1 January 2016, this legislation has been replaced by the IED (EC, 2010).

The aim of EU policy on LCPs is to reduce emissions to air, water and land, including measures related to waste, to achieve a high level of protection of the environment as a whole. The focus with regard to LCPs is to reduce emissions of acidifying pollutants, particles and ozone precursors while also covering other environmental concerns (e.g. mercury emissions).

Legal instruments that address emissions from large combustion plants

Emissions from LCPs are subject to several EU-wide regulations:

  • The IED (EC, 2010): IED permits are based on an integrated approach to overall environmental performance. For LCPs, and several other activities, the IED sets emission limit values for SO2, NOx and dust. Permit conditions, including emission limit values, are based on best available techniques (BATs). The BAT reference document (BREF) and BAT conclusions on LCPs were published in 2017.
  • The European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR) (EC, 2006a): plants with activities over certain thresholds must report releases of pollutants, off-site transfers of waste and pollutants in waste water, and releases of pollutants from diffuse sources to the E-PRTR.

Permit conditions including emission limit values must be based on BATs. The term ‘best available techniques’ refers to the most effective, and economically and technically viable methods of operation that reduce emissions and the impact on the environment.

To define BATs, the European Commission organises an exchange of information between Member State experts, industry and environmental organisations. This process results in the production of BREFs. Each BREF contains information on the techniques and processes used in a specific industrial sector in the EU, current emission and fuel consumption trends, and techniques for the determination of BATs, as well as emerging techniques.


No target specified.

Related policy documents



Methodology for indicator calculation

The LCP database (LCP_database_v5.2) is used for the calculations in this analysis. For each plant, total fuel consumption (a sum of fuel consumption from all fuel types) and capacity class (based on a plant's rated thermal input (in MWth)) are calculated. Plants are grouped into five capacity classes: >500 MWth (‘very large LCPs’), 301-500 MWth (‘large LCPs’), 101-300 MWth (‘medium-sized LCPs’), 50-100 MWth (‘small LCPs’) and <50 MWth. The last of these (<50 MWth) is excluded from this indicator.

Methodology for gap filling

For the earliest years in the time series, capacity data (in MWth) were missing for some plants. Where possible, capacity data (in MWth) from an adjacent year’s reporting for that plant was used to gap fill.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.



Methodology uncertainty

This indicator covers the EU-28 countries. However, there are no data for Croatia for 2004-2009. Data for Croatia have not been gap filled. In the years for which data for Croatia were reported, the data account for less than 1 % of the total number of LCPs, total emissions and total fuel consumption in the EU-28. This is, therefore, considered to cause only a minor distortion of the overall trend.

Data sets uncertainty

Although the reporting requirements began in 2004, it is possible that the data for the first period (2004-2006) contain some gaps.

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified.

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • INDP 001
Frequency of updates
Updates are scheduled once per year
EEA Contact Info


Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage



Filed under: industry, energy, air emissions
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