A 9 March article titled “Low carbon energy: a new reality” by Brad Page from the Global CCS Institute discusses how global consumption of fossil fuels continues to increase and the urgency for action to reduce CO2 emissions grows as each year passes. According to the article, the International Energy Agency anticipates that coal and gas will remain the most important fuel sources for electricity generation for the foreseeable future.
Page states that Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is an “essential low-carbon technology.” The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report shows that “CCS is a vital climate mitigation technology. Without it, the cost to avoid a global warming of more than 2°C would more than double (by 138%).”
Although the upfront capital expenditure is significant, CCS can enable the energy sector to produce baseload power with near to zero emissions and deliver reliable long-term baseload power. CCS uses existing technologies, which are already low cost and proven and it can address emissions from industrial processes, such as steelmaking and cement manufacture.
According to Page, “CCS technology is active, operational and viable.” The Global CCS Institute’s annual Global Status of CCS: 2014 report found 22 projects under construction or already operational worldwide, double the number at the beginning of the decade. The CCS industry is poised to move through its most active construction period to date, extending across a diverse range of sectors, such as iron and steel, natural gas and power. The report details nine CCS projects under construction with investments totalling billions of dollars. Eight of these are expected to become operational by 2016.
There are a further 14 large-scale CCS projects in the advanced planning stage, including nine in the power sector. According to Page, “this further reinforces the growing confidence in the technical maturity of CCS and offers the prospect of large-scale CCS projects operating by 2020 across a range of industries, fuels and technology suppliers.”
SaskPower’s Boundary Dam facility in Canada which went online in October, 2014, is the world’s first example of CCS at full scale on a coal-fired power plant. Two more CCS projects in the energy sector are expected to become operational in the next two years. This includes the Kemper County Energy Facility in Mississippi and the Petra Nova Carbon Capture Project in Texas.
With large-scale CCS power projects now a reality, an important milestone in deployment of the technology has been achieved. This means that it is time to discuss how CCS can best be deployed as part of a least-cost approach to climate change mitigation.
While there has been steady progress with CCS, particularly in the US, Canada and China, the challenge remains to reduce the costs of this technology. Like any technology, costs are expected to reduce significantly as second generation projects apply learning and expertise from existing projects. This is already occuring with CCS demonstration in the energy sector gaining valuable design, construction and operational experience by ‘learning by doing’. SaskPower has stated that a capital cost reduction of up to 30% is readily achievable for its next CCS project. The world’s energy industry is paying close attention to the savings and how commissioning procedures and standard operations can be applied to new projects elsewhere.
In the article, Page states that “strong, sustainable emission reduction policies, which encourage CCS, are urgently needed.” Page goes on to say that “it is critical that CCS is acknowledged for its role in capturing carbon emissions. The right policy and funding mechanisms are needed to help CCS deliver a least cost, clean energy solution for climate change. It is clear today’s progress on CCS is the product of the vision our leaders had five to ten years ago. We know the climate challenge is becoming ever more demanding. If we are to gain the benefits the next wave of projects can bring, now is the time for decision makers to make a renewed commitment to this vital technology.”