On Monday, Greenpeace released a report entitled: False Hope: Why carbon capture and storage wonâ€™t save the climate (PDF). The points made are fairly familiar, though it is good to see them considered in combination:
- CCS cannot deliver in time to avoid dangerous climate change.
- CCS wastes energy and resources
- Storing carbon underground is risky
- CCS is expensive and undermines real solutions to climate change
- CCS and liability: risky business
- The alternative to CCS: renewables and energy efficiency
Joseph Romm probably has the most sensible overall view of CCS. He argues that it can serve as one of the fourteen ‘wedges’ that are required to stabilize global concentrations of greenhouse gasses, acknowledging that even that role will require pumping infrastructure equivalent to all that presently being used to extract oil. Think about the total expenditures of the world’s oil companies on equipment, construction, and labour and you begin to appreciate the costs that are likely to be associated with widespread use of CCS. That being said, it is only fair to say that the cost projections are approximations based on huge assumptions. It is like being in the era of the Wright brothers and trying to project what the finances of a major airline will resemble, in terms of thinks like capital use and equipment life cycles.
CCS needs to be thought about in the context of an overall strategic push to stabilize greenhouse gas levels. It is possible that it will have a modest effect at an acceptable cost. It is also possible that it will be unfeasible at a commercial scale, or simply too costly. The most dangerous possibility is that the very idea of CCS gives people the false sense that the problem can be solved, particularly that we can keep burning coal while waiting for a low-cost technological solution to magically appear. As one strategy among many, CCS might have a future. One future that CCS cannot permit is one where the nature of the world’s energy use remains similar to today, with the awkward greenhouse gasses simply swept under the rug.