Policy Push Is Needed
Those good reasons for commencing concerted CCS efforts soon will probably not move the industry unless it is also prodded by new public policies. Such initiatives would be part of a broader drive to control carbon dioxide emissions from all sources.
In the U.S., a national program to limit CO2 emissions must be enacted soon to introduce the government regulations and market incentives necessary to shift investment to the least-polluting energy technologies promptly and on a wide scale. Leaders in the American business and policy communities increasingly agree that quantifiable and enforceable restrictions on global warming emissions are imperative and inevitable. To ensure that power companies put into practice the reductions in a cost-effective fashion, a market for trading CO2 emissions credits should be created—one similar to that for the sulfur emissions that cause acid rain. In such a plan, organizations that intend to exceed designated emission limits may buy credits from others that are able to stay below these values.
Enhancing energy efficiency efforts and raising renewable energy production are critical to achieving carbon dioxide limits at the lowest possible cost. A portion of the emission allowances created by a carbon cap-and-trade program should be allocated to the establishment of a fund to help overcome institutional barriers and technical risks that obstruct widespread deployment of otherwise cost-effective CO2 mitigation technologies.
Even if a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program were enacted in the next few years the economic value of CO2 emissions reduction may not be enough initially to convince power providers to invest in power systems with CCS. To avoid the construction of another generation of conventional coal plants, it is essential that the federal government establish incentives that promote CCS.
One approach would be to insist that an increasing share of total coal-based electricity generation comes from facilities that meet a low CO2 emissions standard—perhaps a maximum of 30 grams of carbon per kilowatt-hour (an achievable goal using today’s coal CCS technologies). Such a goal might be achieved by obliging electricity producers that use coal to include a growing fraction of decarbonized coal power in their supply portfolios. Each covered electricity producer could either generate the required amount of decarbonized coal power or purchase decarbonized-generation credits. This system would share the incremental costs of CCS for coal power among all U.S. coal-based electricity producers and consumers.
If the surge of conventional coal-fired power plants currently on drawing boards is built as planned, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will almost certainly exceed 450 ppmv. We can meet global energy needs while still stabilizing CO2 at 450 ppmv, however, through a combination of improved efficiency in energy use, greater reliance on renewable energy resources and, for the new coal investments that are made, the installation of CO2 capture and geologic storage technologies. Even though there is no such thing as “clean coal,” more can and must be done to reduce the dangers and environmental degradations associated with coal production and use. An integrated low-carbon energy strategy that incorporates CO2 capture and storage can reconcile substantial use of coal in the coming decades with the imperative to prevent catastrophic changes to the earth’s climate.