Won't Kingsnorth use carbon capture and storage technology?

Posted by jossg — 18 February 2008 at 5:09pm - Comments

Capturing carbon from coal: not currently a viable option

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Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology promises to remove dangerous greenhouse gas emissions from the coal power generation process before it gets into the atmosphere. As such it has been presented as a sort of fossil-fuel Holy Grail. The trouble with CCS is that no-one knows when - if ever - it will be commercially available. At the moment there are only a few small scale demonstration plants.

The whole CCS enterprise is loaded with uncertainties. It doesn't mean it won't happen. But it does mean we have to take a long sober look at what role we assume CCS can play in cutting CO2 in the crucial period up to 2020, when CO2 emissions need to peak.

The theoretical possibility of CCS is being used by government and industry as a wedge to drive through new coal fired power stations in the UK. Kingsnorth 2, and others like Tilbury, Blyth, Ferrybridge, High Marnham, Longannet and Cockenzie, would each emit millions of tons of CO2 and are NOT CCS plants. They are plain old fashioned coal plants.

We certainly should not be allowing new coal plants to be built at a time when we need to cut our emissions - plants that will belch out millions of tons of CO2 a year and if left 'unabated' (ie without CCS), will make it well nigh impossible to meet our carbon targets.

Kingsnorth 2 is NOT a CCS plant. Kingsnorth 2 is a conventional coal plant. In an email sent from E.ON (the German utility behind Kingsnorth) to BERR (Department of Business) officials on January 16th 2008, the company says that CCS technology at Kingsnorth "obviously... has no current reference for viability at any scale."

The government doesn't yet even have an official definition of what "CCS ready" means. In practical terms, it's basically just an empty field. E.ON's definition of "CCS Ready" is:

"A CO2 capture-ready power plant is a plant which can include CO2 capture when the necessary regulatory or economic drivers are in place." - Modern Power Systems, June 10th 2007

E.ON opposed the suggestion from one government official that Kingsnorth 2 even be made ‘capture ready' as a condition of approval saying that Hutton has "no right" to withhold approval for the conventional coal plant they're proposing. Even if it is 'CCS ready' there is no commitment to actually fit CCS without the government policy and subsidy support that E.ON deems is 'necessary'.

Other power utilities have expressed doubts. Centrica says that conventional coal is finished as a generating technology unless CCS is proven:

"We believe that any investment in coal without carbon capture will be increasingly risky. We therefore have no current plans to invest in coal generation without carbon capture." - Centrica quoted in WWF 'UK Power Giants' Report, 09/07

Rival RWE npower support new coal-fired power stations (and are investigating onshore and offshore possibilities for CO2 storage) but, like E.ON, have their own list of worries before they think CCS can be fitted to their new coal plants. According to Andy Duff, npower's CEO:

"At this time there are still many financial, legal, regulatory, and technical hurdles to clear on CO2 transportation and storage technology." Modern Power Systems, June 12th 2007

Also the financial sector has expressed reservations:

"There is consensus that CCS will be an integral part of the solution to climate change. However, given its high costs, it will not be economically justified in the near term, when CO2 reduction requirements are likely to be small, and other approaches to CO2 reduction will be less expensive," said Standard & Poor's credit analyst David Lundberg in Global Power Report, June 7th 2007.

All of which is to say that maybe CCS will work and maybe it won't, but either way it won't be ready in time to deliver the immediate cuts in CO2 that climate scientists say we urgently need. Until such time as CCS becomes a reality - energy efficiency, decentralised energy and renewable energy - must be prioritized.

Two articles of CCS in less than a fortnight? I hope there were no issues with the previous article. Reading this piece, things are obviously moving fast, seeing that Greenpeace’s Ben Stuart said last month that carbon capture and storage “isn’t viable in the first half of this century” (at time 2:20).

Probably the most interesting recent news is that
China could well beat the rest of the world in delivering a full scale CCS solution
. Meanwhile in the UK there is little more than a month left before parties have to indicate their interest in the government’s CCS demonstration competition. This is to build and operate a carbon capture plant by 2014 for a coal plant larger than 300MW, complete with offshore storage.

However there is good new for Andy Duff; shortly after he was quoted the OSPAR Convention was amended to allow offshore carbon storage.

I find the timing of this posting a little ironic; in the past week there have been several very cold days, with heavy frosts, fog and low cloud all day long. This has been caused by a high pressure system sat over the British Isles and Northern Europe. It would be a reasonable bet that the demand for energy was high. What proportion of the generated electricity came from thermal or hydroelectric sources? How much was wind able to provide? Yes wind can reduce the need to burn so much fossil fuel, but only when the wind blows. The only controllable “renewable” power source currently available that could be scaled up to meet the whole UK electrical demand is biomass. And we would have serious issues providing sufficient fuel for that.

There are potentially other sources of reliable that could be developed (and no doubt the more economic will be), but thermal power generation will need to be around for a long time yet, even if it is only as reserve.

Personally I am not surprised that the12GW of plant that will close by 2015 is resulting in a similar amount of thermal stations being developed (irrespective of how many GW of wind is built –assuming the turbines can be sourced). So far over 6GW of gas stations have consent. Combined with numerous smaller CHP plants, two thirds of which are gas fired, it won’t be too long before the majority of the generating plant is gas powered. Is this a good idea?

I know Greenpeace has proposed alternative energy mixes, but I’ve yet to have my doubts put to rest.

There have been large-scale demonstrations of CCS for years now. So we know the technology is feasible and available.

The next step is to implement it on biomass power plants. That way we get a carbon-negative energy system that ends climate change.

No other technology is capable of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. Biomass + CCS is.

The question is: why is Greenpeace not reporting on this most radically green of all energy options? Doesn't it take climate change serious perhaps? Or is it threatening its doom and gloom agenda?

Two articles of CCS in less than a fortnight? I hope there were no issues with the previous article. Reading this piece, things are obviously moving fast, seeing that Greenpeace’s Ben Stuart said last month that carbon capture and storage “isn’t viable in the first half of this century” (at time 2:20). Probably the most interesting recent news is that China could well beat the rest of the world in delivering a full scale CCS solution. Meanwhile in the UK there is little more than a month left before parties have to indicate their interest in the government’s CCS demonstration competition. This is to build and operate a carbon capture plant by 2014 for a coal plant larger than 300MW, complete with offshore storage. However there is good new for Andy Duff; shortly after he was quoted the OSPAR Convention was amended to allow offshore carbon storage. I find the timing of this posting a little ironic; in the past week there have been several very cold days, with heavy frosts, fog and low cloud all day long. This has been caused by a high pressure system sat over the British Isles and Northern Europe. It would be a reasonable bet that the demand for energy was high. What proportion of the generated electricity came from thermal or hydroelectric sources? How much was wind able to provide? Yes wind can reduce the need to burn so much fossil fuel, but only when the wind blows. The only controllable “renewable” power source currently available that could be scaled up to meet the whole UK electrical demand is biomass. And we would have serious issues providing sufficient fuel for that. There are potentially other sources of reliable that could be developed (and no doubt the more economic will be), but thermal power generation will need to be around for a long time yet, even if it is only as reserve. Personally I am not surprised that the12GW of plant that will close by 2015 is resulting in a similar amount of thermal stations being developed (irrespective of how many GW of wind is built –assuming the turbines can be sourced). So far over 6GW of gas stations have consent. Combined with numerous smaller CHP plants, two thirds of which are gas fired, it won’t be too long before the majority of the generating plant is gas powered. Is this a good idea? I know Greenpeace has proposed alternative energy mixes, but I’ve yet to have my doubts put to rest.

There have been large-scale demonstrations of CCS for years now. So we know the technology is feasible and available. The next step is to implement it on biomass power plants. That way we get a carbon-negative energy system that ends climate change. No other technology is capable of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. Biomass + CCS is. The question is: why is Greenpeace not reporting on this most radically green of all energy options? Doesn't it take climate change serious perhaps? Or is it threatening its doom and gloom agenda?

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