A rewind back to 2007 reveals an EU Parliament that was very keen on carbon capture and storage (CCS) and gave it tremendous support through the CCS Directive and the NER300 financing mechanism. Five years on and for all the reasons discussed in recent posts, only the UK looks likely to see any near term CCS development and this is entirely due to its own additional policy development.
In March 2007, the Presidency Conclusions of the Brussels European Council stated;
Aware of the huge possible global benefits of a sustainable use of fossil fuels, the European Council:
underlines the importance of substantial improvements in generation efficiency and clean fossil fuel technologies;
urges Member States and the Commission to work towards strengthening R & D and developing the necessary technical, economic and regulatory framework to bring environmentally safe carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) to deployment with new fossil-fuel power plants, if possible by 2020;
welcomes the Commission’s intention to establish a mechanism to stimulate the construction and operation by 2015 of up to 12 demonstration plants of sustainable fossil fuel technologies in commercial power generation.
CCS couldn’t have had a much harder push out of the starting blocks, yet none of this project activity has happened and CCS is virtually at a standstill in the EU. This has led the EU Parliament to look more closely at the issue and in the very near future we should see the Environment Committee release a report on CCS. In the meantime the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) has posted a short draft opinion on CCS on the EU Parliament website. This may give some early insight into the likely direction of the more critical Environment Committee report. Key findings from ITRE are as follows;
- Failing to include CCS within a long-term energy strategy will severely hamper national, Union and global efforts to address climate change;
- Believes that the EU’s mandatory renewable target has undermined investment in CCS, and calls, therefore, for a technology-neutral approach to the Union’s 2030 energy goals, in line with Article 194(2) of the TFEU, in order to create a level playing field and ensure effective competition amongst varying low-carbon energy technologies;
- Calls on the Commission and the Member States to address the main barriers to the deployment of CCS, such as the granting of permits and funding, the establishment of a CCS skills base and the development and testing of technologies for effective capture, transport and storage;
- Believes that incentives and policy measures should target both CCS demonstration as well as subsequent longer-term operational projects and must provide greater certainty for private sector investment; believes, furthermore, that incentives and measures should be split efficiently both within the power-generation sector and CCS within industrial production processes;
- Considers that the low carbon price delivered through the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), and subsequent revenues generated from the sale of allowances under the New Entrants’ Reserve of the ETS (NER300), has failed to deliver an attractive business case for early long-term private sector investment in CCS;
This is all solid stuff and it would appear that ITRE have got to grips with both the important role that CCS must play and the challenges that CCS faces to deploy. Perhaps one surprise is the reference to Article 194(2) of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). It is difficult to see how this particular part of the treaty actually supports the need for CCS. Rather, it tends to support the set of actions that have contributed to the problems that CCS is having, namely the focus on renewable energy.
- In the context of the establishment and functioning of the internal market and with regard for the need to preserve and improve the environment, Union policy on energy shall aim, in a spirit of solidarity between Member States, to:
- ensure the functioning of the energy market;
- ensure security of energy supply in the Union;
- promote energy efficiency and energy saving and the development of new and renewable forms of energy; and
- promote the interconnection of energy networks.
- Without prejudice to the application of other provisions of the Treaties, the European Parliament and the Council, acting in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure, shall establish the measures necessary to achieve the objectives in paragraph 1. Such measures shall be adopted after consultation of the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Such measures shall not affect a Member State’s right to determine the conditions for exploiting its energy resources, its choice between different energy sources and the general structure of its energy supply, without prejudice to Article 192(2)(c).
Many will argue that support for renewable energy is the right approach to address climate change, but as I have discussed in numerous posts, it’s not quite that simple. There is little doubt that renewable energy is part of our future and in the next century it may well be the major component, if not all, of our energy system. But in the meantime we are using fossil fuels to power pretty much everything and that is going to take a century to change. If we don’t capture the majority of the CO2 associated with that ongoing use (even with it declining throughout the century) then 2°C isn’t achievable, but nor for that matter is 3°C.
The TFEU doesn’t really give much guidance to help solve this, although Article 191 states;
. . . promoting measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems, and in particular combating climate change.
This then comes down to interpretation of the phrase “combating climate change”. A hardnosed analysis of the global emissions issue leads to the necessity for a CCS strategy, irrespective of any personal views on whether we should or shouldn’t power the world with fossil fuels. The fact is that we currently do and this existing reality won’t change anytime soon.
“one surprise is the reference to Article 194(2)”
Article 194(1) supports “the development of new and renewable forms of energy.” This would indicate a bias against CCS. The reference to Art. 194(2) in point B.3 is probably intended to counterbalance this bias with “a Member State’s right to determine the conditions for exploiting its energy resources, its choice between different energy sources and the general structure of its energy supply” and also relates to point B.1: “CCS can enable Member States to exploit their indigenous, carbon-based energy supplies in a demand-responsive manner, thus also contributing to diversity and security of energy supply.” One of the four points in 194(1) concerns “energy security.”
“If we don’t capture the majority of the CO2 associated with that ongoing use (even with it declining throughout the century) then 2°C isn’t achievable, but nor for that matter is 3”
Climate sensitivity is becoming an increasingly disputed figure in the literature. There have been a number of papers recently that put the figure under 2degrees. The longer that the global temperature stays the same, the more untenable the IPCC’s predictions look.
Maybe Trenberths missing heat is in space, not the deep ocean
If the goal is to speed up the pace of CCS deployment, we should shift our focus to near-term, low-threshold, achievable successes and perhaps worry less about the difficult, long-term process to reach the endpoint of comprehensive deployment of CCS on our current entire fossil-fuel based industry. I call this early success strategy the “low-hanging fruit and no-regrets” strategy. The following gives some justification and description.
The pace of deployment of CCS is currently hindered by a number of factors, but the two most important are the following.
1.The high cost of new CO2 capture plants is universally acknowledged as being unviable.
2.In addition, CCS has competition from other technologies for producing low-carbon electric power. In particular, PV and wind turbine energy devices are now being installed globally at a combined rate of about 80 GW (peak capacity) per year and growing. Although some advocacy bias on both (opposing) sides of renewable energy still clouds this issue, it is reasonable to expect that PV and wind will continue to reduce their unit costs. Consequently, many supporters of more PV and wind do not recognize the need for deploying CCS on fossil-fuel power plants which they believe eventually will be made redundant by a larger portfolio of cost-effective renewables.
These observations together explain most of why CCS is not deploying more rapidly today. But if we broaden our view of CCS, it is clear that for many CCS opportunities, these observations are not significant factors. Focusing on these potential near-term successes would likely bring forward a large number of significant CCS projects in the near future. The discussion below explains why.
For a number of existing industrial plants electric power is NOT their product, and CO2 capture is ALREADY implemented as a necessary part of their production process. The most obvious examples are
• ammonia plants (steam reforming of methane to ultimately produce nitrogen fertilizer),
• coal gasification plants (used to produce a number of valuable chemical components in many different products)
• other steam reforming plants that produce hydrogen for various petrochemical processes, e.g. ethylene
• Ethanol plants that ferment biomass
• Natural gas processing plants that separate natural CO2 from hydrocarbon gases
For these industrial plants, which are not competing directly with PV or wind, the capture plants are already in place. What is needed is some simple removal of water vapour from their flue gas, a transport pipeline for the dry CO2, some compression and a storage site. These are typically much smaller cost items than a new capture plant. The most interesting example of this is the largest single point source in the world that produces a near-pure CO2 stream at Secunda, South Africa (ca. 25-30 Mt CO2/year) from a coal gasification facility that produces liquid transport fuels and a range of valuable bi-products. This CO2 is currently vented, but it could be relatively cheaply transported and stored. Assuming that Secunda has 40 more years of operations, installing CO2 transport and storage ASAP could prevent up to 1 billion metric tons CO2 from being emitted.
The industrial plants above are in other words potentially very low-cost CCS projects compared to greenfield power plants with CCS. The IEA GHG programme examined and documented this in 2002 and their conclusions are still relevant today. Let us call this the “low-hanging fruit” CCS opportunity.
The second observation that PV and wind are getting cheaper and will potentially out-compete new fossil-fuel power plants with CCS also forgets that many other industrial plants produce cement, steel, etc., and that these are significant emitters of CO2. Cement and steel production will continue to be needed even if most of our current electricity needs are met by renewables. Deploying CCS for cement and steel plants will require new capture facilities, but it can be safely assumed that no renewable energy technology will compete for this application. Hence, deployment of CCS on existing cement and steel industries should be viewed as a “no regrets” strategy no matter how low-cost renewables become.
And as an additional consideration, a CCS plant that co-fires or is run exclusively with biomass/biogas can be CO2-negative, meaning it removes a net quantity of CO2 from the atmosphere. This may prove to be very valuable in a scenario where mounting damages from global warming require more drastic and urgent decarbonisation responses. This would also be an option for CCS on steel and cement plants.
In sum, a “low-hanging fruit, no-regrets strategy” exists for immediate deployment of a large number of CCS projects, and focusing on this strategy would defuse most if not all the current divisive debate surrounding costs and the utility of CCS. How various stakeholders will pay for deploying this strategy is another issue, but the starting point for this strategy should be easier to mobilize the necessary “consensus of the willing” than our current situation, in which CCS is struggling to deploy, stuck in the starting blocks.