Gases in the atmosphere affect the earth’s temperature by trapping radiation from the sun – this is known as the greenhouse effect. Without this greenhouse effect the world would be too cold for life to exist.
Greenhouse gases (GHGs), some of which occur naturally, include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), perflurocarbons (PFC) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).
However, human activities, such as the combustion of fossil fuels, produce additional GHGs which build up in the atmosphere causing an enhanced greenhouse effect. This results in more heat being trapped, termed ‘global warming’.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have concluded it is very likely that most of the observed global warming since the mid-20th century is due to the observed increase in human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations.
Globally it is likely that fossil fuels will remain an important part of the energy mix for some time to come, especially in rapidly expanding economies, such as China. In order to combat global climate change, it is imperative that we drastically reduce the emissions associated with consuming fossil fuels both domestically and internationally.
As a result the UK Government is committed to reducing its GHGs by at least 80% by 2050, relative to 1990 levels. This will require a complete transformation of the UK economy whilst at the same time ensuring we secure low carbon energy supplies.
Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS)
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a mitigation technology essential in tackling global climate change, and ensuring a secure energy supply. CCS technology captures carbon dioxide from fossil fuel power stations. Up to 90% of carbon dioxide (CO₂) from a fossil fuel power station can be captured using CCS technology.
The CO₂ is then transported via pipelines and stored safely offshore in deep underground structures such as depleted oil and gas reservoirs, and deep saline aquifers.
The UK is in a very advantageous position as we have access to offshore CO₂ storage locations, under the North Sea. CO₂ can be stored within two types of geological formations; deep saline aquifers and depleted oil and gas fields. The British Geological Survey has estimated that storage capacity equates to approximately 100 years of storage capacity (at UK current rate of emissions from power generation).
International Energy Agency (IEA) analysis has shown that that CCS will need to deliver almost 20% of the total GHG emissions reductions we need to achieve in 2050 if we are to cost-effectively stabilise GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at an acceptable level.
At present CCS has yet to be demonstrated at a scale necessary to kick start deployment. In this regard the UK Government and the EU have given commitments to support the CCS demonstration process. Initially CCS will be aimed at electricity generation but has the potential to capture emissions from large industrial processes.
The UK Government have pledged £1 billion to fund up to four CCS demonstration projects.
In addition, the EU has committed the proceeds of the sale 300 million EUETS carbon credits through the New Entrants Reserve (NER).
The UK is well placed to deliver on its climate change targets and coal with CCS can provide a secure, affordable and low carbon solution.