By Chris Davies - 10th October 2012
There is no option but CCS for dealing with emissions from major industrial plants
More than five years have passed since EU prime ministers agreed that up to 12 carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration projects should be in operation by 2015.
Almost four years have passed since a limited funding support mechanism was approved.
Yet today, not a single project has been given the all-clear. If decisions are not reached by the end of this month Europe will send out a clear signal to the world that it has given up on CCS.
This will not be because an alternative to the technology has been found. Coal and gas will be with us as energy sources for many, many decades to come and if their CO2 emissions are not pumped into rock deep underground they will continue to be released into the atmosphere.
There is no option but CCS for dealing with emissions from major industrial plants. The International Energy Agency claims that CCS must provide 20 per cent of the global CO2 reductions needed to be achieved by 2050.
Demonstration on a large scale is needed to reduce costs and raise efficiencies. If the price attached to the release of CO2 is high then CCS may offer financial advantages, but current carbon prices are far, far too low to support its development without large subsidies.
What's worse, the value of the EU's financial support is also dependent upon the price of CO2. It amounts now to just €300m per project, much less than anticipated when the 'NER300' fund for subsidising installations of innovative renewable energy technology and CCS was established, and perhaps less than a third of the total subsidies required.
CCS schemes have fallen by the wayside across Europe, many are delayed indefinitely. In some cases arrangements for underground storage have not been agreed, in other cases the problem is financial or political.
It seems that the public can live with an explosive gas like methane beneath their feet but not an inert one like CO2.
Hopes now rest with the Netherlands, Romania and the UK. The European commission has an end of October deadline for receiving firm commitments from governments to provide the additional support needed for specific projects.
Whether energy ministers can secure the agreement of their colleagues in finance ministries must now be seen.
Chris Davies was the European parliament's rapporteur for the CCS directive