Unlocking CCS potential a tough challenge says report

Developing Carbon capture and storage (CCS) into an effective and sustainable energy solution is achievable but will require Government and industry to overcome significant risks and challenges according to a new report from the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC).

Choosing between rapid progress for CCS and the development of the best technologies is a major concern, identified by ‘Carbon capture and storage: realising the potential?’ a report which has itself been two years in the making.

Clearly attracted to development speed in principle, the report’s authors warn against ‘cutting corners’, citing the French Government’s early choice of one technological variety for its nuclear programme as an example of how easy it would be to end up ‘picking inferior technology’. At the same time, however, they conclude that the UK’s CCS demonstration programme should support only a ‘limited number’ of different technologies.

Another key warning is that CCS costs will not necessarily fall in the early stages of development. In fact, says the report, costs could rise for several years before starting to come down as technologies are scaled up. Noting that this will require patience from the Government, the report adds that an ‘independent capability’ will be required in the future to assess costs and help decide whether or not to continue with public funding for CCS or to divert resources to other low carbon options.

Lead author, Professor Jim Watson, Director of the Sussex Energy Group at the University of Sussex, said the case for CCS technologies remained to be technically proven along. There was also a need for further study of CCS costs, versus other options. It was also vital that the Government’s commitment to CCS resulted in several full scale CCS projects as soon as possible.

“Only through learning by doing will we know whether CCS is a serious option for the future, and how the technical, economic and legal uncertainties facing investors can be overcome,” he said.

Delivering positive and negative vibes in almost equal amounts, however, the report argued that total demonstration success wasn’t needed to guarantee CCS a future and that other technologies had successfully overcome the sort of uncertainties facing CCS today. It was therefore claimed that the report’s findings ‘offer some optimism that, given the right actions by government and industry, the uncertainties surrounding CCS can also be dealt with’.

After that it was back to the negative with a reminder that ‘difficult choices’ remain for Government and other decision makers. These include deciding which development options to keep open and which to close; designing financial support for effective CCS demonstration and deployment; committing to CCS deployment as a marathon, not a sprint; and addressing storage liabilities in such a way that balances liabilities for investors, while protecting the interests of future taxpayers.

“It will be vital to keep options open in the government’s CCS commercialisation programme,” concluded Prof Watson. “Whilst it is welcome that the Government has learned from the mistakes of the past, and now plans to support a number of CCS technologies, there is a long way to go before CCS is a reality at full scale. Complex negotiations with industry lie ahead.”

Edie staff

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