Welcome to the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC)'s Youth Advisory Panel (YAP)'s blog. The DECC YAP is a group of young people aged between 15 and 25 from all over the UK, with a wide-range of backgrounds, from academia to activism.

Our aim is to inform everyone and anyone about DECC's activities and likewise to help DECC understand and take into account the concerns of young people. We are a medium of consultancy and conversation. Much of our work looks at finding a 'Pathway to 2050', reviewing how energy with be supplied and used in the next four decades, so follow us and join us on the journey!

Friday, 10 June 2011

June Meeting: Carbon Capture and Storage

The new team outside DECC
Last week was the second meeting of our re-launched panel, with still more new faces. We quickly learnt each other's names thanks to Rose's hilarious 'burger & fries' ice breaker. After whizzing through administrative discussions, we split into 5 groups to discuss what we want to achieve this year relating to our 5 themes - SMART meters, Carbon capture and storage (CCS), Land-based renewables, Consumer perceptions and Women in energy.

Below is what the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) team hope to do this year, and what we heard from a member of DECC's office of CCS later in the afternoon. There'll be more about the other teams soon.
Carbon capture and storage does exactly what it says on the tin: you burn coal or gas; you stop the carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere and contributing to climate change; you stick it deep underground instead. Simple! Oh, actually there's a lot more to it than that... For a start, one option is to capture the carbon dioxide after the fuel has been burnt (post-combustion), another is to remove it from the fuel before it's burnt (pre-combustion), or a third option is to burn the fuel in pure oxygen which makes capturing the carbon dioxide afterwards a lot easier (oxy-fuel combustion). Then there's the issue of compressing the carbon dioxide once you've 'captured' it, then transporting it, then storing it in a safe place for... well forever, I guess! Basically, the technology can seem complicated. So our first project is to produce simple explanation, probably in video and printed format, of how CCS actually works and what the technology really involves. That's aim number one.

Aim number two is to evaluate the potential of CCS as a route to affordable, low-carbon energy. There are quite a few CCS-sceptics on the panel, but as DECC currently supports CCS research, we're going into this with an open mind. We'd be more than happy to have all our concerns completely dismissed. So we're going to do lots of research, and report what we find back to you in the form of a mini-report. It will inform you about the following so you can make up your own minds, as well as giving our own overall opinion and recommendations:

Feasibility. To date, there are no commercial-scale CCS plants in operation. A few small pilots exist, including one at Longannet power station in Scotland, which also looks likely to host the UK's first commercial-scale pilot set to be operational by 2015. The fact that the technology hasn't yet been proven to work is of some concern, but already we've seen that research is taking place around the world, and the industry seems confident.
Economics. How much will CCS cost? How can you even guess how much it will cost when the technology is still largely in development? We heard that the International Energy Agency estimates that reducing emissions and tackling climate change will cost 70% more if we don't use CCS. Yet, other estimates claim that CCS will 'probably be cheaper than offshore wind' per MW produced. A lot depends on what you take into account... for example the cost of development, the profits from exporting British technology, and the increasing cost of coal.
Environmental impacts. Ok, so CCS will reduce a power station's carbon dioxide emissions by 90% which is obviously great, but what about everything else - Coal mining, lots of pipelines, the risk of carbon dioxide leaks, and everything else that comes from burning coal. Happily, coal power stations already have very strict pollution controls. And we heard that 'on-land' pipelines will actually be 2m below ground, so natural landscapes are off the hook. Plus there is lots of research currently being done into the potential impacts of leaks and how to deal with them or prevent them. But none of this addresses where the coal and gas is coming from in the first place.
Health. Again, fuel extraction (coal mining etc) and the rest of a power station's emissions are our main concerns. But we'll also look into if there's anything else to worry about. Nothing has jumped out at us yet!
Sustainability. Taking into account all of the above, even if CCS is perfect, how long can we rely on it for, and is it fair to the rest of the world and future generations for us to do so? We learned that in 100 years maximum, the UK will run out of space to store our captured carbon dioxide! So we'll have to find another solution then anyway. Which brings us onto another question... Why not just invest in renewables instead?
Policy. We're also going to look closely at DECC's policies on CCS. How and why have they been created, and are they good enough to reduce the UK's carbon dioxide emissions in line with the 2050 pathways.
So if you have any concerns you'd like us to look into, if you think you can reassure us about CCS, or if you happen to be awarded £1bn from the government to develop CCS and want to help us, we'd love to hear from you. Just comment below or email elizabeth@think2050.org
- Tom M

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