Will carbon capture and storage ever make fossil fuels safe?

Eco audit verdict from 21st May, 2014 – Full story here

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a vital technology for avoiding dangerous climate change. MPs, Shell, the IPCC, the energy industry, the IEA and environmentalists all agree, with a minimum of vitriol. It’s almost eerie. Why is CCS, championed in every corner, stalling?

The large up-front cost of the test projects means governments are faced with investing billions in projects that they don’t know will work. Fossil fuel companies meanwhile, have little incentive to stump the cash themselves until carbon pricing forces their hand. This means that despite some good initiatives, enthusiasm for investment has been lacking.

Of course the unanimity surrounding CCS is an illusion. Everyone likes this, but for different reasons. Fossil fuels companies like it, because it allows their business model to have a future without being culpable for breaking the carbon budget. Green groups like it because it offers an opportunity to reduce the carbon impact of industry. British MPs like it because Britain will be able to make lots of money burying other countries’ emissions beneath the North Sea.

Perhaps the most convincing judgement is that of the International Energy Agency (IEA). Whose modelling shows that fossil fuel power with CCS is not simply a way to continue burning fossil fuels, but a key element of the cost-effective pathway to carbon abatement. A huge positive about this technology is the decarbonisation of the baseload power supply, thus complementing the impact of renewables, rather than competing with them.

Will it ever make fossil fuels safe? No. It will only ever capture most, not all, carbon emissions. And it might serve to slow the transition away from coal and gas. But it does offer the chance to make industries like steel and cement, for which we do not currently possess alternatives, much less polluting. For this reason alone it should be pursued. Further, the prospect of attaching CCS to bio-energy power plants and actually removing carbon from the atmosphere while producing electricity is a real and exciting prospect.

But today’s wisest observation, from Dustin Benton and others, was that CCS alone cannot carry our hopes for a stable climate. We must continue to invest in all abatement technologies and not put all our money on the horse that is still in the stable.

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Will Tory plans kill onshore wind in the UK?

Eco audit verdict from 24th April, 2014 – Full story here

There seems to be little doubt that this policy will eventually sink the onshore wind industry in this country. The potential for the technology to compete without subsidies is poor and the handing over of power to local authorities will likely be the final nail in the industry’s coffin.

Tories and many industry leaders are loath to admit that this will put an end to onshore wind, saying that current capacity will be maintained and even grow for a time as projects granted permission before 2015 come online. But what industry survives without long-term growth? For onshore wind to continue to generate investment in research and development (and therefore to stay competitive) it will need to have the potential for new growth and projects. As Jennifer Webber, from RenewableUK says, this policy “will kill the industry dead”.

That is their prerogative, especially if the EU fails to introduce a 2030 renewable energy target as some observers are suggesting they will. But the Committee on Climate Change says the level of onshore wind will need to more than triple by 2030 if the UK is to meet its own emissions reduction commitments.

David Cameron said the policy was a removal of unnecessary subsidies. But this argument washes away quickly when you consider that onshore wind is less expensive than other renewable alternatives, which will continue to attract public funding.

What this is really about is votes in rural areas and an appeal to the NIMBYism that sways the Tory right towards Ukip. In the end, windfarms, like migrant workers and the EU, are seen as alien edifices being imposed on the British way of life. Renewable energy creates jobs, but it fails to create them in the areas where it changes the skyline. Thus locals feel the costs outweigh the benefits. The majority of Brits are for windfarms, but the Tories have decided that the votes they need are not only opposed, but they are so strongly opposed they will decide their vote on it.