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Argument: CCS is less cost-effective than renewable energy

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Supporting quotations

Byran Hannegan, PhD, Vice President of Environment and Generation at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), stated in his Mar. 22, 2007 testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on the "Future of Coal," available at "CO2 capture and sequestration (CCS) will be the critical enabling technology that provides for continued coal use even as we reduce our CO2 emissions... Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies can be feasibly integrated into virtually all types of new coal-fired power plants... Geologic sequestration of CO2 has been proven effective by nature, as evidenced by the numerous natural underground CO2 reservoirs in Colorado, Utah, and other western states. CO2 is also found in natural gas reservoirs, where it has resided for millions of years. Thus, evidence suggests that depleting or depleted oil and gas reservoirs, and similar 'capped' sandstone formations containing saltwater that cannot be made potable, are capable of storing CO2 for millennia or longer... Recent EPRI work has illustrated the necessity and the urgency to develop carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies as part of the solution to satisfying our energy needs in an environmentally responsible manner."

Chris Rhodes. "Carbon Capture And Storage: Yea Or Nay?" Forbes. September 19th, 2010: "A new paper published in the prestigious American Chemical Society journal, Environmental Science and Technology, has put the cat among the pigeons over carbon capture and storage (CCS). It argues that the colossal amount of money that CCS would entail globally would be better spent on “virtual CCS,” meaning per se that instead of actual CCS, the emission of carbon be avoided in the first place by a wholesale implementation of non-fossil energy sources, specifically wind and nuclear power.

As a statistic to prove the point, it is estimated that one wedge (billion tons) of carbon in the form of CO2 sequestered by CCS would cost $5.1 trillion over 50 years, while the same amount of money used to build wind-turbines would save 1.91 “wedges” worth of CO2 over the lifetime of the windmills."

Costas Tsouris and Douglas Aaron of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Georgia Institute of Technology. "Do we really need carbon capture and storage?" RSC. September 2010: "To better understand the relative importance of the cost of CCS and its effectiveness in avoiding CO2 emissions, we performed a comparison of carbon avoidance via CCS and using alternative energy technologies.1 In this comparison, the resources that would be spent on CCS were instead used to develop alternative energy capacity - specifically wind, nuclear and geothermal power - a concept called 'virtual CCS'. This comparison was designed to rank CCS and alternative energy technologies according to the effectiveness and cost of avoiding CO2 emissions. The calculations involved in this simulation determined the cost of performing CCS on a globally significant mass of CO2 emissions by considering the wedge concept of Pacala and Socolow.2 Specifically, we considered 100 billion (giga) tonnes (GtCO2) to be avoided over 50 years as the basis for comparison. Pacala and Socolow proposed to divide anthropogenic CO2 emissions into 'wedges' to facilitate the implementation of a portfolio approach to solving the CO2 problem. Global emissions were estimated at 30 GtCO2 for the year 2010, assumed to increase linearly over time, and expected to double by 2060. Stabilising the emissions at 2010 levels would require 800 GtCO2 to be avoided in the next 50 years. Assuming $51 (£33) per tonne of CO2 (tCO2) avoided via CCS, an estimate based on the 2005 International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report for a new coal-fired power plant,3 we estimated the cost for one wedge of CCS to be $5.1 trillion. For virtual CCS, this means that $5.1 trillion spread over 50 years could be utilised to build, maintain, operate and decommission alternative energy installations such as wind farms, nuclear plants or geothermal plants.

The capital and recurring costs for alternative energy technologies were estimated based on literature values. The capacity of alternative energy was assumed to be installed using the cost of performing CCS for a given year based on CO2 emissions, above those of 2010, associated with that year. This capacity was assumed to displace fossil-based power generation; thus CO2 avoidance could be calculated based on the capacity of alternative energy and the CO2 emissions associated with coal-based electricity generation. The lifetime associated with a particular alternative energy technology was also considered. Adjustments were made to account for emissions associated with building materials used for alternative energy.

Considering ratios

All three alternative energy technologies considered were found to be much more cost-efficient than CCS at avoiding CO2. The carbon avoidance ratio (ie the CO2 amount avoided by a $5.1 trillion investment in alternative energy over 100 GtCO2) was determined for each technology using CCS as a base case. Wind, nuclear and geothermal power had CO2 avoidance ratios of 1.9, 4.3, and 4.5, respectively. In order for CCS to be competitive with wind and nuclear, the cost of CCS must be improved to $26/tCO2 and $12/tCO2, respectively. In addition to better CO2 avoidance on a per-dollar basis, alternative energy technologies also resulted in revenue, while CCS has no significant revenue. Wind, nuclear, and geothermal power were estimated to result in revenues of $9 trillion, $22 trillion, and $31 trillion, respectively, for a $5.1 trillion investment over 50 years. Our results show that, with current technology, CCS is less effective than alternative energy in avoiding CO2 emissions. We can most effectively address this issue by pursuing virtual CCS, including investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear energy, and biofuels until research in CCS (which also faces significant thermodynamic issues4) makes it competitive with alternative energy."

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