U.S. Carbon Abatement Plans Signal Confidence in CCS Readiness : CCS UNDERGROUND
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A discussion of the issues and policies related to carbon capture and storage technology.*

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*Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the authors and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the position(s) of the ENGO Network on CCS. 

U.S. Carbon Abatement Plans Signal Confidence in CCS Readiness


This is a post by guest author Stuart Haszeldine, professor of carbon capture and storage, SCCS, director, University of Edinburgh.

News from the United States this week could not have been more welcome: President Obama has sidestepped the US Congress to push through much-needed plans to curb carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. With around 40% of America’s electricity still being generated from coal, the significance of this move cannot be downplayed.

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan lays down the rules for cutting CO2 emissions by 30%, from around 1,600 power plants, by 2030. That the

world’s largest economy has taken this momentous decision marks a turning point in how that country perceives the threat of dangerous climate change. Indeed, every developed economy worldwide must take similar action to tackle greenhouse gas emissions or face both the physical and financial impacts of global warming.


The decision to follow through on the EPA’s proposals also suggests that President Obama’s administration believes the technology needed to abate these emissions – in other words, carbon capture and storage (CCS) – is ready to build and operate. This is in sharp contrast to the UK, where the civil service has achieved all the preparatory work in record time, yet the Government is playing a ‘go-slow’ game with its CCS Commercialisation Programme - and is yet to make any final investment decision onwhether to back two full-chain CCS demonstration projects.

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The EPA is setting a good example by using regulatory instruments to drive progress on CCS, and emissions reductions from existing power plants. Here in the UK, the Emissions Performance Standard (EPS), legislated in the 2013 Energy Act, requires CCS on any new coal-fired power station – but the government has chosen not to apply EPS to existing coal power stations, or to emissions from existing and future gas-fired power generation. These new US rules show that emissions performance standards can drive change on existing sources of emissions in the coming years. The UK could consider using its existing EPS law, in order to greatly accelerate progress on the large-scale deployment of CCS technology.


At SCCS, we continue to point out that the two UK demonstration projects for CCS – even if they secure the necessary funding from HM Treasury to place the first spade in the ground – are still not enough to allow the UK to meet its carbon targets in the most cost-effective way. The UK must begin building at least 30 more such projects by 2025 to avoid incurring extra costs later. By doing so, alongside developing a sizeable CO2storage asset, the UK can future-proof itself against the 100% certainty of carbon taxes and global change.


Unfortunately, follow-on CCS projects in the UK are still stalling due to uncertainty and a drawn-out bureaucratic process. Three fully commercial – and at one time lauded – full-chain CCS projects await the UK Government’s use of market powers, which already exist, to kickstart development. All of these projects feature IGCC (integrated gasification combined cycle) technology that would use coal or other feedstock to create electricity, and initially use aquifers for storage – though all could pipe CO2 offshore to produce additional oil recovery from depleted fields, thereby storing carbon whilst meeting some costs through oil tax revenue.


This week’s developments in the US signal a shift towards enforcing CCS on all power plants, on at least a proportion of their power generation.

We also know that CCS projects waiting in the wings are considering both pre- and post-combustion capture technology. So is the UK Government over-regulating prospective CCS developers? Will the provisions made to support CCS within a revised electricity market instead prevent innovation and learning, which any fledgling industry needs to streamline technology and bring down costs? 


Critics in the US have claimed that the new rules will cause power plants to close and electricity prices to rise. In the UK, a select committee of elected MPs – brought together to examine progress on CCS to date by the Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change – released its report last month. It concluded that developing CCS technology would reduce wholesale electricity costs in 2030 by 20%, but that progress towards that objective was exceptionally slow. And the UK Energy Technologies Institute has calculated CCS will halve the economy-wide extra cost of delivering low-carbon power by 2050. So there are few excuses remaining to delay the deployment of CCS. This decision by the US administration is an acknowledgement by one of the world’s most powerful nations that CCS is both essential and achievable.

Scottish Carbon Capture & Storage (SCCS) is an independent research partnership of British Geological Survey, Heriot-Watt University, University of Aberdeen and the University of Edinburgh. Its researchers are engaged in high-level CCS research as well as joint projects with industry, with the aim of supporting the development and eventual commercialisation of CCS as a climate mitigation technology worldwide.



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