During the summer holidays, whilst Parliament was in recess, things have actually been quite busy in the world of CCS.
On the 8th September, the CCSA hosted a CCS Knowledge Transfer Workshop – to allow CCS project developers to engage with representatives of the two projects in the cancelled CCS Competition. The workshop was framed around the 90 Key Knowledge Deliverables (KKD’s) from the Competition projects – a requirement under the terms of the competition – which have now been published in full on the UK Government website. Together with our Lessons Learned report, which we blogged about in July, we should now have a good understanding of how to move forward with CCS projects and what to avoid.
Speaking of moving forward, let’s draw a line under the Competition and look to the future. We need a simple CCS story that answers three basic questions; Why CCS? Why UK? And Why Now?
A new report by the Parliamentary Advisory Group (PAG) on CCS was launched on the 12th September. This report “Lowest Cost Decarbonisation for the UK: The Critical Role of CCS” goes someway to answering the three basic questions. Let’s take each of them in turn:
Although it’s been said numerous times before, let’s repeat the key conclusion from the majority of world-renowned climate organisations like the IPCC etc: attempting to tackle climate change without CCS will increase costs significantly.
However, the PAG CCS report also emphasises the point that CCS has economy-wide benefits:
- CCS is absolutely critical to decarbonise industrial sectors like steel, cement, refining and chemicals
- Using hydrogen to decarbonise domestic and industrial heating is gaining increased attention at the moment (the recently published H21 Leeds City Gate report proposes to convert the Leeds gas grid to a hydrogen network). Steam methane reforming (SMR) of natural gas with CCS is currently the best option for producing large-scale, low-cost, green hydrogen. So CCS has an important role to play in decarbonising heat
- CCS on power can be cost-competitive today with other sources of low-carbon electricity
- CCS on fossil fuels provides the only option for flexible low-carbon electricity and is therefore complementary to renewables and nuclear
There’s an argument that’s been brewing for a while that the UK doesn’t need to be a first mover on CCS – we can wait for other countries to develop the technology and then import it later. This argument simply isn’t true, for a number of reasons:
- The most significant cost reduction potential for CCS comes from sharing infrastructure – this can’t be bought in from other countries, it has to be developed in the UK
- The UK has significant CO2 storage capacity under the North Sea which should be seen as a national asset. Again, such capacity cannot be bought in and the geological knowledge and expertise must be developed at home (fortunately the UK has a world class oil and gas industry with the perfect skills for CCS)
It may sound obvious, but projects like CCS take time to develop – especially the large-scale transport networks that will be able to take CO2 from a number of different emitters and deliver it to storage sites under the North Sea. We need to start now, otherwise CCS won’t be available in time to fulfil its role, and we won’t meet climate change targets.
There is also a compelling case for starting now when we consider a number of closing windows of opportunity:
- The PAG CCS report clearly identifies the UK’s potential competitive advantage in the form of existing infrastructure that can be used for CCS (in particular pipelines and offshore platforms and fields). Utilising existing infrastructure can reduce CCS costs significantly. However, this infrastructure won’t be around forever and will be decommissioned if there is no clear reason to keep it open
- Industrial sectors such as steel, cement and refining are facing increasingly tough decisions about their future existence (see for example the closure of the steel industry towards the end of 2015). The availability of CCS allows these industries to consider a much broader approach to their future in a carbon-constrained world, and CCS therefore plays a part in retaining these vital industries in the UK
Since becoming Prime Minister, Theresa May has made some interesting changes – notably the merger of the previous Department for Energy and Climate Change with the Department for Business, Industry and Skills into a new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It is clear that Industrial Strategy is a key focus of the new Government. Delivering an ambitious CCS programme will play a major part in ensuring that this Strategy is truly low-carbon.