The problem with carbon capture and storage (CCS)
Should we accept the building of new coal plants if they include carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology? Is CCS is a silver bullet? Or is it just another false solution, touted by an industry desperately trying to stay relevant in a carbon constrained world?
CCS is a means of separating out carbon dioxide when burning fossil fuels, and then dumping it – underground, or else at or under the sea bed.
CCS isn’t commercially viable; there are no commercially operating CCS plants in the world. And for all the industry’s obfuscation, the new plant at Kingsnorth won’t be able to capture and store carbon; it will just be ready to incorporate CCS should the technology ever become viable in the future.
Whether this will ever happen is unknowable. A UN report predicts that CCS won’t be able to play any significant role for decades, and the bulk of its deployment would take place in the second half of this century – and even then only if the appropriate subsidy mechanisms and policy drivers are put in place.
Even Chancellor Alistair Darling – a supporter of coal – admits that CCS “may never work”. “Yes, carbon capture and storage, if it can be developed, would help,” he said. “But at this stage we cannot be certain of that. There is no commercial scale operation of CCS on power generation anywhere in the world.”
So E.ON wants to build a plant that will pump out as much CO2 as thirty developing countries, year on year, in the hope that, at some unspecified point in the future, CCS technology will become viable. As Monbiot says: “We could be stuck with a new generation of coal-burning power stations, approved on the basis of a promise that never materialises, which commit us to massive emissions for 40 years.”
To avoid a climate crisis, the UN says we have less than 100 months to peak in emissions and then start drastically reducing them. Given this urgency, it seems common sense that any solutions to climate change needs to be ready for deployment very quickly.
And plenty of ready-to-go solutions do exist: energy efficiency, combined heat and power, wind, wave, tidal and solar power, for example. All that’s lacking is the political will to implement them – and investing money, time and political will in CCS, like that other false solution, is only going to undermine the real solutions we already have.
CSS is being used as a justification to keep building inefficient, poorly constructed coal fired power stations – the dirtiest possible way of producing electricity ever invented.