The headline of a recent Economist article is one that policy-makers around the world should pay heed to: Carbon storage will be expensive at best. At worst, it may not work. There are two over-riding reasons for which the danger of a CCS-flop needs to be borne in mind:
- First, many governments are assigning a big chunk of their planned emissions reductions to the new technology. If they find themselves in need of alternatives later, it may prove to be quite a scramble. Likewise, being able to ‘bank’ the CCS reductions now may make their plans seem both more viable and more certain than they really are.
- Secondly, the very prospect of CCS is a lifeline to the coal industry. Power plants built to be ‘carbon capture ready’ may never do anything of the kind. If so, citizens should be even more concerned about the greenhouse gasses they are going to spew. Those financing the construction should also be wary, since carbon pricing is more likely than not to be on the way.
None of this is to say we shouldn’t welcome cheap, effective CCS if it does emerge. Not only could it allow the US and China to use their coal reserves while not wrecking the climate (local pollution is another matter), CCS coupled with biomass-fired generating stations could be carbon-negative.
Just don’t count those megatonnes before they’re buried.