Large combustion plants operating in Europe

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-426-en
Also known as: INDP 001
Created 17 Feb 2017 Published 19 Apr 2017 Last modified 10 Oct 2017
13 min read
In 2014, there were just over 3 400 large combustion plants (LCPs) in the EU-28. The number of such plants increased by 10 % between 2004 and 2014. Most of this increase occurred between 2004 and 2010, with the trend stabilising after 2010. There was also an 19 % increase in installed capacity in the EU-28 between 2004 and 2014. The actual use of this capacity, in terms of the fuel input, remained broadly stable between 2004 and 2008, but since 2010 there has been a decreasing trend in total fuel used by large combustion plants in the EU-28. Fuel input fired in 2009 was 7 % lower than in 2008 and 3 % lower than in 2010. The mix of fuels used remained largely stable over this time, although with a shift away from liquid fuels towards biomass. Between 2010 and 2014, the consumption of solid fuels increased while that of natural gas decreased. The types of fuel consumed most in 2014 were solid fuels (mainly coal; 56 % of total fuel consumption) and natural gas (24 %). The installed capacity of large combustion plants in Europe is not equally distributed: Germany, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom together accounted for more than 50 % of total fuel input and operating capacity in 2014.

Key messages

In 2014, there were just over 3 400 large combustion plants (LCPs) in the EU-28. The number of such plants increased by 10 % between 2004 and 2014. Most of this increase occurred between 2004 and 2010, with the trend stabilising after 2010.

There was also an 19 % increase in installed capacity in the EU-28 between 2004 and 2014.

The actual use of this capacity, in terms of the fuel input, remained broadly stable between 2004 and 2008, but since 2010 there has been a decreasing trend in total fuel used by large combustion plants in the EU-28. Fuel input fired in 2009 was 7 % lower than in 2008 and 3 % lower than in 2010.

The mix of fuels used remained largely stable over this time, although with a shift away from liquid fuels towards biomass. Between 2010 and 2014, the consumption of solid fuels increased while that of natural gas decreased. The types of fuel consumed most in 2014 were solid fuels (mainly coal; 56 % of total fuel consumption) and natural gas (24 %).

The installed capacity of large combustion plants in Europe is not equally distributed: Germany, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom together accounted for more than 50 % of total fuel input and operating capacity in 2014.

What changes have occurred in the large combustion plant sector in the European Union?

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

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

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

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Large combustion plants (LCPs) release emissions to air, water and land. The aim of EU policy on LCPs is to reduce such emissions — including measures on waste — in order to achieve a high level of protection for the environment as a whole. The focus for LCPs is to reduce emissions of acidifying pollutants, particles and ozone precursors. Directive 2001/80/EC (the LCP Directive) was introduced in 2001 and sets limits for emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulates from LCPs (> 50 MWth installed capacity).

Trends in the number of large combustion plants

In 2014, 3 446 LCPs were reported under the LCP Directive. As shown in Fig. 1, this is a 10 % increase since 2004. This increase occurred mostly between 2004 and 2010. Between 2010 and 2014, the change in the number of plants decreased by approximately 1 % during this period. The highest number of LCPs was recorded in 2012 when there were 3 552 plants. Between 2013 and 2014, the number of plants decreased by 2 %.  

Trends in capacity class                                                                                                             

The smaller capacity classes represent a large proportion of the total number of plants: in 2014, LCPs with capacities of between 50 and 100 MWth and 101 and 300 MWth represented approximately one third of plants each. In comparison, only 10 % of LCPs had a capacity of between 301 and 500 MWth in 2014, and 24 % had a capacity of > 500 MWth. Between 2004 and 2014, the largest increase occurred in the number of plants in the largest capacity class (39 %). The number of plants with a capacity of between 50 and 100 MWth decreased by 13 % during this period. Between 2013 and 2014, the number of LCPs decreased by 1-6 % for all capacity classes, except the largest capacity class, for which the number of LCPs increased by 1.   

Trends in installed capacity

LCPs with a capacity of between 50 and 300 MWth (two thirds of the number of LCPs) contributed only one fifth (286 GWth) of the total installed capacity in 2014 (1 393 GWth). The majority, 70%, of the installed capacity was contributed by plants with a capacity of > 500 MWth. Fig. 2 shows that there was a 20 % increase in installed capacity, from 1 174 GWth to 1 412 GWth, between 2004 and 2010. Between 2010 and 2014, the installed capacity stabilised, decreasing by just 1 % over this period. Installed capacity was at its highest (1 441 GWth) in 2012, and this decreased by 3 % between 2012 and 2014. The total installed capacity increased by 19 % between 2004 and 2014.

Trends in fuel input

The fuel consumption of LCPs between 2004 and 2014 varied (Fig. 3). Overall, fuel consumption decreased by 17 % between 2004 and 2014. The majority of this decrease occurred between 2010 and 2014 (15 %) and can be attributed to decreases in the consumption of natural gas (–38 % since 2010) and to a lesser extent liquid fuels (–27 % since 2010). The trend clearly reflects the effects of the 2008/2009 economic downturn with a decrease in fuel inputs in 2009. After a recovery in 2010, there was a clear downwards trend in overall consumption. Biomass is the only type of fuel for which consumption has been steadily increasing over the 2004-2014 period (except in 2007).

Trends in fuel type

The mix of fuels has remained largely stable across the years. In 2014, 'other solid fuels' contributed 56 % of total fuel consumption, with the next largest contribution from natural gas (24 %). Use of biomass as a fuel more than doubled between 2004 and 2014, but in 2014 biomass represented only 4 % of the total fuel consumption. The use of both liquid fuels and natural gas decreased over this period. Liquid fuel consumption decreased by 59 % between 2004 and 2014, decreasing from 9 % of total fuel consumption in 2004 to 4 % in 2014. Natural gas consumption decreased by 19 % between 2004 and 2014, decreasing from 25 % of total fuel consumption in 2004 to 24 % in 2014.

Which European Union Member States have the highest number of large combustion plants?

Installed capacity in 2014 by country and capacity class

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Reported fuel input in 2014 by country and fuel type

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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 2014, four countries — Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom — contributed 53 % of total operating capacity (Fig. 4). In these four countries, the installed capacity is heavily dominated by LCPs of the largest capacity class. For example in Germany, 75 % of installed capacity is from plants with a capacity of > 500 MWth. Within operating capacity classes, Germany had the highest operating capacity within the 50-100 MWth (17 % of EU-28 total), 101-300 MWth (20 %) and > 500 MWth (22 %) classes in 2014. Italy was responsible for 19 % of operating capacity within the 301-500 MWth class. Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal and Slovenia each contributed less than 1 % of the total operating capacity.

Trends in fuel input

Germany, Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom contributed 62 % of total fuel input (Fig. 5). In 2014, Germany reported the largest fuel input for other solid fuels (32 % of EU-28 total) and other gases (26 %). The United Kingdom reported the largest natural gas input (24 % of EU-28 total) and liquid fuels input (33 %), and Poland the largest biomass input (15 %). Both Finland and Sweden report large amounts of biomass input (together 28 % of EU-28 total), but less than 2 % of the EU-28 fuel consumption for total fuels.  Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovenia, Slovakia and Sweden each contributed less than 1 % of total fuel consumption.

Indicator specification and metadata

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, the Czech Republic, 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).

The temporal coverage is 2004-2015 (the most recent year with officially reported emissions; EEA, 2017a).

Units

Total fuel consumption — terajoules (TJ)/year or gigajoules (GJ)/year.

Rated thermal input — megawatt thermal (MWth) or gigawatt thermal (GWth).


Policy context and targets

Context description

The EU has had a policy on emissions from combustion plants since the 1980s. Between 2004 and 2013, two pieces of EU law were in place: the LCP Directive (EC, 2001) and the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive (EC, 2008). EU law 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 Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) (EC, 2010).

The aim of the EU policy on LCPs is to reduce emissions to air, water and land, including measures related to waste, in order to achieve a high level of protection of the environment as a whole. The focus for LCPs is to reduce their emissions of acidifying pollutants, particles and ozone precursors.

Legal instruments that address emissions from large combustion plants

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

  • The LCP Directive (EC, 2001): this set emission limit values for SO2, NOx and dust from combustion plants with a rated thermal input of 50 MW or more.
  • The IED (EC, 2010): IED permits use an integrated approach to whole 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). According to the IED, a site visit must take place at least every 1-3 years. On 1 January 2016, the IED replaced the LCP Directive.
  • The European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR) (EC, 2006a): for plants with activities over certain thresholds, they must report to the E-PRTR on releases of pollutants, off-site transfers of waste and pollutants in wastewater, and releases of pollutants from diffuse sources.

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 the BATs, the European Commission organises an exchange of information between Member State experts, industry and environmental organisations. This process results in the production of BAT reference documents (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 to consider for the determination of BATs, as well as emerging techniques.

A BREF for LCPs was adopted in July 2006 (EC, 2006b). It contains information on BATs for energy generation, combustion techniques from various fuel types, and processes and techniques for reducing emissions, including noise.

Targets

No target specified.

Related policy documents

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

Queries are applied to the LCP database (EEA, 2017a) for the calculations necessary 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 (MWth)) are calculated. Plants are grouped into five capacity classes: > 500 MWth, 301-500 MWth, 101-300 MWth, 50-100 MWth and < 50 MWth. The last of these (< 50 MWth) is excluded from this indicator.

Methodology for gap filling

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

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

This indicator covers the EU-28 countries. However, there are no data for Croatia for 2004-2009. Croatia data have not been gap-filled; in the years for which data for Croatia have been reported, the data account for less than 1 % of total EU-28 emissions and fuel consumption. 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 reported period (2004-2006) contain some gaps.

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified.

Data sources

Generic metadata

Topics:

information.png Tags:
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DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • INDP 001
Temporal coverage:

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Bastian Zeiger

EEA Management Plan

2016 1.2.2 (note: EEA internal system)

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100