13 January 2016

UK government's energy policy challenged

IChemE Energy Centre

The Institution of Chemical Engineers' (IChemE) Energy Centre has questioned the long-term credibility of the UK government’s energy policies and its ability to meet the climate change targets agreed in Paris after funding for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) was scrapped.

Yesterday afternoon, UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, appeared before the House of Commons Liaison Committee to face questions on his government’s approach to climate change and CCS.

Cameron stated that for CCS, “The economics at the moment really aren't working.” This had led to the decision to cut funding for a competition to identify large-scale demonstration projects in the UK. However, the IChemE Energy Centre believes that this is a missed opportunity and questions how such a decision could have been made before evidence had been submitted by the competition entrants.

The UK government will phase out coal-fired power stations in order to comply with the EU Large Combustion Plant Directive. The planned replacement gas-fired power plants will deliver a reduced carbon footprint because gas produces half the amount of carbon emissions and short-term targets will be met.

However, the carbon emission savings achieved by switching to gas from coal will not deliver the reductions required to meet the long-term targets agreed in Paris. Gas is only low-carbon if deployed in conjunction with CCS.

Vice-Chair of the Energy Centre Board and IChemE past president, Professor Geoff Maitland, said: “The cancellation of CCS funding has resulted in the abandonment of two projects that were vital to the UK meeting its CO2 mitigation targets. The decision has also undermined investor confidence in the reliability of public funding of energy projects in the UK.

“If the government's signature on the Paris Agreement is to have any credibility, then the UK must adopt CCS for gas as well as coal. There needs to be more clarity and consistency between Downing Street and the Department of Energy and Climate Change. At present, we have conflicting messages on energy policy.

“On one hand, the UK government signed the Paris Agreement to mitigate climate change, and on the other, it has taken decisions that undermine the very fundamentals of reducing carbon emissions – such as removing funding for CCS, and from renewable energy sources.

“The economic viability of CCS is closely linked to the need for a carbon tax, which will be essential for the global implementation of the Paris Agreement. The current situation of much lower oil and gas prices provides the opportunity to introduce realistic carbon pricing with less pain for consumers.”

Energy Centre Board Secretary, Dr Niall Mac Dowell, said: “We need a better understanding of the distinction between intermittent renewable energy supply (which requires back up capacity) and firm, low carbon capacity (provided by CCS). Providing greater clarity on this issue is something that chemical engineers can help governments address.”

Energy Centre Board Chair, Professor Stefaan Simons, added: “To achieve the 1.5oC limit, CCS deployment must be progressed as an urgent priority. This will require proactive support from governments, but the Paris Agreement also demands behaviour change at a personal level; we must all face up to the fact that we will need to live our lives differently.”

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