Global policy makers need to get to grips with the positive implications of embracing carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, or else pay an unnecessarily expensive price in order to achieve carbon emission reduction targets.

That’s according to the chief executive of Global CCS Insitute, Brad Page who spoke to Power Engineering International (PEi) this week about the reasons why the world needs to accelerate its thinking when it comes to the technology.

Brad Page
In a roster of rationale he presents for encouraging investment in CCS, perhaps the most pressing argument is the sheer expense that the world will incur if it doesn’t pursue the sensible course of action carbon capture promises to deliver.

According to the International Energy Agency in order for the Earth to meet its most optimistic 2 degree global warming increase scenario, about $2.6trn needs to be invested in CCS.

If the world doesn’t come around to CCS at the rate it needs to, or if the technology is just blatantly ignored, “then in fact you double the investment required to curb emissions in the power sector by the equivalent amount- so in effect you will have to spend another $2.6trn or a total in excess of $5trn to deal with the same level of emissions using other technologies if you don’t use CCS,” according to Canberra-based Page.

He will reinforce the point at next month’s World Energy Congress in Daegu, South Korea and also wants to dispel some unsubstantiated opinion on CCS as well as potentially harmful beliefs about renewable power’s capacity to cope with the emission challenge.

“From our perspective we need to help people to appreciate just how real CCS is as a technology and the progress being made. We have a whole lot more to do if it’s going to fulfil its rightful place in reducing emissions and we need to reverse some of this false claim that the world can go forward without fossil fuels; that’s not going to happen. If we are going to keep it to 2 degrees we need CCS.”

Page believes some of the rhetoric from the green movement is not to the world’s advantage, particularly the charge that it’s an unproven technology.

There are already eight current projects, storing 23 million tonnes of CO2 every year. On top of that there are nine under construction so by 2015 the world is on track to have 17 projects to be in operation. It’s not enough though, and Page says that is down to what he calls a failure of ‘policy parity.’

“The observation we would make is that if you look at the International Energy Agency’s projections about the role CCS needs to play we need multiples of those numbers over the course of those 20 years and those numbers aren’t going to come forward unless the policy settings are supportive of them.”

“We need to re-visit once again the balance of policy measure that is going to be in place if we want to see CCS really thrive. In a number of countries there remain regulatory uncertainties, especially around long term liability for storage of CO2. A number of these legal and regulatory issues have been dealt with in various jurisdictions but there remains more to be resolved here and these tend to have a chilling effect on projects.”

The policy parity issue manifests itself when governments take a technology-specific approach and subsidise as is the case with solar photovoltaics which is much more expensive than CCS at volume.

They may also incline towards excluding CCS and rewarding offshore wind. All the studies Page has seen demonstrate once again show how much more expensive offshore wind is in comparison.

“What we are saying is that we are not in any way negative about those technologies. It’s not a competition – if we are going to get to meet the 2 degrees objective at the least cost we are going to need every technology that they put on the plan.”

“We will not achieve the least cost outcome if we continue to play favourites around all of the technologies. So if we have policy parity what you get is a lot more opportunities for CCS than what you have today.”

The CCS advocate lauds the example provided by the UK, as one the rest of the world would do well to follow. The UK is neutral about what it is within its energy supply needs that delivers reliability along with reduced emissions. He thinks others ought to follow suit.

“The UK has got it from a policy perspective. They understand the point. They have policy settings through contracts for difference that don’t discriminate between CCS and renewables which is a good move forward. I think others will watch the UK’s experience and see it’s a sensible approach and we’ll probably see more of that over the coming years.”

The role of China as a potential engine for the development of the technology cannot, of course, be ignored, as the Asian powerhouse will need to develop its emission reduction portfolio in tandem with the massive fossil fuel resource which will continue to power its advancement in the coming decades.

The country’s 12th five year plan nominated CCS as a technology of priority and while the Global CCS Institute will present a clearer picture next month, for now they can say that while there were three large-scale integrated projects at various stages of development 12 months ago, that figure has now risen to 12, and growing.

“China is now ranked number three in the world for the total number of large scale integrated projects at various stages of planning so I think China is the fastest emerging economy in the world in terms of CCS and is well poised with the extent of its coal resource and coal-based industry to develop and adopt CCS technology and is making positive plans to do so.”

The rationale for CCS remains sound but for now Page and others must continue to persuade and compel, if it is to overcome barriers faced by emerging technologies, which might just see the planet meet the immense CO2 reduction challenge in a timely and cost-effective way

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