Indicator Assessment

Large combustion plants operating in Europe

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-426-en
  Also known as: INDP 001
Published 05 Dec 2017 Last modified 11 May 2021
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  • There are 3 418 large combustion plants in the EU-28. The number of such plants increased by 19 % between 2004 and 2015. Most of this increase occurred between 2004 and 2010, while there was a slight downward trend from 2012 onwards.

  • There was a 10 % increase in installed capacity in the EU-28 between 2004 and 2015. This increase occurred between 2004 and 2012, followed by a downward trend from 2012 onwards.

  • The actual use of this capacity, in terms of fuel input, remained broadly stable between 2004 and 2010, although there was a decrease in 2009 that can largely be attributed to the financial crisis. Since 2010, fuel input has decreased, and in 2015 was 17 % lower than in 2010.

  • From 2004 to 2015, other solid fuels (mainly coal) and natural gas were consistently the main sources of fuel input. The types of fuel consumed most in 2015 were solid fuels (mainly coal; 55 % of total fuel consumption) and natural gas (26 %). Despite this, since 2006 the amount of input from fossil fuels has been decreasing. This reflects the shift in Europe’s energy system away from oil, coal and gas to more renewable sources (EEA, 2017). 

  • The installed capacity of large combustion plants in Europe is not equally distributed: Germany, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom accounted for more than half of total fuel input and operating capacity in 2015.
This indicator is discontinued. No more assessments will be produced.

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


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

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 trends in capacity class

In 2015, 3 418 LCPs were reported under the LCP Directive. As shown in Figure 1, this is a 19 % increase since 2004. This increase occurred mostly between 2004 and 2010 and since 2012, the number of plants has been decreasing. The highest number of LCPs was recorded in 2012, when there were 3 534 plants. Between 2012 and 2015, the number of plants decreased by approximately 3 %.  Between 2014 and 2015, the number of plants decreased by 1 %.

In 2015, small (50-100 MWth) and medium-sized (100-300 MWth) LCPs dominated in Europe, accounting for 67 % of the total number of LCPs. Large LCPs (300-500 MWth) were relatively less present in the EU while very large LCPs (greater than 500 MWth) represented nearly one quarter of total capacity. This reflects the various uses of LCPs in Europe where different sizes are more adequate for certain activities. For example, smaller plants are better suited to district heating or co-generation of heat and power, while large plants offer economies of scale in the power sector.

Installed thermal capacity

Very large LCPs obviously dominated in terms of total installed capacity over the rest of categories, accounting for almost 70 % of total European capacity in 2015 (946 GWth). Total capacity peaked in 2012 and has declined since then,but remained 10 % higher in 2015 than in 2004. In the context of the European Energy Roadmap 2050, a systemic transition is required to shift Europe away from further investment in thermal energy plants and towards low-carbon alternatives. While the trends of installed capacity start to show changes in that direction, a recent EEA study (EEA, 2016) highlighted that the transition needed in the energy sector towards alternative technologies is lagging[1].

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

Fuel input data offers interesting insights on 1) how much capacity is effectively used and 2) the proportion of fuel types, which represent very different environmental concerns.

In the first case, the fuel consumption of LCPs varied between 2004 and 2015 (Figure 3). Overall, fuel consumption decreased by 19 % in this period. The majority of this decrease occurred between 2010 and 2015 (-17 %) and can be attributed to decreases in the consumption of natural gas (-35 % since 2010) and liquid fuels (-48 % since 2010). The trend directly follows the dip in fuel input in 2009, which was likely a result of the financial crisis. Biomass is the only type of fuel for which consumption increased steadily over the 2004-2015 period (except in 2007).

The various fuel types represent different environmental concerns. Fossil fuels are a concern due to their contribution to climate change. Coal (included in 'other solid fuels') is considered the worst fuel option in terms of climate change and air pollution impacts. Although 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. In 2015, 'other solid fuels' made up 55 % of total fuel consumption, with the next largest contribution from natural gas (26 %). Use of biomass as a fuel more than doubled between 2004 and 2015, but in 2015 still only represented 5 % of total fuel consumption. The use of both liquid fuels and natural gas decreased over this period by 71 % and 16 %, respectively. Other solid fuel consumption (largely coal) remained the biggest contributor to total LCP fuel consumption between 2004 and 2015, despite consumption of other solid fuels decreasing by 21 % during the same period.

Installed capacity in 2015 by country and capacity class


Reported fuel input in 2015 by country and fuel type


Trends in installed capacity

LCPs are not distributed evenly across Europe, with a few countries dominating in terms of total fuel input and operating capacity. In 2015, four countries (Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom) contributed 52 % of total operating capacity (Figure 4). In these four countries, the installed capacity is heavily dominated by LCPs of the largest capacity class. In Germany, for example, 75 % of the total installed capacity is from plants with a capacity of greater than 500 MWth. Nonetheless, in 2015, among EU-28 countries, Germany had the highest operating capacity within three of the capacity classes: 17 % of the total in the 50-100 MWth capacity class, 20 % in the 101-300 MWth capacity class and 23 % in the greater than 500 MWth capacity class. Italy was responsible for 19 % of operating capacity within the 301-500 MWth class. Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, Slovenia and Slovakia, on the other hand, each accounted for less than 1 % of the total operating capacity.

Trends in fuel input

Germany, Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom contributed 59 % of total fuel input (Figure 5). In 2015, Germany reported the largest fuel input for other solid fuels (32 % of the EU-28 total), other gases (23 %) and liquid fuels input (19 %). Italy reported the largest natural gas input (20 % of the EU-28 total) and the United Kingdom had the largest biomass input (19 %). Finland, Poland and Sweden reported large amounts of biomass input (together 39 % of the EU-28 total), but only a combined 14 % of EU-28 fuel consumption for total fuels. Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, Sweden, Slovenia and Slovakia 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, 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 2004-2016 (the most recent year with officially reported emissions; EEA, 2018a).


The units used in this indicator are:

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

Rated thermal input, measured in 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 have been 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 sets 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 take an integrated approach to the whole environmental performance of plants. 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): plants with activities over certain thresholds 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. BATs refer to the most effective, and economically and technically viable methods of operation that reduce emissions and 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 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.


No target specified.

Related policy documents



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.



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

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
This indicator is discontinued. No more assessments will be produced.
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Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage


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