Carbon Capture and Storage – £1bn to the lucky winner!

April 3, 2012

The government today announces a competition to stimulate investment in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), including £125m for research and £1bn capital funding.

Fossil fuel power stations – gas, coal – account for the majority of our electricity and for a very large proportion of CO2 emissions. New nuclear power stations, which produce no CO2 in use (although significant amounts in construction and decommissioning), will not be available for at least a decade so the plan is to keep the coal and gas fired stations running and prevent the CO2 from escaping to the atmosphere. CCS separates the CO2 from the flue gases, compresses it and pipes it away to exhausted oil wells or salt caverns under the North Sea, where it should remain locked away forever.

That’s the theory, but so far no one has been able to create a commercial scale CCS plant. Companies involved in the government’s previous CCS initiative pulled out because of the costs. Costs are significant. First there is the capital investment in infrastructure – the plant to extract the CO2 from the flue gases and compress it, the pipeline typically 100 miles long going right out into the North Sea and the work to locate a suitable storage site and verify that it is gas-tight. Operating all this infrastructure takes energy. A power station engineer told me he expected the process to require 20% more coal to deliver the same amount of electricity. This would bring the efficiency of his plant back to the levels achieved in the 1920s.

Who pays the additional costs? Who else but the consumer? We’re looking not only at 20% for the extra fuel but the cost of the infrastructure. A total of 30%? 40%? Increases like this will bring it home to industrial, commercial and domestic users alike that energy saving and energy efficiency are vital.

Why don’t we have a national energy saving campaign now, rather than investing in a system which (if it works) burns more, costs more and yields less?