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The official launch of the Boundary Dam carbon capture and storage facility in Estevan on Oct. 2, 2014.
Launch of the Boundary Dam carbon capture and storage facility in Estevan on Oct. 2, 2014. Credit: SaskPower.
TECHNOLOGY
12 September 2016 0:01

Carbon capture and storage could be cheaper than nuclear, says report

Sophie Yeo

Sophie Yeo

09.12.16
Sophie Yeo

Sophie Yeo

12.09.2016 | 12:01am
TechnologyCarbon capture and storage could be cheaper than nuclear, says report

Energy produced using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology could become cost competitive with nuclear and offshore wind power in the 2020s, according to a new parliamentary report.

Produced by the Parliamentary Advisory Group on CCS, led by Lord Oxburgh, for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the report sets out the potential for the beleaguered technology in the UK, and how the government could foster a cost-competitive industry before 2030.

“There is a widespread view that CCS has to be expensive,” the report says. The government itself appeared to hold this view when, in 2015, it cancelled its £1bn competition for carbon capture and storage based on its supposedly high costs. This was seen as a huge blow to an industry that had spent years preparing to deliver new CCS projects.

But CCS can actually be delivered at £85 per megawatt hour, according to the report, which means that the price paid by consumers for early examples of the technology would be immediately competitive with other forms of clean power.

Potential

The UK is ready for CCS, says the report — both the technology and the supply chain are ready to deliver.

However, lead times for new projects are long and, therefore, decisions need to be delivered quickly. The report envisages new projects being built as soon as 2020, to be operated by 2023.

The UK also has natural advantages when it comes to CO2 storage, the report says.

“Ample, safe and secure CO2 storage capacity is available offshore in the rocks deep beneath UK territorial waters and this represents the least cost form of storage at the scale required.”

Costs

CCS plays an important role in the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) 2013  least-cost pathway to meeting the UK’s target of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050. The CCC is responsible for providing independent advice to the government.

According to the CCC, developing CCS in the 2020s could deliver benefits of more than £15bn on the path towards hitting the UK’s 2050 target. It adds that, without CCS, the cost of meeting this target would almost double, from 0.5% of GDP up to 0.9%.

While the costs of the initial CCS demonstration projects planned for the UK amounted to £150-170/MWh, the CCC saw costs falling to below £100/MWh in the 2020s.

The report by the Parliamentary Advisory Group undercuts this further. It bases its assumption that power can be bought at £85/MWh from plants equipped with CCS on a 2012 report by Mott MacDonald, drawn up for the former Department of Energy and Climate Change. This showed lowest cost technology costing £86/MWh by 2028

For reference, the agreed price for the controversial Hinkley C nuclear power plant is £92.50/MWh, potentially falling to £89.50. Future offshore wind projects will be capped at £105/MWh, falling to £85/MWh for projects commissioning by 2026.

Plan

For these cost reductions to take place, the government needs to have a hand in it, according to the report. It sets out a series of recommendations on how to get CCS off the ground.

The central step is to establish a “CCS Delivery Company” (CCSDC). This would be a state-owned enterprise tasked with delivering whole CCS projects, says the report. This company should have a mandate of sticking to the £85/MWh cap, so that they were only delivering projects that deliver power at the lowest possible cost to the consumer.

This company should be formed and funded as soon as possible, says the report. In the first place, it would require a budget of £200m-£300m. This would be to develop projects to the point of an investment decision, rather than money towards construction itself.

As its only mandate would be to invest in low-cost CCS projects, there would be no specific instructions as to the scale, technology and location of what it delivers.

However, by 2030, the company should be sequestering 15m-30m tonnes of CO2, representing 10-30% of current power sector emissions.

This will be fitted to power stations that will supply 24-48 terawatt hours (TWh) per year of new electricity — 12-24% of the additional 200/TWh per year of new low-carbon power generation that the CCC says is required in the 2020s.

While this would kickstart the UK’s CCS industry, the long-term expectation is that the CCSDC would be privatised, says the report.

Professor Stuart Haszeldine, director of Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage and member of the Parliamentary Advisory Group on CCS, said:

“What has been missing until now is the method for making CCS happen. The Oxburgh report sets out six clear actions, including the establishment of a CCS Delivery Company and linking CCS Certificates for CO2 storage to contracts which incentivise CO2 capture from heavy industry.
“Through a delivery company, with regulated and reliable profits, the government can attract investors to provide the necessary infrastructure, and there are sites in the UK’s industrial heartlands, such as Grangemouth, Teesside and Mersey, where CO2 resulting from industrial processes could be easily captured and transported by existing pipelines or shipping to offshore storage sites. These are the natural places to grow the first small CCS start-ups.”

The report includes a number of other recommendations, including:

Negative emissions technologies

According to the report, the benefits of developing a CCS industry now could be a boost to an industry that is likely to become more urgent in the future — that of negative emissions technologies.

Since it is difficult to decarbonise all sectors of the economy, having the the ability to remove emissions from the atmosphere could provide more flexibility.

However, the most realistic means of doing this is via a method that relies on CCS — bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS. This is largely untested technology that involves sequestering CO2 from crops that are used to supply energy.

The UN Paris Agreement on climate change, signed last year, means that this technology could become particularly significant in light of its target to limit global temperature rise to below 1.5C. The report says:

“The ability to deliver many of these negative emissions technologies will require an established CCS infrastructure to be in place, as is needed for emissions reductions in heat and industry.”

Reaction

Climate change minister Nick Hurd told the BBC: “We are keen to get new ideas on how to promote CCS.”

Others also responded to the report. Luke Warren, chief executive of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association, said:

“The Advisory Group is right to point out the importance of CCS across the UK economy: CCS works and can compete on costs with other forms of low-carbon electricity; whilst the development of CCS infrastructure must be a central element of any industrial strategy that seeks a long-term future for energy intensive industries. The report also shows how CCS infrastructure can be utilised to help meet some of the other major challenges we face such as cost-effectively reducing CO2 emissions from heating.
“Today’s report recommends a six point plan for delivering an ambitious CCS programme in the UK. It is now down to Government to consider these recommendations in the context of its forthcoming Emissions Reduction Plan and move quickly to deliver a successful new approach to CCS in the UK.”

Liane Smith, a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said:

“I really welcome the clear strategy expressed in the report and concur with its analysis that the UK has existing expertise, skilled engineers and companies able to play a significant role in the components of the CCS supply chain. Developing coastal CCS hubs focused on power, but with a network of CO2 pipelines to local industrial infrastructure, makes sense and uses the known resources and expertise and re-uses existing offshore infrastructure and depleted offshore gas reservoirs. Crucially it is a recognition that a new commercial approach was needed to de-risk the CCS projects and make them commercially viable.”

Benjamin Sporton, chief executive of the World Coal Association, said:

“The WCA welcomes the publication of the Oxburgh report this morning. With the cancellation of the UK’s CCS competition last year, the UK has been missing an opportunity to play a leadership role in the development of CCS technology and the huge benefits of exporting CCS technology worldwide. The recommendations put forward to government today are a step in the right direction. CCS is a vital component of any long-term industrial strategy to decarbonise electricity and energy intensive industries.
“Development of CCS could enable the continued used of coal for electricity in the UK beyond 2025, thus supporting energy security and affordability; CCS in coal plants could help the UK keep the lights on in the cheapest cleanest way whilst also making the 2050 carbon target achievable. CCS in the UK could also assist in the mandate of the newly developed Department for Business Energy and Industrial strategy by providing the opportunity to export technological ‘know-how’ to the developing and emerging economies of Asia, for which CCS will be essential if global climate goals are to be met.”
Sharelines from this story
  • Carbon capture and storage could be cheaper than nuclear, says report
  • MH

    Yeh, we don’t want want to bury vitrified radioactive waste (radioactive for millions of years), but we’re happy to put billions of tons of climate-active GAS under PRESSURE in offshore caves (that will be climate-active for EVER)!?

  • Robert Hargraves

    There are hundreds of nuclear power plants delivering power for about 5 cents/kWh. There are zero CCS coal plants delivering power. You project 8 cents/kWh?! No utility scale CCS projects have succeeded, but hundreds of nuclear power plants work just fine.

    ThorCon’s liquid fuel fission power plant is designed to deliver unsubsidized electric power at less cost than untaxed coal-fired power, even without CCS. Visit thorconpower.com for more information.

  • Leon Dimarco

    This Report, the product of a group of CCS usual suspects who are far from independent, looks like a reheat of many previous CCS reports. Its findings are unremarkable and completely ignore what government has clearly signalled for some time – it isnt going to get involved in directly funding the provision of electricity infrastructure. So by naming new publicly funded companies to provide end to end provision of electricity from plant using CCS its conclusions are doomed from the outset. The economics are no more convincing than they have ever been and rely on a large number of power plants being built to make the whole enterprise fly – with government carrying the startup cost. The Report studiously avoids mentioning the inevitable use of the carbon dioxide for extended oil recovery, which the ETI has for some time clearly based its business case upon. No arrangement which produces more carbon than it buries can ever be justified and this Report is disingenuous about the consequences of its recommendations. It is a highly tendentious study which deserves to be neglected.

    The Report can be found at
    http://www.ccsassociation.org/news-and-events/reports-and-publications/parliamentary-advisory-group-on-ccs-report/

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