Despite breakthroughs in developing the technology, the high cost of carbon capture and storage (CCS) makes it a long shot to compete with increasingly affordable clean energy options, Australian biophysicist Gary Ellem writes in a guest post for IEEFA.
“The odds that CCS will keep coal alive as an industry into the future are getting longer each year,” he warns, citing multiple competitive developments that add up to an “ill wind” for coal with CCS.
“One of the great hopes of the industry is carbon capture and storage (CCS), a way to burn coal, remove the carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions, and store it safely away from the atmosphere,” Ellem writes. But “advances in energy technologies mean that adding CCS doesn’t just need to work; it needs to work at a lower cost than its growing legion of competitors. And while the alternatives are good news for avoiding dangerous climate change, it’s a substantial challenge for the coal industry.”
Ellem traces the multiple competitive challenges facing CCS, noting that wind and solar are already competitive with coal—before adding the cost of capturing carbon emissions. And affordable battery storage will pose an even bigger threat to centralized coal plants.
“The reason that batteries can compete with centralized generation is that the cost of transmission and distribution from a coal-fired power station to your home is considerable,” Ellem writes. “These costs are not normally considered in the [cost of energy] calculations, because it is assumed that all power generators have access to the same, centralized electricity grid.”
But “a battery in your home means that these costs are largely avoided. That makes home energy generation and storage much more competitive with traditional power generation in the longer term,” he notes. “For developing nations without a strong centralized grid it also means that energy systems can be built incrementally, without large investments in infrastructure.”