What is required for the low-carbon transition in Europe?

Kai Tullius, Programme coordinator DG Energy European Commission

Publish date: May 24, 2012

Written by: Kristina Östman

Against the backdrop of the new Norwegian Climate White Paper, three European industry and policy experts presented at the Bellona annual conference on 24 May. The common messages from all of them – we need to act now to reach our climate targets and cannot do so without CCS.

Long-term vision is necessary

“The EU already has the 20-20-20 goals, but this is far from enough to meet the challenge we’re facing – that’s why we last year produced the Energy 2050 Roadmap,” Kai Tullius, Programme coordinator in DG Energy at the European Commission, said in the opening of his presentation. The message could not have been more timely after the presentation of the Norwegian climate White Paper, which goes no further than 2020.

The Energy 2050 Roadmap, released in December last year, clearly showed the need to go beyond current policies which throughout Europe only lead to a 40% emissions reduction by 2050. The five alternative scenarios considered in the Roadmap – high energy efficiency, diversified supply technologies, high renewable energy, delayed CO2 capture and storage (CCS) and low nuclear – all lead to 80% reductions in emissions. Showing that the big differences are only observed after 2030, they clearly prove the need for long-term energy planning already today.

The scenarios all show the need for deployment of CCS. In the scenario with delayed CCS, where renewable sources provide 100% of the electricity, energy prices will be pushed even further. “CCS is necessary for an affordable transition”, says Tullius, who works with CCS in particular. He adds that CCS is in a crossroads, where a low CO2 price means that additional support structures are necessary.

We need to act now

Philippe Joubert, Advisor to the Chairman of Alstom, followed the introductory presentation with an industry perspective. “I think that we are in an urgent mood, and I want to share why I think climate change is the only issue we need to tackle”, he said as a background to Alstom’s action.

bodytextimage_DSC_2368.JPG Photo: Phillip Joubert, Advisor To The Chairman & CEO, Alstom

Every year 200 to 300 GW of new capacity is installed globally, up from 80-100 GW in the 1980’s. The plants are commissioned today but drive future emission levels, which leaves us with a difficult emissions backlog. The same technologies are being built out today as decades ago, but in different parts of the world and fossil fuels are still dominant. “We cannot tell Asia to stop using coal, they need this power”, Joubert said, emphasizing the need for action within the developed countries. 

With power generation being responsible for 40% of global emissions, Alstom has taken on the challenge of investigating low-carbon technologies. They have studied and worked with various low-carbon technologies and have come to a conclusion similar to the Commission – CCS is vital for a low-carbon, affordable future.

Through their projects, Alstom has had a first-hand experience of the difficulties with implementing CCS. Some of the problems they anticipated, others not, for example the importance of public acceptance as seen in the closure of Vattenfall’s CCS plants in Germany.

In order for CCS to reach full commercial deployment, they know what issues need to be faced. First of all, a long-term, stable and credible legal framework is required. Adding to this, a sufficiently high CO2 price, financing for the next demonstration projects and public education to drive acceptance are required.

By focusing on achieving these, politicians can drive industry to deploy CCS. “Markets respond to policy, not the other way around” Joubert stated. If the issues are met, CCS can together with a technology mix, production efficiency and energy management, help to successfully meet the emissions targets for 2030 Joubert concluded.

No CCS deployment without business-case

Graeme Sweeney, Chairman of the European Union Zero Emissions Platform (EU ZEP) and Special Advisor on CO2 for Shell, concluded the session by emphasising the importance of CCS demonstration projects for deployment. While almost all climate roadmaps and plans agree that targets cannot be met without CCS, the deployment rates are off pace. There is not enough investment and the business case is lacking.

“The only way to realise large-scale CCS deployment is confidence among investors that a long-term business case exists”, Sweeney said. ZEP – as a unique coalition of stakeholders from industry, policy and NGO’s – exists in order to respond to these challenges in particular.

While investments are far from sufficient, things are happening on the global CCS map. As reiterated in Tullius’ presentation, CCS plays a vital role in the Energy 2050 roadmap. The majority of Member States have transposed the CO2 Storage Directive and the UK has relaunched its CCS competition, but financial and political support from all European countries is vital.

ZEP focuses on making a business case for CCS, supporting the EU CCS demonstration programme, and delivering CO2 storage and transport R&D. Making the business case can only be done if the ETS is recalibrated and achieving a sufficiently high CO2 price.

Business and platforms together have to be clear about what is needed for to achieve a business case, both in the medium and long-term. “Without business case there will be no demonstration, and without demonstration, there will be no deployment”, Sweeney concluded.