Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology must be fast-tracked into use in UK power plants, as it is “absolutely vital” to efforts to curb climate change, according to a committee of MPs.
In a new report, the Energy and Climate Change Committee say investment decisions on two pilot CCS projects must be finalised before the next general election.
Installed at a fossil fuel power plant, CCS technology would capture carbon emissions at the source, and allow them to be stored safely underground. In theory, this would allow us to continue using some fossil fuels without further contributing to climate change.
CCS could even reduce the cost of meeting UK’s decarbonisation targets by £30-£40 billion by 2050, according to the Energy Technologies Institute. However, the technology is not yet proven at a commercial scale.
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In order to cut emissions by the 2020s, when the committee says such savings will be needed, the report urges the government to make final funding decisions on two projects, one at Peterhead in Scotland and one at Drax in Yorkshire, within one year.
Urgency is now required because the government’s bungled efforts to kick-start CCS with a £1bn competition in 2007 led to nothing, after the two previous awardees of funding terminated their projects at the turn of the decade.
Furthermore, the report warns that CCS will require “bespoke” contracts and subsidy support.
“Fitting power stations with technology to capture and store carbon is absolutely vital if we are to avoid dangerously destabilizing the climate,” said Energy and Climate Change Committee chair Tim Yeo.
“After nearly a decade of delay DECC has finally got near to delivering two pilot CCS projects in the UK.
“These two demonstration projects will not be enough to kick-start the industry or have a significant impact on our carbon budgets, however. Ministers must also ensure that viable CCS projects not involved in the competition are able to apply for guaranteed-price contracts alongside other low-carbon energy schemes,” he added.
In response to the report, energy minister Michael Fallon insisted that the UK was ahead of its European neighbours in developing CCS technology.
“Our vision for CCS in the UK does not stop at these first projects. We want to see a strong and successful CCS industry able to compete on cost with other low carbon technologies in the 2020s,” he added.
However, professor Stuart Haszeldine, director of the Scottish CCS (SCCS) research group, argues that a further five CCS projects must be under construction by 2020, with more needed by the middle of the decade.
“Developing five CCS projects now will cost each UK household around £30 per year. The UK needs more than 30 of these to start building before 2025,” he said.
“To avoid extra costs later, we must develop our CO2 storage now. That is a good insurance premium against the 100% certainty of future carbon taxes and future global change.”
Coinciding with the release of the report, the SCCS has announced a new partnership with experts from the University of Nicosia, to identify potential carbon storage sites in Cyprus.
While MPs are optimistic, adding that the UK could even become a world-leader in CCS because of its access to potential storage sites at the North Sea, environmentalists have warned that the government must not prematurely invest in new fossil fuel infrastructure.
“After years of unnecessary delay, getting on with the task of demonstrating the technical and commercial feasibility of CCS is an urgent priority for this government and the next,” said Nick Molho, head of climate and energy policy at WWF-UK.
“But the government shouldn’t plan significant investments in new fossil fuel plants today on the assumption that CCS technology will be available at an affordable cost in the future to capture emissions when we simply don’t know that yet.”
Photo: Yorkshiregeek via Flickr