Europe’s Energy Union needs carbon capture and storage

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Graeme Sweeney. [Thechoppingcompany].

Graeme Sweeney [Thechoppingcompany]

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) should be an integral part of the European Commission’s Energy Union proposal, argues Graeme Sweeney, as it provides the only decarbonisation option for some energy-intensive industries.

Dr. Graeme Sweeney is the chairman of the Zero Emissions Platform, a coalition of energy companies, governments and research institutions supporting the development of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

2015 will be a decisive year for climate and energy policy. While the international community prepares to debate a climate agreement for COP21 in Paris at the end of the year, the European Union is currently working towards its most ambitious policy framework yet – ‘a climate resilient energy union with a forward looking climate policy’. This plan, laid out across five focus areas, brings together all of the Union’s energy and climate ambitions with one overarching goal – to transform how Europe produces, transports and consumes energy.

While some view this merely as a repackaging of existing climate and energy policy, the fact remains that, after Juncker’s strategic investment fund, the Energy Union is the second-largest announcement made by this Commission so far. The inclusion of a governance structure not only provides the initiative with a backbone by creating accountability and legitimacy but indicates the Union’s clear commitment to success.

The Energy Union could not come at a more critical moment. Energy security, economic recovery and environmental issues are all at the top of the political agenda. With oil prices at an all-time low, Europe’s dependence on external energy supplies remains at 53%, costing €400 billion a year, and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has increased the pressure on Europe to strengthen its security of supply. 

At the same time, Europe’s economic recovery remains sluggish. Understandably then, economic growth is the flagship issue for the new European Commission’s mandate. But the looming impacts of climate change have rendered it ever more important to reconcile economic growth and environmental sustainability, which currently relies on somewhat patchy climate and energy policies.

To reignite European solidarity on energy and climate policy, we need to ensure that Europe is able to stay on a growth curve, and still meet its climate goals. The question then becomes how to incentivise decarbonisation when we still need to build appropriate infrastructure. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and an accompanying COtransport and storage network can provide the answer.

CCS, which is referenced in the Energy Union paper as part of the focus on Research and Innovation, is a key technology for climate mitigation. Last October, it was recognised at the highest political level by all European Heads of State in the Council conclusions. 

Put simply, fossil fuels are and will be part of our energy mix for the coming decades and CCS is essential for the mitigation of CO2 emissions from large-scale fossil fuel for power generation and from energy-intensive industries. Indeed, for some energy-intensive industries CCS is the only decarbonisation option.

Without CCS, it will cost 20-50% more – up to €4 trillion – to decarbonize the European power sector by 2050. This is a substantial amount compared to, for example, the circa €150 billion annual electricity expenses incurred by European industry. From a financial perspective alone, implementing CCS makes sense.

Critics might say that CCS is not practicable or desirable for every member state. That is where the second element, a CO2transport and storage network, comes into play.

For CCS to be widely deployed across Europe by 2030, CO2 transport and storage infrastructure must be in place – at the right time, in the right place, and with the right capacity. In addition, a European wide-network for COtransport and storage will allow all member states, even those without the capacity to store CO2 within their own borders, to take advantage of CCS technology to decarbonise. This will allow industry to thrive in Europe – and the jobs they create – can be maintained for generations to come.

The case for the power and industrial sector is clear–CCS is crucial for maintaining security of supply, sustainability and competitiveness. CCS projects, such as Canada’s Boundary Dam, show that CCS can be commercially applied.  It’s time for Europe to do the same.

To achieve this, all EU member states need to be engaged and commit to supporting a European CO2 transport and storage network. The Energy Union shows Europe can speak with one voice on climate and energy policy – it is time to back up those words with action.

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