Saturday, April 06, 2019

Europe's Coal Curtain

The quality of air in Eastern Europe is far worse than the air breathed by Western Europeans. The European Air Quality Index almost always shows a clear air quality divide between Eastern and Western Europe. One huge reason for this divide is probably Eastern Europe's reliance on coal power.

The European Air Quality Index visualizes the short-term air quality across Europe. The map is based on the data from more than two thousand air quality monitoring stations across the continent. The initial map view shows the air quality from '6 hours ago'. However you can use the time control to view any hour in the previous two days. If you press play and watch the full 48 hours you will probably notice that most of the air quality monitoring stations with red markers, showing 'poor' or 'very poor' air quality, are situated in the east of Europe.

One reason why Eastern Europe has such bad air pollution could be its reliance on coal power. Western Europe (except for Germany) has largely moved away from using coal power. Europe Beyond Coal has an interactive map showing coal power plants in Europe. On the map you can see that there are far more coal power plants in Eastern Europe than in the west of the continent. With the usual caveat that correlation isn't causation there appears to be more coal power plants in the areas of Europe which regularly have poor air quality.

The Europe Beyond Coal map allows you to filter the power plants by the most dirty, the most damaging to health and by those using lignite. Lignite, or 'brown coal', is a soft form of coal with a relatively low heat content. Lignite contains a lot more water content than 'hard' coal. It therefore has less energy potential per mass unit and therefore a higher amount of lignite needs to be burnt to provide the same amount of energy as hard coal. According to the Dark Cloud (PDF) report into Europe's coal industry 7 of the top 10 most polluting coal power plants in Europe are powered by lignite. Most of those 7 are in Eastern Europe.

1 comment:

andreas schneider said...

you may have a look at for another view ;-)
also available in 3D on GoogleEarth:
visualizations are based on data collected by https://aqicn,org