A comprehensive report released yesterday outlines a critical role for carbon capture and storage (CCS) in reducing the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Dr Iain Macdonald, Head of Imperial’s Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage (IC4S), explains why this technology is vital – and why there’s still time for the UK to lead the world on CCS.
Our government has been dragging its feet on carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. But as the new report by the All Parliamentary Group on CCS suggests, it’s not too late to turn things around.
The end of 2015 and early 2016 saw some difficult times for the large scale CCS activities in the UK and what appeared to be government disarray in terms of securing a low-carbon future for our electricity system. Just days before the UN climate summit in Paris (COP21), the government announced the cancellation of a £1 billion competition to develop CCS technology. The funding would have supported the construction of up to two commercial scale CCS plants and its withdrawal was a huge blow to participating companies, who had put a lot of resources and financial effort into getting to that stage. This was accompanied by a series of cuts to renewables energy subsidies and the scrapping of the green deal scheme (which financed energy efficiency improvements). More recently, the government stalled on its commitment to the new ‘Hinkley Point C’ base load nuclear power station.
All this backtracking lead to a failure in the companies’ confidence in the government to walk the walk that they had been talking in the lead up to the COP21 meeting. With the more recent drastic changes following the Brexit vote, more uncertainty was on its way as the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) and Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) were combined into one entity: the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Since then there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel with a realisation that we need a strategy to allow our industry and energy sectors to flourish.
Now or never
A recent Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) funded report on the UK’s capacity to store CO2, supports the All Parliamentary Group report’s call for action on CCS. Including in-depth analysis of several key sites in the UK, the ETI report demonstrates a clear capacity to store at least the UK’s CO2 production over the coming decades. In addition, the Committee on Climate Change’s 5th Carbon Budget has put demanding legally required constraints on our carbon footprint as a country, which can only be achieved with the realisation of CCS projects. Furthermore, the UK CCS Research Centre, formerly due to have its funding end in late 2016, has seen a call for bids with £6M funding over 5 years: a sign that CCS is clearly a priority within the research councils.
My colleagues in the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) research network at Imperial and I hope the government takes this opportunity, as outlined in this report, to push forward CCS deployment in the UK. Without immediate action we will soon we be left behind and likely have to import the expertise. Norway are already in advanced planning stages for their 3rd demonstration project, somewhere the UK could have been if we had had a strategy and seen it through.
The question now is where do we go from here? We don’t need more reports. The UK hasn’t even said when or of it will ratify the Paris agreement adopted at COP 21, lagging behind China and the US. This would be a first positive step, but it’s going to be costly to move away from low cost-high carbon emissions: a sacrifice previous governments weren’t able to make for the long-term benefit of their voters.
We know CCS works, we have safe, secure storage locations and it is cost competitive with other technologies and its deployable now. Perhaps uniquely it can also provide a route to negative emissions that no other technology currently offers. Sherlock Holmes would summarise this in one word – Elementary. The All Parliamentary Group have laid a path, it is up to the government to realise this. If they do, they can lead the world towards a low-carbon energy transformation.