The IEA Clean Coal Centre has consistently argued that old, unabated coal-fired power plants should be phased out worldwide to lower CO2 emissions. So the plan for this to be part of the process for the UK to meet its climate change commitment of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050 is understandable. However, we are concerned that Amber Rudd made no overt mention of carbon capture and storage (CCS), as a way to reduce emissions from any fossil-fuel fired power plant. The Centre would like to see the construction of CCS demonstration plants proceed promptly in the UK. For example, if the White Rose project in Yorkshire were to go-ahead it could give an opportunity to provide very low CO2 emitting coal-fired power and provide the basis for a CCS hub so that neighbouring industries could also capture and store their CO2, using the White Rose pipeline. At one time the UK was a leader in the development of CCS and we know the government has recently given its support for CCS projects, such as £4.2 million for research and feasibility work for a proposed 570 MW CCS coal-gasification power station in Grangemouth, Scotland, awarded in March this year. However, it will certainly be hard to promote and sell the technology abroad if there is no commercial deployment in the UK.
It is generally accepted that gas-fired power stations emit less CO2 than coal-fired. However, emissions from gas are comparable to those from new top-of-the-range ultra-supercritical (USC) coal-fired plant and would be higher than those from USC coal with CCS. Building unabated gas-fired power stations locks the UK in to substantial emissions from fossil fuels for possibly the next 40 years. The IEA CCC published a report this year comparing the greenhouse impact of coal and gas. It found that if the rate of methane leakage is more than 3% during the upstream sourcing and processing of natural gas, then the climatic benefit of substituting gas for coal is negated.
Finally, there was no mention of biomass, which can have a significant impact on CO2 emissions when cofired with coal. The conversions at Drax have cut emissions of CO2 by 12 mt/y for example. Biomass also has the advantage over other renewables in that it is not intermittent and can use the massive grid infrastructure that is already in place for coal-fired power plants.
So, the hopes of the CCC rest on Ms Rudd’s inclusion of the word ‘unabated’. We trust this means that there will be CCS fitted to both coal and gas-fired power plants within the decade.