Is Carbon Capture Part of the Problem,
or Part of the Solution?
Dec. 5, 2011 - Bruno Berthon - greenbiz.com
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) has become one
of the controversial topics of discussion among
the business community at the side events at the
climate change talks.
Many see CCS as part of the solution, but a number
of observers and NGOs see it as part of the problem.
After all, CCS means the continued development
of fossil fuels.
CCS aims to very effectively capture 99 percent
of the carbon emitted during an industrial process,
whether power generation by utilities or production
such as in cement or chemicals. It requires a modest
and decreasing energy fee (15 percent to 20 percent)
but a higher investment cost.
So is it an evil in disguise, pretending to be
clean and diverting investments from establishing
fully renewable sources? Or is it a necessary compromise
WBCSD Vision 2050 of controlled climate
change and managed emissions levels of below 450ppm?
One camp, represented by Greenpeace
doubts of the validity of certain technologies
and resources -- nuclear, CCS, shale gases -- and
is convinced that this dilution of efforts is diverting
the required investments from the aggressive support
for large-scale penetration of renewable energy.
The other camp, the pragmatists, incarnated in
Durban by Philippe Joubert, the Deputy CEO of Alstom,
is focusing the case on the need for the appropriate
portfolio strategy, country by country or sector
by sector. He argues that this should balance risks
with energy capacity needs and combine solutions
that address both the volume challenge in the short
to mid-term as well as the emissions reduction
one in the longer term.
So on one hand, we have the virtuous example of
Germany and the successful political determination
to aggressively grow renewable generation. On the
other, we are reminded that coal is here to stay:
Not only is it the number one fossil fuel source
for electricity, but it had the largest share of
the increase in electricity generation capacity
in 2010. And, of course, it is abundant in both
developed and emerging countries. Consequently,
cleaning it is a must.
The conclusion of the debate will be made at country
level. Not only do local conditions vary enormously,
but budget decisions rest with national governments
for new technologies. For developing markets like
South Africa, where access to energy is a priority
in the fight to raise people above the poverty
line, the use of the coal will be supported even
when there is a program in pace to develop renewables.
For countries like China, where the correlation
between economic growth and energy capacity is
for the time being extremely high, the only possible
choice is to pursue all energy options in parallel.
China has the largest hydro-dam, 24 nuclear plants
and one new generation plant a week in production – covering
coal, gas, wind and solar. The home of the world's
leading solar industry is also a country overwhelmingly
dependant on coal.
For other countries like the U.S. or Poland, whose
existing portfolio remains largely dominated by
coal, it is clear that even with limited demand
growth, there is no real satisfactory option without
coal and/or shale gas. However, for smaller countries
that are deprived of fossil resources, like Denmark
or many islands around the world, a full renewable
strategy seems not only preferred but realistic.
The main consequence of this analysis is that,
no matter what the prospects are for CCS or renewable
energy in the long term, there should be no surprise
that the world's emissions have continued to grow