EU directives and UK air quality
Air pollution is frequently cited as one of the largest contributors to health issues. Last month alone, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons released a report linking poor air quality to 40,000 deaths a year in the UK; while an earlier study found that streets in central London have some of the highest concentrations of nitrogen dioxide in the world.
The data linking air quality and human health is so stark that the EU has developed a series of new directives to force municipal authorities to take action.
One of the key directives enforced in the UK this year is the Medium Combustion Plant Directive, which will require any energy plant between 1MW and 50MW thermal input to reduce flue emissions to very low levels.
Quite rightly, the EU has pointed out that no city will be able to deal with air quality if point source emissions continue unabated.
However, this emerging directive directly conflicts with many local authority climate change and sustainability policies, which are looking to deliver medium scale combustion in order to feed heat networks for new land development projects.
Whilst DEFRA have yet to define any particular air quality targets or indeed set out how they intend to apply the directive, we do know that its impetus is to stop unabated emissions in city regions failing to meet EU limit values.
This ambiguity poses a challenge when designing energy centres for district heating. We know the directive will be implemented by 2018, but until such time as we know the air targets that DEFRA will apply, as engineers we won’t have all the information we need for plant design.
The simple solution to this is to ensure all plants are rated below 1MW within new energy centres; thereby circumventing the directive. But this still doesn’t resolve the air quality issues within our cities or deal with the health impacts these emissions will create.
Air quality is increasingly become a key metric in defining healthier cities. With health being a priority in the multi-layered definition of sustainable development, this may be a perfect time to rethink sustainability policies that are forcing the delivery of energy centres with negative local air quality and health impacts.
This rethink is particularly pertinent in light of new technology now available to deliver better carbon emission reductions, instead of burning gas and pumping hot water around new developments.
If your existing plant or future projects are likely to be affected by the MCPD and you would be interested in exploring how the directive could affect operations, please contact Graham Harker here.