Has the failure of CCS at Longannet returned to haunt us?

Today BBC News is reporting that Longannet power station in Fife (Scotland) is among the top 30 CO2 emitters in Europe, in terms of millions of tonnes of CO2 emitted per annum from coal-fired power generation.

This comes from a report apparently produced jointly by the WWF, CAN Europe, the European Envionmental Bureau, the Health and Environment Alliance and Climate Alliance Germany. At the time of writing, the link to the report download on the WWF site isn’t working, however it is available at the moment from the CAN Europe site. A good summary of the data is on edie.net too.

Longannet features at number 21 in the list of 30 top CO2 polluters in Europe, at 9.51 million tonnes of CO2 per annum (2013) for 2400 megawatts of electricity, and ranks 6th in the UK. Overall, 9 of the 30 top polluters are UK plants (30%), producing 24% (98.7 Mt/a) of Europe’s coal generated CO2 emissions. Three of the nine UK plants are in the top 50% of emitters.

If we make some attempt to ‘normalise’ the data by, say, converting it to thousand tonnes of CO2 per megawatt of electricity per annum (kt/MWe/a), then it paints a slightly different picture. All but one of the UK plants (Ferrybridge “C”) fall in the bottom 50% of emitters, with Longannet dropping down to 29th position at 3.96 kt/MWe/a (and bottom of the list in the UK). Let’s be careful here, though. I’m not for a minute suggesting that this is A Good Thing since total emissions are still high, but it puts a little perspective on how the UK is doing compared to the rest of the big emitters in Europe, particularly Germany, Figure 1.

ktCO2 per MWe per annum

Figure 1. CO2 emissions per annum normalised for MWe. Germany are clearly the largest emitters based on this metric, while the UK sit in the lower 50%.

The story, though, from my point of view is: where is CCS? Three years ago, Longannet was in prime position to be awared £1,000 million from the UK Government to build the first industrial scale pilot CO2 capture and storage scheme in the world. The industry consortium of Scottish Power, Shell and the National Grid had spent several years researching the feasibility of capturing CO2 emissions from Longannet power station, to be transported north using an existing pipeline, and stored in a depleted North Sea gas field (Goldeneye).

The result of much of that research was an unprecedented FEED study (Front End Engineering Design), which calculated that the cost of the project would be around £1,000m, the same as on offer from the UK Treasury. However, the Treasury apparently required that additional contingencies be added to manage risk, and then concluded that the costs exceeded their budget and the project was canned. Prof. Stuart Haszeldine, one of my supervisors and Professor of CCS at Edinburgh University talked about it on Newsnight in 2011:

Sadly, due to the short-sightedness of the current government, CCS deployment in the UK, and arguably Europe, has now been pushed back by many years. Had Longannet gone ahead, we would be piloting CCS in the UK as we speak, gaining knowledge and experience which would help other CCS projects reduce their costs (the biggest barrier to CCS deployment). Cost reductions would make it more attractive throughout Europe, and although it is unlikely that the data in the Europe’s Dirty 30 report would have changed much, I’m sure the conclusions would be more positive on coal-fired electricity generation.

As it stands, CCS is progressing snail-like in Europe. Projects at White Rose, Yorkshire and Peterhead, Scotland are moving slowly and are well over 5 years away from operating. Other projects in Europe, such as the E.ON Maasvlakte ROAD plant in the Netherlands have stalled over funding and a lack of appetite for CCS. The virtual collapse of the European emissions trading scheme (ETS) has seriously hampered CCS by allowing these huge coal-fired plants to carry on emitting un-abated.

Longannet certainly wasn’t the only shining CCS knight, destined to save the World, but it’s failure has certainly put the UK and Europe much further behind on CCS than we ought to be. This is worrying if we seriously want to mitigate against climate change.

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2 thoughts on “Has the failure of CCS at Longannet returned to haunt us?

  1. Kit, your conversion of the CO2 emissions data to a ktCO2/MWe/a basis is meaningless because you’re dividing by the capacity of the plant, not its actual output. Thus a power station that looks quite good in your table above, but has only been operating at 50% of its capacity, will actually be emitting at the twice the rate you’re portraying. Scottish Power’s own figures for Longannet CO2 output per GigaWatt hour of electricity actually generated show a steady increase from 2009 to 2012. And in that period, Longannet was only operating at about 41% of its capacity – so its rate of CO2 emissions per GWh of electricity produced will be way higher than your table implies. Wherever the blame may lie for Longannet missing the CCS boat in 2011, it’s clear that it has missed that boat, so the priority now must be to have a credible plan for closing down Scotland’s biggest polluter.

    • Yes, I appreciate that this is the case that generation is lower than capacity, however this would surely apply to all the other stations too? In which case, the calculation isn’t meaningless since we’re looking at relative emissions between stations – the absolute value doesn’t matter. I don’t have the time to go hunting for the % output for each of the 30 stations, but if you know where I can easily find them then I’ll update the rankings! Cheers.

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