The government must move faster in implementing carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology if the UK is to meet ambitious targets to cut its carbon emissions, according to civil engineers.
In a report published today by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), experts argue that the government must issue a national policy statement for the technology, in the same way that proposals for large-scale future energy projects in nuclear, coal and wind power are planned. This would reduce uncertainty among companies and investors while speeding up the implementation of the technology.
"Seventy per cent of the world's electricity is generated by coal," said Geoff French, the vice-president of ICE. "Coal and gas is going to stay an important part of [energy] generation but we desperately need to get CCS implemented and one of the things we desperately need is a clear and stable planning and licensing regime. What we want is for government to clearly set the framework and then leave it to industry to get on with it."
Despite the recent government consultation on CCS which proposed building several clusters of projects and up to four demonstration plants some time in the next decade, French said there were still too many missing links for businesses. "Nobody's going to do it unless they have to because inevitably it will increase the price of energy," he said.
A national policy statement would include decisions on who takes long-term responsibility for the CO2 stored underground and who builds and maintains the network of pipelines required to move the gas to storage areas. "It's not enough to say each generator of CO2 should put in their own pipework, that would be silly. We need somebody to take responsibility for providing that network," he said.
Despite government rhetoric, the ICE said that there had not been enough action to cut emissions quickly enough to meet the target of an 80% reduction by 2050 and also to keep the UK at the forefront of the technology. "I don't think having four demonstration projects by 2015 is what we should be doing - we should be having many many more. None of this is moving fast enough." said French.
The UK government's CCS competition will see up to four smaller demonstrations of the technology built and operational in the country some time in the middle of the next decade. Later this year, the European Union is expected to approve funding of a €180m award for a CCS demonstration project at Powerfuel's proposed 900MW coal-fired power station in Hatfield, Yorkshire. The EU wants up to 12 commercial CCS projects to be demonstrated around the continent by 2015.
Commenting on the ICE report, the secretary of state for energy and climate change, Ed Miliband, said that Ernst and Young had recently voted the UK as the second most attractive country for CCS investment. "We firmly believe that the UK will be one of the first to develop clean coal technology. As the [ICE] points out, the UK has shown clear leadership on CCS. We have committed to building up to four CCS demonstration plants and plan a world leading dedicated financial support mechanism for CCS."
He added: "The UK government has done more than any other to encourage the demonstration and deployment of CCS including: assuming long-term responsibility for storage sites, requiring all new combustion power stations be constructed carbon capture ready and proposing that any new coal plant must demonstrate CCS on a substantial part of its capacity."
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