AVOID 1: Assessment of Mitigation Scenarios, Technologies and Hedges against Uncertainty - UK Carbon Capture and Storage activity in the next decade

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AVOID 1: Assessment of Mitigation Scenarios, Technologies and Hedges against Uncertainty – UK Carbon Capture and Storage activity in the next decade

August 5, 2010
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This report covers CCS issues that have long-term impacts but which would be timely to address in the near term. It complements the review of advanced CCS technologies also undertaken in this AVOID P project, which covers topics likely to be more relevant in the longer term. A range of issues are identified, described and explored by applying key findings from a body of work developed by the authors in the past 5 years1 to the current UK (and global) situation. Principal conclusions include:

1. CCS and Climate Change Mitigation – Classes of CCS

Not all CCS is equal from a climate mitigation perspective – CCS projects can be carbon-positive, near carbon-neutral or carbon-negative and these different classes might need to be treated differently.

2. CCS: UK potential and timelines for demonstration

CCS is a response to climate change concerns not to fossil energy shortages (as in an ‘oil crisis’), unlike renewables and nuclear. It is important to carefully consider the different role that each family of technologies could play with respect to climate change mitigation. The UK potentially has a lot of CO2 storage capacity, mostly in aquifers, but it needs to be evaluated using actual CO2 injections. It has been proposed that a UK National Carbon Storage Authority might be established with duties that include directing a trial-based, storage capacity assessment.

3. Options for including all power plant CO2 sources, through demonstration to reference projects

CCS on gas is likely to be needed if the UK remains heavily reliant on natural gas power plants. This suggests that early gas, as well as coal, CCS demonstration projects could be important. A second stage of reference projects – full-scale fossil power plants operating reliably with CCS – also seems likely to be an essential element of developing CCS technologies for widespread commercial rollout.

4. The 2020 to 2030 transition – Potential for a fossil generation sectoral Emissions Performance Standards to act as a driver of change

The Committee on Climate Change has suggested that UK electricity supply may need to constrain overall emission intensity to 70 gCO2/kWh by 2030. This probably requires fossil fuel plants running for extended periods to emit no more than 100 gCO2/kWh, which can only be done with CCS. It is not practicable progressively to decrease the emissions from individual CCS power plants in small steps. Except for early demonstration projects any plant with CCS should, therefore, be treating all of its flue gas. For the 2020-2030 transition an emissions performance standard (EPS) could be carefully designed to be applied to the whole UK fossil fleet annual average emissions, with costs shared to encourage early adopters and steer CCS towards the lowest-cost sites first.

5. Focus for CCS in the next 10 years: the 2010 Energy Act in the UK and global CCS aspirations

Timely support for UK CCS demonstration and reference projects, as now enabled by the 2010 Energy Act, could be a crucial step on the path to a global low carbon energy economy. There are likely to be relatively few early power plant CCS projects globally (see Appendix 1), so a UK lead on this CCS application is likely to be important, both in perception of leadership and commercially.