COLUMN-Carbon capture's energy penalty problem: Kemp

Mon Oct 6, 2014 9:44am EDT
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(John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own)

By John Kemp

LONDON Oct 6 (Reuters) - SaskPower's Boundary Dam Unit #3, the first utility-scale power plant to be fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS), has produced a surge in media interest since becoming operational this month.

But it also illustrates the formidable challenges that must be overcome before CCS is ready to play a significant role in the fight against climate change.

Refurbishing the 45-year old Unit #3 to extend its life for another 30 years and retrofitting it with equipment to capture carbon dioxide emissions has cost almost C$1.3 billion, according to the company's accounts, about three times as much as a similar-sized plant without CCS.

SaskPower received $240 million from Canada's government to help with construction costs and will realise additional revenues from the sale of CO2 to an enhanced oil recovery project. But the high capital costs of Unit #3 underscore how far away CCS remains from being competitive with conventional power stations or renewables such as wind and solar.

SaskPower insists that the lessons learned from building the plant and CCS system mean that it could be done much more cheaply next time. But construction cost is not the only problem with the plant.

The refurbished and retrofitted Unit #3 is also much less efficient than its predecessor. It will supply "over 110 megawatts" of electricity to the grid compared with 139 MW previously, a reduction of around 20 percent, according to SaskPower.

The reduction in net output is in line with published estimates for the "energy penalty" imposed by CCS systems, which is the major barrier to their widespread adoption.   Continued...