Re-setting the way to a decarbonised Europe

  
Disclaimer: all opinions in this column reflect the views of their authors’, not of EurActiv.com PLC.

In its EU Energy Roadmap 2050, the European Commission recognises that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is the only technology available to mitigate CO2 emissions from large-scale fossil fuel use. The EU badly needs a successful CCS programme by 2020 and can no longer afford delays, writes Graeme Sweeney.

Dr. Graeme Sweeney is chairman of the advisory council of the European technology platform of Zero Emissions Fossil Fuels Power Plants (ZEP).

With the world population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, global energy demand is projected to rise by 40% over the next two decades alone. To meet this demand the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that 75% of all energy will still be derived from fossil fuels in 2035, significantly contributing to rising CO2 emissions.

The EU Energy Roadmap 2050 set out objectives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80-95% below 1990 levels by 2050. In this Roadmap, the European Commission recognised that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is the only technology available to mitigate CO2 emissions from large-scale fossil fuel use across a wide range of industries. Without CCS, Europe will miss its 2050 objectives.

CCS is indispensable to decarbonising power generation and energy intensive industries including iron, steel and cement. By applying CCS, it becomes possible to reduce full life-cycle CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel combustion at power stations and industrial sites by 65-85%. According to the IEA, delaying CCS deployment by just 10 years would increase the cost of decarbonising the global power sector by over €750 billion. These numbers underline the grave economic impact of failing to quickly deliver CCS.

We need a successful CCS demonstration programme by 2020 to reach our long-term decarbonisation goals. Demonstration projects will allow CCS to become cost effective and competitive with other low carbon technologies which will essentially drive down costs. However, we must consider the time necessary to achieve the needed capacity and infrastructure. The IEA has stressed that the next seven years will be critical to the accelerated development of CCS. Failing to act now is taking a major gamble. The technology is indeed available today, but we cannot be complacent about the need to deploy and optimise CCS technology. A Europe with CCS cannot be built overnight.

If CCS is essential for achieving EU decarbonisation goals, it is also providing a vast potential for economic growth and jobs. The development of CCS core infrastructure will ensure a stream of high quality work for a skilled workforce for many years to come, along with the potential to export our know-how derived from these projects around the globe. In the UK alone, CCS clusters could create 27,000 jobs from 2020 rising up to 70,000 jobs by 2035. However, the EU is currently falling behind on the commitments needed to secure the deployment of necessary CCS projects. The Green Paper on the EU 2030 Energy and Climate Policy framework has failed to reflect the urgency for this ground-breaking and unequivocal technology.

What Europe needs is an immediate reset and a comprehensive and coordinated approach to setting in motion the roll-out of CCS. First and foremost, the EU 2030 Energy and Climate Policy Framework needs to fully integrate CCS and provide a long-term signal for investors. Member States should be required to develop roadmaps and national strategies for achieving decarbonisation targets, similar to those set for the renewables sector.

The ETS should remain the central tool of EU climate policy, providing a predictable and robust carbon price and a long term driver for CCS. However, further structural measures and a tightened cap in 2030 will be needed to strengthen the EU ETS in the long term. We will first need short-term measures to support CCS demonstration and early deployment projects until CCS becomes commercially viable, such as Feed In Tariffs (FiTs) at Member State level. Where FiTs are not possible, CCS certificates could be an option, if carefully designed for a defined volume. But predictable long term financial incentives and a regulatory framework that is fit-for-purpose will also be essential.

If urgent policy action is taken, CCS can still be widely deployed by 2030 but the window of opportunity is closing fast. As Member States enter the debate over the 2030 Energy and Climate Policy framework, they should consider that failing to act now will mean Europe will miss its ambitious 2050 decarbonisation goals, while damaging its competitiveness and missing out on huge potential job creation and economic growth. Business-as-usual is not an option. This is the moment to reset EU energy and climate policy by kick-starting European CCS development.

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