There’s no sign that the North American fossil industries’ attempts to develop viable carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology are paying off, and less justification than ever to keep up the effort, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis concludes in a report released last month.
The study “concludes that costly efforts undertaken in North America to develop workable, economic technology to capture carbon from coal-fired generation have come up short,” IEEFA says in a release. And meanwhile, “technology developments in the renewable energy and natural gas sectors have obviated the need for continued efforts to retrofit carbon capture technology on the nation’s shrinking coal fleet.”
The study looks at four projects—the Boundary Dam Power Station in Saskatchewan, NRG’s Petra Nova plant in Texas, Southern Co.’s Kemper facility in Mississippi, and Duke Energy’s Edwardsport project in Indiana. And it fails to find a winner in the pack.
“What all four of these projects have in common is their dismal performance,” said lead author David Schlissel, IEEFA’s director of resource planning. “While Petra Nova and Boundary Dam are both operational, neither in truth can be considered anything other than demonstration units. The integrated gasification combined cycle project at Edwardsport has performed abysmally, and the Kemper clean coal project was essentially abandoned.”
The findings “serve as a cautionary tale for any country considering broad adoption of CCS for coal,” he added. “The technology remains unproven at full commercial scale, it is wildly expensive, there are serious questions regarding after-capture transport, injection, and storage of the captured CO2, and—most important—more reliable and far cheaper power generation options exist.”
The IEEFA release notes that the U.S. Department of Energy began a “legacy of costly experimentation” on CCS in the early 2000s, when coal accounted to more than 50% of the country’s generating capacity. Since then, natural gas supplies have soared and renewable energy costs have plummeted.
“Electricity produced by renewable energy, particularly wind and solar, amounted to little more than a rounding error in the Energy Information Administration (EIA)’s 2003 edition of its Annual Energy Review,” the report notes. “Today they account for more than 10% of the nation’s electricity generation, and both continue to gain market share fast.”
A couple of weeks after releasing the study, IEEFA reported that renewables supplied 18% of the country’s electricity in the first nine months of this year, according to the EIA.