Thursday, 27 August 2009

Carbon capture: a flimsy plaster or the answer to climate change?

By Rowena Mason Energy Last updated: August 26th, 2009

Of course, wind, solar and hydro aren’t the answer to the climate change problem, the chief executive of an energy company breezily threw at me this week.
It’s carbon capture and storage. There is no way the world will tackle climate change without it.”
This technology has always seemed to me a little bit like a teenager tidying his bedroom by stuffing the lads mags and dirty clothes and mouldy plates under the bed.

How carbon capture would work. Credit:Scottish Centre for Carbon Storage
It just doesn’t seem to fit with the wholesome-clean-green fantasy to burn coal to create energy, then pump the carbon through pipelines into disused gas fields deep under the ground. But if it uses less space than rubbish landfills and is safer than nuclear waste, then why should there be a problem?
The technology isn’t proven yet. In fact, if the current design was enlarged to fit a coal-fired power station, it would need to be the size of Wembley stadium. But we went from computers filling up rooms to fitting neatly in our pockets in just a few decades.
It will also be costly – as most other green solutions are at the moment. Shell, E.ON, RWE npower and Scottish Power are among the big names piling into the Government’s current competition for subsidies to make pilot projects commercially viable.
But as the price of carbon emissions permits slowly starts to rise, the idea is that clean energy projects are likely to make increasing economic sense. Most compelling of all, it’s unlikely that developing countries like China and India are going to be weaned off their dependence on coal any time soon.
You can argue that it’s just a flimsy green sticking plaster for a gaping environmental wound, but I’m increasingly hearing very senior and expert voices starting to trumpet carbon capture as the way – even a temporary one – to mitigate emissions in the medium-term while we wait for science to invent a cure.