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UW 07 02 14 Uberflip

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utILIty WeeK | 7th - 13th February 2014 | 7 Comment "The UK must build several large-scale plants with the full CCS kit and caboodle to get the operating hours in so it can realistically appraise its performance." Utility Week expert view Trevor Loveday F or many, the prospect of burying billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide in caves under the sea as a means to curb climate change might sound like a premise for a bad disaster movie. But the technology to do this is available now, and it might just emerge as the best option for a power industry looking for a low-car- bon means to fill the gaps that renewables and nuclear create. Whether it proves to be the game-changer or not, we must get a move on and find out. Carbon capture and storage is commonly described as untried, which it is in power production. But it has been used, in some cases for decades, in a handful of industrial applications worldwide. Statoil tucks away a million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year at its Sleipner field in the North Sea to rid the natural gas from the field of naturally present carbon dioxide. And the first com- mercial scale plant is likely to be in Saskatchewan, Can- ada where CCS has been retrofitted to one 130MW unit at an upgraded coal-fired plant due to start generating in the first quarter this year. Not only is CCS untried in power generation, it is untested anywhere on the scale its advocates foresee it being used – as a means to rein in energy industry green- house gas emissions. The International Energy Agency, in its CCS Technology Roadmap, called on governments to invest £32 billion between 2010 and 2020 to bring on 100 CCS projects. The IEA believes those first 100 plants will enable the energy industry to fine-tune CCS before there is a surge to 3,400 plants worldwide – with invest- ment of £1,800 billion – that will take out 20 per cent of global carbon emissions. Compare that heroic vision with the UK's two com- mercial scale projects, which are just out of the foothills of development aer the UK govern- ment's lamentable showing in taking seven years and two attempts to award a £1 billion kick-start for large-scale CCS plant. Brussels too has put in a similarly comedic performance with its single award of new entrants reserve funding to CCS for a closing steel plant where the CCS was facing "insurmountable technical problems", according to its owner. Hence World Energy Council sec- retary general Christoph Frei's sum- mary of CCS investment: "It's not happening." Nevertheless there are about a dozen large-scale CCS projects up and running worldwide, with eight under construction – but none are generating. Counting projects of all sizes there are about 80 under develop- ment globally. Of four power plants in the pipeline, two are from the UK. So "bubbling under" might be an appo- site description of carbon dioxide abatement using CCS. The Energy Technologies Institute – the UK govern- ment's R&D collaboration with industry – is producing groundbreaking and exportable stuff essential for CCS. Its ideas include better ways to capture carbon, a database of storage options, methods for monitoring stores, plan- ning algorithms for transport networks and generating products from carbon dioxide as an alternative to storage. But the UK has an urgent need for flexible generation because it is closing a lot of flexible plant and building a lot of intermittent wind and other renewable plant. In the longer term there is the prospect of inflexible nuclear baseload, in which case flexibility will remain impor- tant for meeting peak demand. CCS advocates take it as given that CCS will enable power producers to continue exploiting the abundance and flexibility of fossil fuels without the carbon penalty. And well it might, which makes it worth serious investigation. The potential for gain adds urgency to the need to realise it. But so does the possibility that CCS might fail to match expectations. If so, we need time to effect a plan B, be it greater focus on storage, better interconnection with geothermal and hydro sources or backing off our carbon targets. So the UK must build several large-scale plants with the full CCS kit and caboodle to get the operating hours in so it can realistically appraise its performance. This is high risk, nationally strategic and urgently needed heavy investment. It's a job for government. And a possible home for some of the billions going into offshore wind. And while the scale of the CCS task is geological, the glacial pace of progress to date is not what's needed. In the short term, fossil fuel-fired generation is our only flexible friend. Sadly the carbon reduction possi- bilities offered by replacing coal with gas are thwarted by cheap coal and low carbon prices. So with UK ambitions to near-decarbonise the power sector by 2030 as demand grows to a baseload of 70GW, burning unabated fossils is not a realistic option. Thankfully, at least from a pollution-curbing perspec- tive, the world's biggest carbon emitter, China, is forging ahead with large-scale trials of CCS-fitted power plant. CCS is part of its current five-year plan. So while we wait for the outcome we may find ourselves grateful that the sort of dithering we've seen over CCS in the UK isn't nor- mally a feature of centrally planned economies.

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