Wednesday, April 29, 2009

carbon capture. eventually. probably. a bit.

Ed Miliband, Climate Change and Energy Secretary, has already shown how deep he is in the pocket of the fossil-loving energy companies.

Mr Miliband is exploring options for persuading the industry to look again at coal. One option, still under discussion, is for a new levy on household energy bills that would raise money to support the new carbon capture technology.

Hang on, I pay to have a 100% renewable electricity supply, and you want to give me an extra tax on it to pay for new coal?

Last week he announced four plants will be built to demonstrate Carbon Capture and Storage on coal-fired power stations.

The plan says

Once the technology is commercially proven - a judgement Miliband suggested would be made by the Environment Agency - plants would be required to put CCS on 100% of output. He said that was expected to happen by 2020, and plants would have five years from then to install 100% CCS.

We're being asked to ignore the huge emissions released in the initial period (Miliband says only around 25% of emissions need to be captured, making it higher-carbon than any other source of power except unabated coal). Even after the technology is proven, we're being asked to ignore the further emissions in as inexplicably long a scale-up period as five years.

This, as is well established, far too late to start cutting back, as Danny Daisy points out

The Government have no plans to scale up the technology for 15 years - which is hardly surprising, as even the coal industry have admitted that it'll take at least that long to find out if carbon capture can work on a large scale.

Meanwhile, global emissions need to peak in 2015 (6 years away) and then start to fall if we have any chance of avoiding global disaster. Large-scale carbon capture will arrive far, far too late to help with that. The only technologies that can help us to avoid climate catastrophe are the ones that already exist.

Even after finding a carpet large enough to sweep all this under, there's still a major problem. This is all 'once the technology is proven'.

Miliband said

CCS is the only technology with the potential to reduce emissions from fossil fuels by up to 90 per cent

The weasel word there is 'potential'. If the government's so confident of that being possible, said the Royal Society, then it's obvious what to do. Build the new coal stations on the condition that if they can't cut their emissions by 90 percent in 2020, they get shut down. Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks says if those were the terms then nobody would build them.

That, then, is an admission that they don't think it's definite at all. And if we've built the stations but found CCS doesn't work, what are we going to do?

As George Monbiot reasons

If, say, the government decides that in 2020 one-fifth of our power will come from coal, and then discovers in 2020 that coal emissions cannot be abated by CCS, it will not be able to shut those power stations down without massive consequences for electricity supply.

The choice will be a stark one: either it will have to abandon its carbon targets or it will have to subject the country to electricity rationing and rolling black-outs. It's not hard to guess which way it would jump.

Additionally, their choice of the south-east of England as the location for the new power stations immediately present them with one of the main problems with Carbon Capture and Storage. Where is the storage going to be?

They'll have to build a pipeline hundreds of miles long to the North Sea, where it can be pumped into old oil and gas fields. The problem there is not only the expense and impact of the pipeline, but what comes back out of the ground. This is a huge issue that I've not seen mentioned in any of the coverage.

Pumping CO2 into old oil fields releases oil that would otherwise have stayed in the ground. The industry calls it Enhanced Oil Recovery. Much of this EOR oil will be burned in vehicles. You're unlikely to see a carbon capture pipeline out of the back of a car any time soon. The emissions from the released oil are likely to be at least half as much as the CO2 stored.

So this 25% cut becomes, at best, at 13% cut. Even their (pardon the pun) pipedream of 100% is only a 50% reduction. Fifty percent of way too much is still too much, especially when there are far lower carbon options on the table right now.

CCS - even if it works, even if we can deploy it in time - shouldn't be considered if it doesn't include full capture, which means prohibiting any 'enhanced recovery'.

No comments: