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UK’s industry holds key to our low-carbon future

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Guest blog from Indira Mann, Communications & Knowledge Exchange Executive, SCCS

The last few days have brought yet another body blow to the UK’s steel industry as it struggles to remain viable within a changeable global market. This marketplace, for industry in general, will also begin to feel the impact of a rising carbon price and a client base that is demanding more sustainable products. Could this shift in emphasis provide light at the end of the tunnel for the UK’s industrial sector and can it rise to the carbon challenge?

A cross-party group of parliamentarians and external stakeholders met at Westminster last week to discuss UK industry’s vision for tackling its emissions through carbon capture and storage (CCS). This range of technologies provides the means of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from industrial facilities and power plants for storage in suitable geological sites deep underground.

On the same day we released our report, Achieving a low-carbon society: CCS expertise and opportunity in the UK. Our aim was to highlight the UK’s unique and enviable set of assets, which can deliver a CCS industry, allowing us to meet crucial emissions targets cost-effectively – in line with the international climate agreement reached in Paris – while supporting industry and powering the economy.

 

Those of us present at the Westminster meeting heard the compelling case made yet again for the creation of industrial CCS “clusters” up and down the UK, which can share the costs of decarbonisation. Representatives from two pioneering projects – at Teesside and Grangemouth – reminded us that CCS remains the only way for industry to achieve the deep emissions cuts that are needed, and that clusters offer businesses large and small the chance to access transport and storage infrastructure, which would be impossible if going it alone.

The market for sustainable, high-quality products is real and, as one speaker at the meeting put it, “if clients don’t get the products their customers want then they’ll simply go elsewhere”. In our opinion, the UK has both the means and the opportunity to lead the way in the production of low-carbon, high quality goods. However, our report warns that the door is closing on least-cost opportunities for developing a homegrown CCS industry, based around an impressive North Sea CO2 storage asset, which will be necessary for this transition.

There is still talk of CCS being unproven or financially unviable – including from our own Prime Minister – yet the evidence is to the contrary. In fact, if we don’t deploy CCS sooner rather than later, taxpayers will be hit by even greater costs relating to climate action further down the line. And at that point, current infrastructure that could so easily and usefully be redeployed for CCS will have been dismantled.

We’ve called on government, industry and academia to define their objectives and ambitions for CCS in the UK, and have suggested four key areas of focus. Firstly, a commitment from government to deliver industrial CCS supported by appropriate funding mechanisms. With this backing, the Teesside and eastern Scotland initiatives would pave the way for a growing CCS industry, which utilises North Sea CO2 storage and would be available to other industrial emitters and follow-on CCS projects.

Secondly, if gas-fired power generation forms a sizeable proportion of UK demand, as government policy seems to be supporting, then future plants must be genuinely CCS-ready. That means a proper assessment of where they are sited to ensure viable access to pipeline and/or shipping connections to suitable CO2 storage sites. With the decommissioning of North Sea infrastructure that could be redeployed for CCS, this is becoming increasingly urgent.

Thirdly, when it comes to gaining acceptance of CCS, we must have clarity on the actual cost of delivering the first and subsequent phases of projects, and this only happens when capture costs are separated from transport and storage. At present, the first CCS projects are expected to meet the full cost of the infrastructure needed, which would then be available for follow-on projects. Clearly, this presents a skewed view of cost when compared with other forms of low-carbon power, such as offshore wind or nuclear.

Finally, the creation of a Scottish CO2 downstream hub would unlock a CCS industry that serves UK emitters but also fits well with plans for collection-and-dispatch hubs for Europe and Scandinavia. By using cost-effective shipping to begin with, this could be expanded sequentially on a project-by-project basis.

Industry has already woken up to the need for effective and affordable decarbonisation but it needs political will and an urgent reset of CCS ambition for it to follow through.

The SCCS report derives from its 2015 annual conference of policymakers, industry, academia and representatives from Scottish, UK and European governments. It shows how low-carbon, competitive economies can be rapidly and uniquely assisted by CCS. Download the report at:  http://www.sccs.org.uk/achieving-a-lowcarbon-society