Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, responds to the National Audit Office briefing for the Environmental Audit Committee
“This report is right to highlight that meeting the UK’s carbon targets without Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) will be more expensive and difficult. CCS is one of a number of negative emissions technologies that once implemented could reduce the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
“While the initial costs of CCS technology are high, we need research and demonstration projects before large technologies can be rolled out commercially. These types of demonstration projects, developed collaboratively with business and universities, will begin to develop skills and expertise in the area as well as trust in the technology. The inertia in moving such technologies forward has the potential to lead to greater engineering skills gaps in the UK a long with higher costs. If we want to meet the UK’s stretching carbon targets, at the same time as having a secure electricity system, we need a diversified energy system and CCS is crucial to this.
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“All negative emissions technologies will require an injection of funds from Government and industry to drive the sector forward. Without a clear understanding of what energy system the current Government is aiming to achieve, the sector will continue to struggle to invest in new technologies. It is far better to invest more heavily now in abatement technologies than to wait and risk a far higher bill for our reluctance to take up technological opportunities.
“The Government has outlined plans to wind-down coal-fired generation. With just one nuclear reactor currently being planned, the UK looks set to experience a new dash for gas. Without CCS technology this could mean we are locking ourselves into relying on unabated fossil fuel power for generations to come.
“For the UK to meet its ambitious carbon reduction target we cannot rely on current renewable technologies alone. We need to invest into research and development of the next generation of low carbon technologies, which could include CCS, and improved technologies around transport and heat as well as the management of the whole life cycle of nuclear power and fuel. Greater investment in the development of electricity storage technologies in particular could be key to allowing a greater proportion of electricity to be generated from renewable sources. The developments within the digital, frequency and storage technologies surrounding power generation are moving quickly and we must take action to fully understand what impact these may have on the wider system.
“The UK Government needs to urgently clarify the direction UK energy policies will take and work with regulators to provide developers with the certainty needed to invest in order to meet our electricity demands as well as the UK’s ambitious carbon reduction targets.”