The arguments around carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a way of producing so-called ‘clean coal’ (low emissions baseload energy) have, to date, focused on its technical feasibility. I’ll talk more about that in another post. But first, let’s consider a more fundamental question. Just how much of the black stuff is there?
Here is an Opinion Editorial I had published recently in The Age:
THE Rudd Government’s green paper on a “carbon pollution reduction scheme”, and the methods to achieve this reduction, have some strongly innovative elements. But there is a continued emphasis on investment in offsets and abatement from large-scale carbon capture projects to significantly extend the life of our coal industry. This poses three huge risks to the Australian economy. Are we sure that we want our children to shoulder them?
The first big risk is that carbon capture and storage isn’t proven. Experts believe it may take until 2015 or later to prove the technology, if then. The second big risk is that it may not prove cost-effective. Evidence is accumulating that carbon capture and storage may prove uneconomic because renewables such as solar, geothermal power and wind are falling in price very rapidly.
But the biggest argument of all for caution — yet hardly ever spoken — is that there simply may not be enough coal to go around. This could lead to global shortages, price spikes, economic disruption and a rush to other energy sources — meaning billions of dollars of stranded investments.
Incredibly for an energy resource that the world depends on, global coal statistics are shockingly poor. Take China. Since 1992, the nation has mined roughly 20% of its reported reserves. Yet, China hasn’t changed its reported reserve figures since that year. The United States and Australia have reasonably credible reserves, but other nations with large reported coal assets are Russia, India and South Africa. How reliable are their figures?
I also made some comments on the greenwash surrounding the new ‘CCS-ready’ coal-fired power station proposed recently for Victoria. You can read the transcript, or listen to the audio here. For a snippet:
JANE COWAN: This coal-fired power station is aiming to use clean coal technologies. Does that make the money any better spent?
BARRY BROOK: No because that clean coal technology, it’s been admitted, won’t come on line until at least 2020 and probably later. So it will have many years of emitting greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, contributing further to climate change, pushing the climate system towards the point where it may actually start to release carbon itself and then the whole problem runs out of our hands. It doesn’t make sense.
Right now clean coal, carbon capture and sequestration, whatever you want to call it, is not a viable technology to introduce. At best they can build a power station that may, in the future, be able to use that technology. And there’s no clear evidence that it will actually be cost competitive with renewables by the time it’s actually implemented. So that, as well, is actually just a furphy.
Barry W. Brook