Europe’s carbon-trading market and tougher emission targets make it appear somewhat more responsible than the rest of the world at climate-policy negotiations. But recently, the region has fallen behind North America in the effort demonstrate systems for capturing greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants and industry, even as its coal use increases.
Europe has had trouble launching large carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects. An EU fund that was set up two years ago to support CCS couldn’t find a single scheme to finance, and instead gave €1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) to renewable energy projects instead. Adding to the embarrassment, the International Energy Agency (IEA) noted that the switch from coal to shale gas in the USA lowered the price of coal, resulting in the EU to burning more coal because gas is more expensive.
Other countries have had similar difficulties with CCS. The technology to sieve carbon dioxide from exhaust gases has been demonstrated on small scale projects, and four large projects have successfully been able to store the gas underground. But no large carbon capture system is operating at a power plant anywhere in the world. Fitting a large power plant with CCS would increase the price of electricity by 50% to 100%.
Four years ago, the IEA wanted to have at least 100 CCS projects operational by 2020, capturing around 150 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. At the current rate, there will only be about 20 completed in time. The incentives for renewable energy are not in place for CCS.
Planners blame the collapse of the emissions-trading-scheme price for the lack of profit, which was due to the recession. Last year, the sale of 200 million credits raised only a third of what planners had hoped for.
Reference: “Europe’s untamed carbon” by Richard Van Noorden, 8 January 2013, Nature.