A renewed focus for CCS deployment in the UK

Posted On: 
31st August 2018

ETI programme manager, Geraint Evans looks at why it is important that CCS is part of the future UK energy system and the policy signals needed to create a market for this valuable, decarbonising technology.

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In a recent report from the Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage Cost Challenge Taskforce, Energy Minister Claire Perry provided recognition that CCS is needed if we are to meet climate change targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Though new CCS projects continue to emerge, the industry is still not investable at scale. 

CCS is an enabling technology with implications and benefits that can stretch across the whole energy system. When the Clean Growth Strategy was announced at the end of 2017, we welcomed the government’s renewed focus on CCS development in the UK. More recently, MPs on the Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Committee launched an inquiry “to test the Government’s ambitions in this area and to examine what policy levers need to be pulled to make large-scale Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage a reality in the future.”

As a cornerstone for the lowest cost energy system transition, the recent push for greater analysis and investment in CCS could help the UK to realise the technology’s potentially considerable economic prize, combining not only the storage of generated carbon emissions, but also enhancing system flexibility in the clean generation of hydrogen. The ETI believes that the value of CCS comes from its potential for use in multiple operations including power generation and capturing industrial emissions. One of the most significant and valuable uses of CCS is realised when it is combined with bioenergy (BECCS). Our analysis has shown that through the gasification of feedstocks that provide new low carbon energy supplies, BECCS can deliver negative emissions (the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere), making its deployment critical from the mid-2030s if the UK is to meet its 2050 targets cost-effectively. With our natural resources providing ample CO2 storage capacity, CCS is an opportunity we shouldn’t ignore.

It is therefore vital for new CCS pathways to be developed, as achieving UK 2050 carbon targets without deploying any CCS is very likely to result in substantially higher costs – potentially greater than 2% of GDP by 2050 across the energy system. But these costs and risks to the UK’s decarbonisation pathway could be reduced if the deployment of CCS is brought forward, rather than delayed. We are beginning to see some progress here, most recently in the development of Pale Blue Dot Energy’s, Acorn CCS project at the St Fergus gas terminal near Peterhead, which has received some funding from the Taskforce. The ETI believes that any delay to CCS implementation could add an estimated £1-2bn per year throughout the 2020s to the otherwise best cost for reducing carbon emissions.

Our research has painted a detailed carbon storage picture for the UK, identifying what there is, where it is and how much capacity is available, with no technical barriers to use. Because of this, we see the challenge to CCS deployment as being commercial, not technical. The key to early cost reduction for CCS is through deployment of investable projects rather than creating new capture technology platforms. To begin to see cost reductions, we need to show the technology works at scale. This is not to say that the development of lower cost, more efficient technologies doesn’t remain important for the future, but rather the commercial deployment of CCS should not be delayed while we wait for such developments.

It is fair to say that success or otherwise in deploying CCS will influence and determine key aspects of the UK’s future energy infrastructure architecture. As the carbon budgets tighten and existing fossil fuel and nuclear power stations reach the end of their lives, we see decarbonisation of heavy industry leading the deployment of CCS, securing flexible, low carbon electricity generation capacity from the mid-2020s onwards. Supporting this, power with CCS enables other applications, such as industrial, hydrogen and BECCS to cost effectively flourish.

The option of CCS in a future energy system needs to be kept open, and so recent investment in CCS development in the UK, from both the public and private sector has been a welcome and positive step for the industry. It is important that this support continues in order to create long term benefits to the UK and potential investors, with each side taking on the risks that they can manage. It is about piecing together the process of proven technologies in different applications and applying them to CCS deployment.

Today’s capture technology is from a relatively mature technology base and further improvements are expected in cost and performance. This can move the industry forward today. It may be possible to meet the UK’s climate targets without CCS, but it will make it more expensive for the country to do so, potentially doubling the cost and closing down options that could be more attractive to consumers than others.