Carbon capture champions

Written by Chris Davies on 11 September 2019 in Opinion
Opinion

It’s time EU policymakers got real about tackling the climate crisis, argues Chris Davies.

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

Renewable energy will not be enough. A massive improvement in energy saving will help but will not tick all the boxes. If the European Union is to achieve 80-95 percent CO2 reductions by 2050, we can’t pick and choose what low carbon technologies we like or don’t like; they will all have a role to play.

The achievement of net zero emissions will be impossible unless we capture CO2 and inject it into rock deep underground for permanent storage. New parliamentarians will discover that EU climate change policy is strongly infl uenced by prejudice.


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We may claim support for technological neutrality but it’s not true. Wind and solar have enjoyed support akin to religious fervour. They are hugely important but they don’t guarantee 24/7 power nor reduce industry process emissions.

By contrast, the need to deploy carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) has been dismissed. Our Green colleagues should put to one side their understandable suspicion of the motives of the oil and gas companies that talk up the prospects for CCS but hardly ever match their words with action.

Like it or not we will need some gas power stations to provide back-up electricity, and some member state governments may even insist that they need coal power too. We will need to make use of a lot of hydrogen and it won’t all come from electrolysis.

We still need to produce steel and cement. In each case the object should be to ensure that CO2 is not released into the atmosphere, which is why capturing and permanently storing CO2 is essential. If you don’t believe me then put your trust in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Our entire policy is a response to the IPCC warnings about dangerous climate change.

It says that all pathways to the achievement of the Paris ambition of limiting global temperature increases to 1.5°C assume the capture and storage of CO2 from energy and industry power sources. Returning to the Parliament after a five-year absence I find the arguments have hardly moved on.

It is still claimed by some that the technology is unproven, when in fact it has been used for many decades. It is still claimed that CO2 storage is unsafe, ignoring the huge experience of the gas industry and the millions of tonnes of CO2 that Norway has been injecting into rock for 25 years without any returning to the surface.

It is still claimed that it is too expensive. Combating climate change is not going to be cheap but the financial support needed to promote CCS will be significantly less per tonne of CO2 (€45-€90) than was being used to subsidise renewable energy just a short while ago.

At a joint Norway- European Commission conference In Oslo last week, outgoing climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete emphasised that CCS deployment is essential. Cañete was saying much the same fi ve years ago. His enthusiasm has not been sufficient to overcome the inertia of the member state governments that must take the lead.

“CCS needs champions in the Parliament. Don’t look to me; I’m British, my time here may be short”

Solar and wind power started on a small scale, but CCS projects are much larger and require a very serious commitment. Next year the €11bn EU Innovation Fund will become a major source of financial support, but even so it is likely that governments will have to play a direct role in the building of CO2 transport and storage infrastructure.

They must also recognise that private companies will only invest when there is a business case for doing so. In the absence of a much higher carbon price that will require new financial mechanisms or direct public support. Until now, governments have preferred to pick the low hanging fruit. Norway remains the only country in Europe that has CCS plants in operation.

It is looking to retrofit the capital’s waste incineration facility and a principal cement works to capture CO2. Its state-owned oil company Equinor is a leading player in the Northern Lights project to provide offshore underground storage. The Dutch government is the closest within the EU to agreeing subsidy arrangements to enable industry to capture more than seven million tonnes of CO2.

Elsewhere in Europe, progress is mostly limited to research and pilots. CCS needs champions in the Parliament. Don’t look to me; I’m British, my time here may be short! There are opportunities for MEPs who want to play a key role in driving forward a technology that can help Europe and the world.

This is a big issue; potentially transformational. The scale of the challenge is such that we must quickly get to the point where new CCS projects are being announced somewhere in Europe every couple of weeks. Get involved, and use your voice in Parliament to make it happen.

 

About the author

Chris Davies (UK, RE) was Parliament’s rapporteur on CCS reports in 2008-9 and 2013-14.

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