PM+: CCS will secure Europe's energy future

Carbon capture and storage will allow EU to meet climate goals, preserve jobs, sustain competitiveness and energy security, says Graeme Sweeney.

By Graeme Sweeney

22 May 2014

If we want to meet global energy demands in a sustainable way and for generations to come, the time to act is now. We cannot afford to waste the opportunity to decarbonise Europe's energy sector and risk missing our climate change targets.

Moreover, with the current political uncertainty in Eastern Europe, it is clear that we must look closer to home for indigenous energy sources. Carbon capture and storage (CCS), a proven technology which can capture at least 90 per cent of CO2 emissions from the largest emitters, will help secure Europe's energy future – but we need the right investment framework and support measures to do so.

The fourth volume of the 'energy technology perspectives' report, released this month by the international energy agency, confirms the value of CCS in mitigating CO2 emissions and supporting energy efficiency.

With global energy demands set to rise by 40 per cent by 2035, a portfolio of technologies will be needed to achieve decarbonisation across Europe. Zero emissions platform's (ZEP) market analysis shows that a combination of hydro, wind and solar (and nuclear in specific states) – and the progressive use of lignite, coal, gas and biomass with CCS between 2030 and 2050 – is the lowest-cost path to this goal.

With the increasing use of variable energy sources such as renewables, power plants equipped with CCS technology will be able to function as a flexible source of low-carbon electricity, balancing the system and providing necessary backup. This is essential to securing Europe's energy supply and keeping the cost of meeting CO2 reduction targets down at the same time.

"Delaying CCS deployment by just 10 years would increase the cost of decarbonising the global power sector by approximately €750m"

Delaying CCS deployment by just 10 years would increase the cost of decarbonising the global power sector by approximately €750m. To avoid this, the deployment of CCS needs to speed up significantly.

Large-scale deployment of CCS technology is currently being held back due to high technology costs and a lack of political and financial support. But the challenges faced can be overcome and the deployment of CCS can be put back on track and in line with the EU's energy, climate and industrialisation objectives.

ZEP analysis shows that if we act now, with the right investment framework and support measures, CCS can become commercially available post-2030. We've identified a number of areas for action which are essential in making this happen.

Firstly, it is vital that CCS is embedded into upcoming legislative proposals for the EU 2030 energy and climate framework. Given that CCS has the potential to cost-effectively deliver at least four per cent of the EU's greenhouse gas reductions (compared with 1990 levels) – that is 10 per cent of the proposed EU target of minus 40 per cent until 2030 - we would urge ministers to fully embrace this ambition at EU level. This will send out a long-term signal about the proven capacity of CCS to help meet Europe's climate targets.
Furthermore, the EU should support the inclusion of CCS in member states' decarbonisation pathways and in any global climate agreements.

Secondly, the emission trading system (ETS) should remain the central long-term driver for CCS, but it needs structural reform measures that will strengthen it and lead to a predictable, meaningful and robust carbon price. While we welcome the proposed market stability reserve to be introduced in the ETS, we would like to see additional measures to deal with the surplus in the system and strengthen the scheme.

Finally, the development of CCS transport and storage infrastructure needs to start now. Effective business models need to be developed and the process of setting up infrastructure begun. By 2020, we need to make sure that six storage pilots are put in place, to test the storage sites and build confidence. We'll also need to identify a number of key hubs across Europe, for instance the North Sea, which will form the start of CCS clusters. Horizon 2020 funding will play a central role in this.

The bottom line is that CCS has the power to help us meet our climate goals, preserve jobs, sustain Europe's economic competitiveness and contribute to energy security. By setting up long-term policy frameworks, funding further research and innovation, and deploying a hand full of projects, we can lay the foundations of CCS rollout across Europe. CCS is a low-cost option and it is a viable option – now is the time to make it a large-scale reality.

Read the most recent articles written by Graeme Sweeney - PM+: CCS 'only proven technology' for transitioning to low-carbon future