Decarbonization Jan

Driving Decarbonization with Carbon Capture and Storage

Jan. 9, 2020
CCS to strengthen energy supply, secure low-carbon alternatives and a cost-effective, clean energy system for all.

A clean energy transition is well underway in Europe. The move toward cleaner energy sources, the phase out of coal-fired power plants, and the growth of renewable energy sources are some of the changes driving utilities to align their business models and investment plans closer with sustainable development and more ambitious climate targets.

European utilities recognize that they need to adapt and take part in the journey to carbon neutrality. The pressing need to decarbonize is driving change in how energy systems operate. Innovation will play an important role in this transition with technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS). This will help to strengthen energy supply, secure low-carbon alternatives and a cost-effective and clean energy system for all. For leading climate organizations, such as the U.K. Committee on Climate Change, CCS is, "a necessity, not an option."

Electrification has its limits. Carbon capture can provide clean energy, decarbonized electricity, and large-scale hydrogen supply. Deeper decarbonization while maintaining energy security will also rely on low-carbon gas, bioenergy combined with CCS and hydrogen, together with all the opportunities they offer.

Looking back, CCS has been considered by Europe’s leading power utilities. In the past, the attention mostly focused on coal power generation. Several European utilities including Germany’s RWE AG, Uniper, and Engie were actively involved in CCS plans and projects. This has changed with political uncertainty and the rollout of coal-phase out policies which precipitated the cancellation of several projects including the Dutch ROAD project in 2017. The project aimed to capture emissions from a 1069 MWe coal-fired power plant located in the Port of Rotterdam.

Today in Europe, the conversation on CCS has evolved and some promising projects are moving ahead exploring new opportunities. Some energy utilities see CCS as an opportunity to significantly lower emissions from carbon intensive generation assets while others invest in large-scale hydrogen production with CCS as a new energy vector.

Gas distribution networks are expressing an interest on the role of hydrogen to ensure security of supply and support decarbonization efforts. In the United Kingdom, Cadent, Northern Gas Networks, SGN, and Wales & West Utilities are some of the utilities looking at CCS as part of their portfolio of decarbonization options.

The U.K. gas company Cadent is leading the HyNet North West project aiming to produce hydrogen from natural gas to decarbonize major gas users and industrial sites, heat supply, and households. The future phases of the project also consider that hydrogen might be supplied to power generation sites. In the North of England, the gas distributer Northern Gas Networks and the Wales & West Utilities are involved in the H21 Project aimed at converting the gas network into hydrogen. About 3.7 million homes will be converted to hydrogen by 2040 and a possible additional 12 million homes across the rest of the country could also become part of the future expansion of the project.

Other energy companies are looking at bioenergy with CCS. This is the case of Drax in the United Kingdom, which is leading a biomass power generation project while capturing the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from its power plant. As the utility company transitions from coal to biomass, their new project aims to become the world’s first negative emissions power station. This biomass electricity generation power plant could be fully operational by the mid-2020s.

In the Netherlands, the power company Vattenfall is currently exploring to convert its 1311 MW gas-fired Magnum power plant located in the province of Gronningen in the Netherlands into running on hydrogen fuel.

All these future projects highlight the role that CCS is expected to play in Europe’s energy transition. Several governments, including the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, as well as the European Union, are actively supporting CCS as one of the proven solutions that can pave the way for a low-carbon energy sector.  Indeed, supportive policy framework is essential to accelerate the deployment of this crucial climate technology as part of a portfolio of proven solutions, including renewables, energy efficiency, nuclear, and CCS.

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