A smoke stack spitting black soot into the sunny sky

The Australian Energy Council (AEC) has released its latest National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) which found a fall in fine particulate emissions from coal-fired power stations as well as a decrease in all other emissions compared with data from 2021–22.

Particulate matter (PM) particles of all sizes have decreased in emissions. PM2.5 emissions fell 3.7 per cent in the latest report, and have fallen 20.1 per cent over the past five years and 38.3 per cent over the past decade. 

PM10 emissions saw a 4.9 per cent decrease compared to last year, and are down 14.9 per cent over the past five years and 19.1 per cent over the past ten years.

In other results, nitrogen oxides emissions were down by 5.9 per cent, the fifth consecutive year of reported reductions. Sulfur dioxide emissions dropped by 7.3 per cent after a slight increase last year. All emissions have decreased significantly over the past decade as listed below.

Pollutant Five-year reduction Ten-year reduction
Mercury -10.5% -25.0%
NOx -17.6% -22.3%
PM10 -14.9% -19.1%
PM2.5 -20.1% -38.3%
SO2 -15.4% -20.3% 

The most notable decline was in mercury emissions, which were 9.3 per cent lower year on year. This follows an unexpected increase last year of almost eleven per cent after four consecutive years of decreases. Mercury emissions are now down more than ten per cent over the past five years and down 25 per cent in the last decade.

An AEC spokesperson said this year’s results are positive and we should expect to see overall levels continue to fall over the next few years.

“A range of factors can result in noticeable shifts in emissions, particularly year-on-year, such as demand and availability of plant. Plant performance will also depend on how often they are dispatched by the market operator, changes in the operations of the plant, and the quality of the coal used. 

”Some individual plants have seen abnormal year-to-year variations as a result of variability in individual plant performances, however the critical data remains the overall sector trend which continues to be positive.”

Last year, coal-fired plants across Australia accounted for 63.4 per cent of generation, a decrease of more than 0.6 per cent on 2021–22.

“It’s important to note that for many of the important emissions, electricity is not the main contributor. The latest annual New South Wales Air Quality Statement showed that the state saw a decline in its air quality last year, with PM2.5 and PM10 levels increasing on 2022 levels in most locations.

”While large industrial emissions, including power plants, are often cited as the key source of air pollution, this latest New South Wales report shows the principal factor in the air quality results was variations in natural sources as a result of weather patterns.

“The most common causes of Particulate Matters in New South Wales are natural sources, which are not included in the National Pollutant Inventory Data. The 2022 Sydney Air Quality study found 52 per cent of PM2.5 particles came from natural sources, such as windblown dust and bushfires.

“Of the 48 per cent of man-made emissions, 42 per cent came from wood heaters, 21 per cent from industry, 17 per cent from road transport and 7 per cent from power stations, which is a decrease of 10 per cent on 2020 levels.

“Importantly, the NPI data and the New South Wales Air Quality Study shows, coal-fired emissions continue to trend downwards year on year, and this can be expected to continue as more renewable energy is added to the grid’s generation mix.

“Our members continue to focus on meeting their licence limits and minimising emissions where they can,” the AEC spokesperson said.

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