Is CCS ready for action?

I am very pleased to report that I have now experienced my first POWER-GEN event. I attended POWER-GEN International, which was held in Orlando, Florida, USA, at the end of November, and apart from it giving me the excuse to escape the dreary British weather, it proved to be great opportunity for me to learn more about the electric power industry.

The atmosphere of the event was definitely bullish, and it was truly refreshing to speak people, who were not only extremely upbeat about their own businesses and its future, but also about the power industry in general. The conference also provided me the perfect opportunity to learn more about the technologies used in, and issues affecting the global power industry.

One topic area that a lot of people seemed to be talking about was carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and storage (CCS), and its role in helping power plant owners reduce their carbon emissions. I have a particular interest in this subject area because prior to joining Power Engineering International magazine I helped launch a peer review journal dedicated to the latest developments in CCS and other greenhouse gas control technologies. The CCS research field is a very multi-disciplinary area, but a fast growing one none the less. Interestingly, when speaking to who I’ll describe as POWER-GEN veterans, they mentioned that the idea of CCS being discussed at a mainstream event such as POWER-GEN International would have been inconceivable as little as a one or two years ago. Clearly it is a sign of our times!

CSS even make it into the Keynote Session, with one of the speakers, Bradley Jones of TXU, saying that as part of TXU’s ambitious plan to add 9.1 GW of new coal fired generation in Texas, USA by 2011 each reference plant would be “carbon capture ready”. He went on to say that although the industry is closer to capturing CO2, storing it is be the key to making the process viable.

So that raises the questions: Is CCS the saviour, or even a short term solution, to the power industry being able to control its greenhouse gas emissions?

A growing number see CCS as one of the most an important ways to reduce emissions. And this view was given a great boost with the UK government’s commissioned Stern report published last October, which advocated the use of carbon capture and storage for coal fired power stations. And within the last few weeks with the European Commission setting out ambitious targets for reducing emissions (20 per cent below the 1990 level by 2020) in its new energy strategy for Europe. It emphasized the role of CCS in helping to attain this carbon level reduction.

However, others are less sure. In a recent article in the Financial Times, David Porter, the CEO of the UK’s Association of Electricity producers, gave a cautionary message. “We are keen to see it [CCS] exploited, but it looks as though they [European Union] expect it to become viable more quickly than is likely to be the case. It’s not yet proven.” Similarly in the same article, Charles Kronick, senior policy adviser at Greenpeace, said that the technology was at least ten years off, and that action to reduce emissions could be taken now through greater energy efficiency and renewable energy technology. The debate surrounding the feasibility of CCS will not doubt rumble on for a long time. One thing is for sure the subject of CSS is certainly not going away in a hurry.

I’d like to leave you with a little pun, which may or may not have been deliberate, but certainly made me chuckle. It appeared in the same FT CSS news article mentioned above. David Porter was quoted as saying the EU did seems to set a lot of store by carbon capture and storage – ouch!

Warmest regards

Heather Johnstone
Senior Editor

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