Reducing air pollution from electricity-generating large combustion plants in the European Union


Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

In 2008, the European Environment Agency (EEA) published a first assessment of the theoretical potential to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOX) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) from electricitygenerating large combustion plants (LCPs) (EEA, 2008). That earlier study showed that improving the environmental performance of existing LCPs by applying best available techniques potentially could have reduced NOX emissions by up to 59 %, and SO2 emissions by as much as 80 % in the year 2004. These earlier emission reduction estimates were based on data from 450 electricity-generating LCPs in the then EU-25 that had been included in the now-discontinued European Pollutant Emission Register (EPER).

Since 2004, data reported by Member States shows that emissions of NOX, SO2 and dust from all LCPs have fallen. More specifically, between 2004 and 2009, EU-27 total emissions of NOX from the sector decreased by 30 %, of SO2 by 53 % and of dust by 58 % (AMEC, 2012). It is important to note that not all this reduction has occurred solely due to a further implementation of best available techniques (BAT), but rather by a combination of factors also including, for example, the economic recession and its subsequent impacts on energy demand, increased uptake of renewable energy and the closure of certain power plants.

This report presents results from an updated assessment of the hypothetical emission reduction potential of NOX, SO2 and dust from European LCPs for the year 2009. This new assessment is based upon improved statistics increasing the accuracy of the analysis compared to the earlier report, notably the latest available emission and fuel-use data from 2009 reported by Member States under the Large Combustion Plant Directive (2001/80/EC) (LCPD; EU, 2001).

The European Commission has proposed an enhanced focus on implementation in the context of the 7th Environment Action Programme. Filling gaps in the knowledge base in order to optimise policy responses will become increasingly important in the face of the challenges and opportunities to enhance cross-cutting policy coherence. Compared with the existing situation, emissions from LCPs are expected to further decrease in the future with the implementation of the Industrial Emission Directive (2010/75/EU) (IED; EU, 2010) and its more stringent emission limit values (ELVs) that are to be met by 2016 for existing plants. The publication of the latest 2009 LCPD dataset has therefore provided an opportunity to assess the magnitude of the difference between actual emissions reported for that year and the level of emissions that would theoretically occur were the same set of plants to achieve emission levels corresponding with the IED ELVs. For comparative purposes, the report also presents a comparison of the reported 2009 emissions with the LCPD ELVs and the lower BAT associated emission levels (BAT AELs) — the latter to serve as a proxy for a potential 'maximum feasible' emission reduction.

The LCP pollutants NOX and SO2 are major contributors to acid deposition, leading to soil and freshwater acidification, which damages plants and aquatic habitats and can corrode building materials. Both pollutants also contribute to the formation of secondary particulate matter (PM) in the atmosphere following their release, while NOX also react with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight to form ground-level ozone (O3). At present, primary and secondary PM and O3 are Europe's most problematic pollutants in terms of harm to human health (EEA, 2012a). NOX, SO2 and dust adversely affect local air quality, but also contribute to transboundary pollution causing harm to health and environment even at distant locations.

This report presents an estimation of the theoretical emission reduction potential from Europe's largest thermal power plants and compares the 2009 emissions data reported under the LCPD (EEA, 2012b) with the future applicable ELVs as defined in the IED, excluding all exempted circumstances.

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