CCS a Panacea for Climate Change…

This week the UK government announced a new initiative to promote the development of Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) technology, after the total flop of the last scheme. The CCS roadmap can be split into three distinct parts: the first provides research and development funding, the second grants for the construction of plants and the third funds the running costs, which makes this an attractive scheme for industries looking to develop CCS.

Heralded by the government and fossil fuel companies as a panacea for CO2 reduction; they say it’ll enable polluting fossil fuel plants to run with ‘zero’ carbon emissions (an 80-90% reduction), a view many will question. Now I will try and answer some key questions: what are the merits of CSS, will it actually work on an industrial scale and what part does it have to play in reducing global warming and aiding theUK in meeting its 2020 and 2050 targets?

As you may know, the idea behind CCS technology in power generation is to enable the stripping of CO2 from the emissions from fossil fuel fired power plants (pre or post combustion) and to then store it , normally very deep underground or under the sea. The technology behind CCS is largely unproven on an industrial scale and the storage component is an unknown element. The injection of CO2, and essentially the storage of CO2, has been used to prolong the life of oil wells in enhanced oil recovery but if this method of storage is stable is unknown.

What has to be remembered is that with CCS we are still producing vast quantities of CO2 by burning non-renewable fossil fuels, it doesn’t reduce emissions we’re just storing them away. We do not know how reliable the storage of CO2 is, and whether or not it will escape or dissipate and rise to the surface adding to global warming in the future. Also, it’s virtually impossible to measure the success of the storage solution and/or any CO2 escape from deep sea storage. This is also not to mention the problems that may be caused to the pH level of the sea and the effects that it may have on sub-sea ecosystems.

Ok, so if there are so many uncertainties surrounding CCS, and potential pitfalls, what place should it have as one possible solution to reach our 2020 and 2050 emission targets? Well while I do not under any circumstance see this as a long term solution to reducing emissions, especially as we will run out of fossil fuels before long, I do think in the short term it does have a key part to play if we want to have any hope of achieving the targets set for 2020 and 2050 as we are woefully behind with our development of low carbon and renewable energy.

While this new scheme will be welcomed by investors and will aid in meeting the UK’s targets in reducing CO2 emissions we all have to remember that it still involves burning a fast depleting finite resource where security of supply is a significant concern. CCS isn’t the solution to climate change, or the energy gap, but it may have a supporting role.

Onshore Wind Farms, a Brief Debate

Welcome one and all to my first post on the Developing Engineers blog!

I have chosen to take a look at an issue that has featured in the news recently and seems to be always a point of contention for many people, onshore wind farms.

This weekend it was reported by The Telegraph that 101 conservative MPs have demanded that annual subsidies for onshore wind farms should be ‘dramatically cut’. This is also paired with a concern regarding the National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF), which they say hinders any effective opposition to onshore wind farms.

I will focus mainly on the issue subsidies and the wider issue of funding. Firstly without subsidies it is hard to see how anyone could justify, economically, the merits of commissioning onshore wind farms if subsidies did not exist; if anything subsidies do not go far enough in encouraging growth in an emerging market and there review and subsequent scale back will only help us further fall short of 2020 emissions targets.

Firstly I am not in full agreement with the construction of onshore wind farms as the sums often don’t add up; with the amount of electricity actually produced not that great. However at this current point in time we don’t have many viable alternatives, I certainly would rather they remove solar subsidies in this country which were only ever a cursory nod towards the direction of the renewable energy sector, than halt the construction or subsidies for onshore wind farms.

Maybe we should look at the reason why we need such subsidies especially as the opportunity for the UK to be a renewable industry hub is banded about so much by the current government. The infrastructure to support the wind industry in this country is currently not there and the waiting list for wind turbines is a lengthy one, with these and other factors leading to high costs. In August 2009 Vestas moved operations from the Isle of Wight due to uncertainty regarding the industry and of lack of assurance from the government that it will back wind energy; only now are we seeing proposals again for wind turbine manufacturing in the UK, which could always fall down if support is not there for renewable development.

If the government, or more correctly the conservative side of, continues to attack the industry then the costs of renewable energy will continue to rise and become less attractive to potential investors; though maybe this is a preferred option as if renewable energy costs rise it will only give more substance to the Nuclear argument.

Now I cannot say that onshore wind farms are the solution to the energy balance or the best option in renewable energy but green subsidies are a vital component in encouraging growth the renewable energy sector that without them will surely stagnate. Would you rather have a coal or nuclear power plant on your doorstep?

To end on a positive note Nick Clegg has come out in defence of wind power subsidies and renewable energy as a whole, so at least someone is fighting for renewable energy just a pity they have little sway in government…

Luke Young – Have a look at my other blog the renewable future!