LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s new Conservative-led government must ensure clean coal plants are built alongside gas, renewables and nuclear to make the deep carbon cuts needed to limit climate change, Joan MacNaughton, senior vice-president of power and environmental policy at Alstom Power said.
David Cameron’s Conservatives, who struck a deal with the Liberal Democrats on Wednesday to form Britain’s first coalition government since 1945, said in their election manifesto they would set limit on emissions from Britain’s power stations.
Existing coal-fired power plants typically produce around three times more climate warming carbon dioxide per unit of electricity produced than gas plants, making gas a relatively cheap, quick way of trimming carbon emissions and prompting a dash for gas in the 1990s.
Unless the proposed cap is low enough to also affect gas plants, the planned Emissions Performance Standard could prevent the commercial use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) equipment which must be fitted to avert dangerous climate change.
“If you set the Emissions Performance Standard at a level that unabated gas can meet, then you build unabated gas stations,” MacNaughton said in an interview.
“Then you are left with the problem of emissions from unabated gas and with emissions actually growing from gas fired power generation when the overall goal has got to be to take the emissions out of power,” she said.
The outgoing Labour government, which MacNaughton served under as Director General for Energy at the Department of Trade and Industry, has said no new coal plants can be built in Britain without fitting CCS technology to coal plants.
Stiff opposition to new coal plants in Europe, and rising operating cost for existing ones because of carbon penalties under the EU emissions trading scheme, has driven utilities to build almost exclusively gas plants over the last two decades.
Although building gas instead of coal helps reduce emissions significantly, it will not be enough to and there is not enough incentive to fit expensive CCS technology to gas plants in the early stages.
“If you have no coal new build then the market for CCS is pushed off to the right - it certainly is delayed by some considerable time because the economics for CCS work better on coal,” MacNaughton, who led the UK Labour government efforts on the energy aspects of the Gleneagles G8 Program of Action.
“You get to you intermediate CO2 reduction targets quicker but then you have locked in a lot of that unabated gas,” she said.
Alstom is a major supplier of steam turbines to all types of power plant, with about a third of the world’s nuclear power plants using Alstom equipment, and also has a wind turbine arm based in Spain and several CCS projects around the world.
MacNaughton said that although the previous Labour government had passed some pioneering legislation paving the way for widespread use of CCS in Britain, its long-running competition to award funding
Climate scientists say global carbon emissions must be cut by 50 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change.
Such a drastic cut will likely require developed countries to nearly eradicate carbon emissions from power generation — using wind, solar, nuclear and carbon-free fossil fuel technologies — with thousands more CCS units fitted to coal-fired plants in other parts of the world.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that at least 3,400 big CCS plants will need to be running by 20up and across the globe by 2050.
Several companies, including Alstom, are developing CCS projects to stash carbon produced from fossil fuels underground in the hope of selling the technology to countries like China and India which are expected to continue burning coal for decades.
MacNaughton said the old UK government had shown great leadership in passing pioneering legislation for CCS use in Britain but that plodding progress on awarding funding for full commercial scale projects had allowed projects in other parts of the world to race ahead.
The new government must act quickly to get Britain’s CCS program moving.
“Climate change has got to be tackled and the sooner you start the better,” MacNaughton said.
“The longer we leave it the more we have to do and the more expensive it is.”
Reporting by Daniel Fineren