Benefits of CCS presented at significant conferences

Alex Zapantis, Institute’s General Manager – Commercial, has been active presenting the benefits of carbon capture and storage at significant conferences this month. He chaired the CCS session at the prestigious Innovation for Cool Earth Forum in Tokyo and presented at the All-Energy Australia conference in Melbourne. Both events were very well attended.

At these events, I delivered three key messages.

  1. A sustainable global society requires solutions like CCS that contribute to the achievement of several of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
  2. CCS is enables the new low emissions economy of the future, transforming high-emission industries into low emission industries.
  3. The lowest cost, true low emissions electricity system will comprise a mixture of intermittent renewable and low emission dispatchable generation including CCS.

Unfortunately, the public energy/climate debate is most often dumbed down to a coal vs renewables argument. CCS is caught up in this environment and is wrongly portrayed as a “coal technology”. This view is not just a gross over-simplification of a complex issue, is just plain wrong.

CCS is a CO2 mitigation technology with broad application across the energy and industry sectors.

In 2015, the United Nations developed 17 Sustainable Development Goals that represent the global community’s view of objectives for human development. And whilst everyone would agree that mitigating climate change is absolutely critical, we should always bear in mind that there are many other challenges that our global society is struggling with.

Achieving any one of these 17 goals will require focus, planning, resources and resolve. Achieving them all simultaneously is an enormous challenge. The reality is that there is competition between these goals for profile, for political support, for scarce resources.

Single issue champions, with good intentions, driven by unquestionable belief in their mission, strive to position their cause as the most important, the most deserving, and sometimes deride other causes in the process.

What is more deserving; providing $1 Billion dollars for healthcare facilities in a developing country or providing $1 Billion dollars to support the renewable energy industry in Europe? The answer to that question will depend very much upon who and where you are.

To succeed in building a sustainable global society, we must find solutions that serve multiple goals over the long term. Solutions that meet the challenges of today whilst keeping us on track to achieve the goals of tomorrow.

We must also enthusiastically accept that there will be many solutions to the same problem, and those solutions will change with place and time. There truly are no silver bullets.

CCS is no silver bullet, but it does contribute to several Sustainable Development Goals.

CCS supports the achievement of the United Nations’ Affordable and Clean Energy Sustainable Development Goal (#7) through the delivery of industrial scale dispatchable, clean low emissions electricity demanded by modern economies. CCS coupled with methane reformation or coal gasification provides the lowest cost zero emissions hydrogen which can be used in stationary energy or to decarbonise the transport sector.

CCS contributes to the United Nations’ Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure Sustainable Development Goal (#9) as it can be applied to new industrial infrastructure or can be retrofit to existing infrastructure such as steel, cement and fertiliser production to make it sustainable and consistent with a low emissions future. CCS is actually the only technology that can mitigate the direct process CO2 emissions created by these industries. Remember that industrial sources of CO2 currently comprise about one quarter of all anthropogenic CO2 emissions. They must be mitigated to achieve climate targets.

CCS supports the United Nations’ Industry, Decent Work and Economic Growth Sustainable Development Goal by allowing the continued use of massive global fossil fuel resources ensuring sufficient supply of low cost energy and industrial feed stocks essential to fuel economic growth whilst reducing emissions.

As the world adopts more stringent climate policies, CCS can reduce the damaging economic and social disruption that would otherwise arise in communities that depend upon fossil fuel production or utilisation as a primary source of employment, protecting and creating skilled and high value jobs.

In fact, the CCS industry itself can become a significant employer and source of wealth generation. To meet climate targets, the global CCS industry in the middle of this century will be as large as the global gas industry is today.

Of course, CCS is essential to achieve the United Nation’s Climate Action (#13) and No Poverty (#1) Sustainable Development Goals by enabling the low emissions economy of the future and being part of the lowest cost pathway to emissions reduction.

One consequence of the dumbing down of the energy debate is a focus on Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE) to compare the relative costs of electricity generation technologies. However what actually matters is the total system cost. This is what consumers actually pay and includes generation costs, transmission, distribution and all the grid services that are essential to deliver a reliable, resilient and stable power supply 24 hours per day. LCOE contributes only to generation business costs. To illustrate, in 2014-15, that amounted to only 28 per cent of total costs in the average Australian National Electricity Market residential power bill. So using LCOE alone to compare generation technologies is incomplete and misleading.

In Melbourne, I presented some analysis completed by Andy Boston of Redvector and Geoff Bongers of Gamma Energy Technology. This analysis modelled the Australian east coast electricity grid, with all of its actual physical constraints, and examined the change of total system cost with increasing penetration of renewables, combined cycle gas and coal with CCS. The analysis suggested that the least cost pathway to a true low emissions grid in Australia requires deployment of

  • Renewables and battery storage until grid emission intensity is reduced by about 45 per cent
  • Then, CCGT until grid emissions intensity is reduced by approximately 55 per cent
  • Then coal plus CCS to achieve 80 per cent emissions reduction.

This analysis is consistent with other analyses at local and global scales that conclude that a broad portfolio of low emissions technologies, including CCS, are required to achieve deep decarbonisation at lowest cost.

Our challenge is to rise above the simplistic energy and climate debate, and continue to communicate sound analysis in an effective manner. This is a challenge we are up for!