Not having CCS is like playing football without a goalkeeper

This week’s blog post comes from Zara Qadir, the Communications Manager at the Sustainable Gas Institute. The post is a follow up to our recent event around the future of carbon capture and storage in the UK, “Is CCS dead?“.

The next white paper from Sustainable Gas Institute will report on various technological and climate change scenarios and outline the role CCS has to play in limiting climate change on a global scale. To receive a copy please subscribe to their newsletter.

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Since the UK government scratched the £1bn Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) competition last year, there’s been a lot of debate about this controversial decision. Last week, Energy Futures Lab, British Institute of Energy Economics and the Energy Technologies Institute co-hosted a lively panel session at Imperial College exploring the future role of this technology in the UK.

So how do we give the kiss of life to CCS in the UK?
Sir Ed Davey, who is the former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change led the debate. He highlighted that one of the major disadvantages for the suite of low-carbon technologies is that there is currently no industrial lobby to bring it back on the agenda, unlike other industries such as nuclear power.

The first panellist Professor Geoff Maitland, Director of the Qatar Carbonates and Carbon Storage Research Centre at Imperial College London, made a fairly poignant remark about CCS’s current global health status: “CCS isn’t dead; it’s just been knocked unconscious with a brutal blow. In Canada, Australia and China, it is alive and well and the UK will be left behind if we don’t resuscitate it soon”.

Maitland emphasised that it’s more imperative that we act now due to short timescales. For the next few decades at least, fossil fuels will continue to be burnt globally while we overcome shortcomings of alternatives. So in order to meet the carbon budgets, the cheapest and only option is through CCS. By 2050 around 3,000 plants will be needed worldwide (over 20 in the UK alone) with mandatory capturing technologies on natural gas plants as well as coal.

It’s not about R&D; that works
Overall, the demonstration projects have confirmed that the technology works, but the real pressing question is how to scale up to wide-scale deployment, said Maitland. What is holding the government back is the rising cost of electricity, but we will not be able to meet the COP-21 commitments without a short-term increase in our energy costs. Maitland pressed the government to do a U-turn. Fiscal mechanisms such as fixing a realistic carbon pricing could also be introduced. Opportunities will then exist for monetising CCS. This could also be a convenient time for oil and gas industry to invest in CCS; the UK could even be a market leader in the field. His concluding remark was that we should not delay for economic reasons as there is a huge moral responsibility.

Divorcing ‘Capture’ from ‘Storage’
Up on the podium next was Graeme Sweeney, the chairman of Zero Emissions Platform, who spoke about how the general investability in CCS is currently low in UK. He did point out though that Norway went through the same cycles of investment and divestment, but there are now many projects under way.

One of the main themes from the evening was the importance of breaking up the CCS narrative into more manageable chunks by separating the ‘capture’ from the ‘storage’ piece. The general consensus was that there needs to be a common EU infrastructure where a European Carbon agency could specialise in developing the transportation and storage components. Sweeney also spoke about redesigning the capacity mechanism with member states co-funding, and fostering industrial led clusters.

Awaiting a CCS decision by end of 2016
The Head of Carbon Budgets from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), Mike Thompson, was the penultimate panellist. The event coincidentally occurred on the same day that the Committee published a letter advising the government to ‘develop urgently a new approach to CCS in the UK’. Thompson translated ‘urgent’ to delegates as being the end of the year. Although the Committee is technology-neutral, Thompson reiterated that the Committee can see no other option for reducing emissions from heavy industry and there is no other way of removing CO2 from the atmosphere, using a rather appropriate analogy; ‘Not having CCS is like not having a goalkeeper in football – it is crucial’.

Thompson’s main take-home message was that we have to start investing now as there needs to be wide-scale deployment in the 2030s and 40s. However, it does have to be part of a cooperative government and EU strategy as the infrastructure will not come from the market naturally.

CCS could be very attractive
The phrase “CCS could be very attractive,” appeared on the last panellist’s slides, Jim Ward, Business Development Director at the Energy Technologies Institute. He pointed out that innovation could cut cost of CCS by up to £45bn. He emphasised that energy systems modelling shows the real significance of CCS, and the cost will go down through scale. Ward did say though that he would like to see more cooperative approach to development and parameters put in place to create a market, for example by fixing an emissions trading system (ETS).

Overall, it was insightful debate with an appeal to judge CCS on its overall value, rather than any short-term costs. You can watch the whole evening through the video of the event or follow the social media chatter through the Storify around the event.

Follow Sustainable Gas Institute on twitter at @SGI_London.

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