Carbon Capture and Storage: Realising the potential?

02 Apr 2012

The aim of this research was to assess the technical, economic, financial and social uncertainties facing carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, and to analyse the potential role they could play in the UK power sector between now and 2030. CCS technologies are often highlighted as a crucial component of future low carbon energy systems – in the UK and internationally. However, it is unclear when these technologies will be technically proven at full scale, and whether their costs will be competitive with other low carbon options.

This report systematically examines the uncertainties facing CCS technologies in the UK. It uses historical evidence to explore these uncertainties, and the conditions under which they can be at least partly resolved. The historical evidence base comprises nine case studies, each of which focuses on a technology that is partly analogous to CCS. The report draws on this evidence to develop potential pathways for CCS in the UK to 2030, and uses this analysis to draw conclusions for current policies and strategies.

The report reaches three general conclusions. First, our historical case studies show that uncertainties can be reduced sufficiently for progress to be made. In some cases, they can be resolved entirely. This offers some optimism that, given the right set of circumstances, the uncertainties that affect CCS can also be dealt with. However, care is needed when learning from historical contexts that differ widely from the current situation in the UK. Second, interactions between uncertainties matter. They can reinforce  each other, both positively and negatively. There can also be tradeoffs between uncertainties where attempts to resolve one uncertainty could result in the exacerbation of others. Third, the resolution of all uncertainties is not required for CCS to be financeable in the UK. Similarly, the derailing of plans to realise the potential of CCS may not  require everything to go wrong – but this could be caused by a ‘critical mass’ of uncertainties persisting for too long.