Climate policy

Carbon capture and storage: Can the UK hit climate goals without killing off heavy industry?

  • 27 Mar 2015, 10:00
  • Simon Evans

The UK should develop carbon capture and storage (CCS) clusters incorporating industrial sites as well as power plants, says the thinktank Green Alliance.

This would increase the amount of carbon captured nine-fold while cutting costs per tonne by two thirds, but it won't happen without new financial incentives, says the 25 March  report. Meanwhile new government roadmaps show heavy industry needs CCS to make significant emissions reductions.

The Green Alliance report is the latest in a long line to highlight the pressing need for CCS to cut carbon cost-effectively, while noting a long history of false starts and proposing a fresh approach to energising the sector.

Carbon Brief takes a look at why industrial CCS is considered essential to decarbonise sectors such as steel and cement, and why meeting UK carbon targets will cost more without it.

The case for industrial CCS

The attraction of CCS, and the reason it is opposed by some, is that it seems to offer the chance to keep burning fossil fuels while reducing emissions.

In December, David Cameron told MPs that CCS was "absolutely crucial if we are going to decarbonise effectively". The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says avoiding dangerous warming will cost twice as much without CCS.

UK decarbonisation would also be about twice as expensive without CCS, says a 17 March report from the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI).

However, research published in January shows CCS doesn't actually make much difference to the total amount of fossil fuel that can be burnt, within a budget that gives a likely chance of limiting warming to less than two degrees above pre-industrial temperatures.

This adds to arguments that CCS shouldn't be used to decarbonise coal- and gas-fired power stations on a large scale, since other low-carbon electricity sources are available. It's a different story for heavy industry, however, where CCS is one of the few ways to radically cut carbon in line with UK and EU targets to reduce emissions by 80% or more by 2050.

The new Green Alliance report says CCS is "the only currently feasible technology" to cut emissions of many energy intensive industries, yet the UK's current approach focuses only on cutting the cost of power sector CCS.

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Electric vehicle batteries 'already cheaper than 2020 projections'

  • 23 Mar 2015, 17:00
  • Simon Evans

The cost of electric vehicle battery packs is falling so rapidly they are probably already cheaper than expected for 2020, according to a new study in Nature Climate Change.

Electric vehicles remain more expensive than combustion-engine equivalents, largely because of battery costs. In 2013 the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated cost-parity could be reached in 2020, with battery costs reaching $300 per kilowatt hour of capacity.

But market-leading firms were probably already producing cheaper batteries last year, says today's new research. It says its figures are "two to four times lower than many recent peer-reviewed papers have suggested".

High costs, falling

Even though the EU electric vehicle market grew by 37% year on year in 2014, it still made up less than 1% of total sales. High cost is a major reason why electric vehicles have failed to break through, alongside range and a lack of recharging infrastructure.

The new research is based on a review of 85 cost estimates in peer-reviewed research, agency estimates, consultancy and industry reports, news reports covering the views of industry representatives and experts and finally estimates from leading manufacturers.

It says industry-wide costs have fallen from above $1,000 per kilowatt hour in 2007 down to around $410 in 2014, a 14% annual reduction (blue marks, below). Costs for market-leading firms have fallen by 8% per year, reaching $300 per kilowatt hour in 2014 (green marks).

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 At 14.22.10

Cost estimates and future projections for electric vehicle battery packs, measured in $US per kilowatt hour of capacity. Each mark on the chart represents a documented estimate reviewed by the study. Source: Nykvist et al. (2015).

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Are the UK's emissions really falling or has it outsourced them to China?

  • 19 Mar 2015, 18:00
  • Simon Evans

Government claims to be leading the world on emissions reductions have been challenged by new research, the BBC reports today.

The BBC says UK emissions are rising, not falling, once pollution in imported goods from the likes of China are included. In fact, UK emissions including imports are below 1990 levels, while a larger share of the UK's imported emissions come from Europe than from China.

Carbon Brief explores the new research on the UK's imported emissions, and considers the implications for global climate politics.

Consumption versus production

Traditional emissions accounting only considers the greenhouse gases generated within a country's own borders. In other words, emissions produced in the UK are allocated to the UK. On this measure, UK emissions have fallen dramatically to around 25% below 1990 levels.

But this impressive record is illusory, the BBC report says, because of emissions embedded in imported goods. This is not a new idea. For instance, this 2012 Guardian article reports MPs' claims that the UK has "merely outsourced emissions to China".

Consumption-based accounting attempts to acknowledge this issue, adding up its impact on the UK's total climate footprint. It adds emissions embedded in imports to the UK's footprint by tracking global trade from the point of purchase of goods and services back to their origin.

If someone in the UK buys an Audi or an iPhone, then the UK is handed responsibility for the emissions needed to make them. Using this method, new research from the University of Leeds finds the UK's record looks less impressive, with emissions in 2012 just 7% below 1990 levels.

Imports mostly not from China

The UK's imported emissions have increased over the past two decades so that they now make up around half of the UK's climate footprint, as the chart below shows. The UK's production emissions have fallen fast (dark blue area), but imports have offset much of the gain (lighter blues, purples and grey area).

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 At 14.49.32

Source: University of Leeds Sustainability Research Institute. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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