PM+: CCS 'only proven technology' for transitioning to low-carbon future

Graeme Sweeney says carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the only technological option which can cost-efficiently manage the transition to a low-carbon future.

By Graeme Sweeney

28 Mar 2014

Europe has arrived at a critical juncture. We must decide how to cope with rapidly-growing CO2 emissions and avoid the associated detrimental effects of climate change. The intergovernmental panel on climate change - the United Nations' environment programme - and international energy agency have all recently published reports that paint a clear picture of our energy and environmental future. Fossil fuels will remain the principle energy source for decades to come and climate change will be inevitable if we do not successfully manage to reduce CO2 emissions.

Today we know that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the only proven technology that can capture at least 90 per cent of CO2 emissions from the world's largest emitters. It involves capturing CO2 from large power and industrial plants, compressing it for transportation and injecting it deep underground into a carefully selected rock formation where it is permanently stored. This captured CO2 can also be sold commercially and utilised in a wide range of products and processes, including chemical solvents, carbonation of soft drinks and even enhanced oil recovery, a technique that allows an increase in the amount of oil recovered from an oil field. The EU's ambitious decarbonisation target of 80-95 per cent by 2050 cannot be achieved cost effectively without CCS. We have, however, fallen behind in creating the right environment for this technology to flourish.

In two recent reports, CO2 capture and storage: Recommendations for transitional measures to drive deployment in Europe and the case for urgent action on CCS in Europe, the zero emissions platform (ZEP) outlines not only the environmental and socioeconomic benefits of developing CCS in Europe, but also provide a timeline for delivering the necessary CCS capacity to achieve EU emissions reduction targets by 2050.

Using a rigorous modelling of the power system in Europe, recommendations for transitional measures to drive deployment in Europe shows that in the long-term the cheapest way to reduce emissions from power generation is a balanced energy mix, including renewable technologies such as hydro, wind and solar, complemented by a wide, progressive use of CCS. It also demonstrates that the deployment of CCS in Europe can create and secure an estimated total of 330,000 jobs and be applied in energy-intensive industries, which currently employ approximately 1.3 million people.

The EU's ambitious decarbonisation target of 80-95 per cent by 2050 cannot be achieved cost effectively without CCS

The case for urgent action on CCS in Europe provides a roadmap for the rollout of CCS in the time and at the scale needed to ensure climate goals are met. However, the report highlights that we need to move now and in clear phases.

As a first step, between 2015 and 2020, a small set of large scale demonstration projects is needed to test different CO2 emissions sources and storage types and to build public confidence in storage. Deployment then needs to be widened to the power and industry sectors starting in 2020, before commercial deployment from 2030 onwards. At this stage, costs will have come down significantly and CCS will be able to be deployed at full scale and rapidly increased within the power and industry sectors.

To achieve this ambitious goal of wide deployment by 2030, EU CCS policy needs to be immediately reset, with the following five actions:

The EU needs to put in place a comprehensive framework that will ensure a clear business case for CCS. CCS must be integrated in the 2030 energy and climate framework, and an ambitious milestone should be set for CCS. Currently lacking a mandate in the form of a binding target like set up for renewables for 2020, CCS requires some form of directed support.

The EU emissions trading system (ETS) should remain the central tool of EU climate policy and a long-term driver for CCS, providing a predictable and robust carbon price. The carbon price is currently too low to provide the necessary incentive for investment. Strengthening the ETS through structural reform is therefore urgently required. A key priority is to set a tighter cap out to 2030 and beyond, which would help the ETS reduce emissions costs effectively while triggering investments in low carbon technologies such as CCS.

However, even if action is taken now, it will not result in emissions allowance prices that are high and robust enough to deploy CCS in time to meet the 2050 decarbonisation objectives. We will therefore first need transitional measures, such as feed-in-premia or CCS certificates, to support CCS demonstration and early deployment projects.

Legal barriers and other blockers also need to be resolved. For example, through a robust review of the EU CCS directive that removes unnecessary burdens, risks and uncertainties, particularly on storage providers that are hampering investment.

Finally, we must commence the development of transport and storage infrastructure. At least six storage pilots will be necessary by 2020, in which EU Horizon2020 funding will need to play a significant role.

Europe is at a crossroads. One direction points toward a sustainable energy mix that allows us to successfully achieve decarbonisation, with CCS complementing and supporting renewables and energy efficiency. The other will lead us down a path of missed opportunity that is detrimental to European competitiveness, growth and jobs, and, crucially, to our environment.

We must learn from the past and seriously consider the solutions available to us today. Europe urgently needs a fundamental reset of CCS policy and we need the support of the EU institutions and member states in doing so.

Read the most recent articles written by Graeme Sweeney - PM+: CCS will secure Europe's energy future