November 29, 2018 Read More →

Carbon capture costs loom large in climate talks

Reuters:

When countries gather on Sunday to hammer out how they will enact pledges to cut carbon emissions, a Norwegian-led oil consortium will offer a solution: pump some of your excess carbon dioxide to us and we could store it for you.

Environmentalists worry the costly technology, known as carbon capture and storage (CCS), will perpetuate the fossil fuel status quo when rapid and deep cuts energy use are needed to limit global warming. But proponents of CCS will be lobbying hard at the two-week climate conference in Katowice, Poland, for the extensive investment and regulatory change required to employ it at scale, citing U.N. assessments that it could play a role.

“The expectation is that Katowice will be important,” said Stephen Bull, a senior vice president at Norwegian state-controlled oil company Equinor, which is involved in developing a CCS project called Northern Lights. “CCS is the only way to go,” he said, arguing that countries need the technology to help fulfil the pledges they made around the time of the breakthrough Paris climate change agreement in 2015.

The relatively small scale of the project, along with the unsolved problem of who will pay for it, highlight the obstacles to getting CCS technology off the ground. Organizers of the estimated 1.6 billion euros ($1.8 billion) Northern Lights project say it could store around 5 million tonnes per year of emissions from a Norwegian waste-to energy plant, a cement plant as well as emissions from other countries. This is a tiny fraction of the 6 billion tonnes per year that would need to be stored by 2050 according to the International Energy Agency, which coordinates industrialized nations’ energy policies.

A European Union climate strategy published on Wednesday said rapid deployment of renewables meant the potential of CCS to be a major decarbonization option appeared lower than before. But it said CCS would be needed, especially if the bloc wanted to reach a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Earlier attempts to fund CCS in Europe have largely failed. An EU program in 2012 did not go on to fund a single CCS project and a British support scheme was canceled in 2015.

Eighteen large-scale CCS plants are in operation around the world, according to the Global CCS Institute, which says 2,500 CCS facilities, each able to store 1.5 million tonnes a year, would be needed by 2040 to keep global warming within a 2C rise.

Countries as far afield as Algeria and Japan are working with CCS but only two of the world’s CCS operations are on power plants. The CCS industry sees potential for many more. But the U.S. Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) think tank said this month that coal plants are having a difficult time competing with wind and solar resources which have come down rapidly in price even without CCS.

“Economics is a serious issue. And to do CCS on a wide scale you need to build a whole new infrastructure: new pipelines, find repositories which would work, inspection equipment and then monitoring,” said IEEFA’S David Schlissel.

More: Pressure mounts to bury carbon emissions, but who will pay?

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