Kingsnorth and a carbon sequestration competition

Kingsnorth’s proposed power station is not a carbon sequestration project. The government has chosen another way to get carbon sequestration technology. Mainly because it has nothing to do with carbon capture some environmentalists are suggesting that we should boycott the banks that are financing e.on’s new coal fired power station project at Kingsnorth.

It is an idea worth considering because similar boycotts sometimes change behaviour of commercial organisations, which must be sensitive to the feelings of their customers. It would be perhaps more appropriate to boycott e.on because a boycott against the banks, who are already committed to lend and who really know nothing of the real issues would be more like a punishment than anything else. Boycott the banks’ carbon offset products – yes , but these should be boycotted on the ground that they do not do what they say on the packaging.

The understanding of the point that Kingsnorth is not about carbon capture is paramount and if our Energy Minister does not understand it then what hope is there of us expecting the lending banks to understand it? Mr Wicks when interviewed by the Guardian newspaper seemed to confuse e.on’s project at Kingsnorth with the development of carbon capture technology. He rightly says that if we can develop carbon capture technology we could make it a component in all new coal power stations as well as retrofitting it all over the world saving bundles of emissions.

As often happens with politicians he has the right idea in so far as carbon capture storage technology is concerned but by confusing it with the project at Kingsnorth he is making some errors of reasoning

·        Kingsnorth will not be a clean coal project with carbon sequestrated. It will simply be slightly less dirty than all of the other coal fired power stations all over the world.

·        You do not need to create a large and fully operation coal burning power station to develop carbon capture and storage. Quite the reverse, in fact. You need to develop the technology (which does not yet exist) in a laboratory, try it out in very small scale experiments and when you are sure of it then permit the building a new coal fired power station.

I fear that Mr Wicks’ approval of Kingsnorth is more about getting the energy balance right, in terms of energy security. It is not about developing clean coal. That makes his comment that unless clean coal is developed “all is lost on global warming” rather astounding.

By that comment Mr Wicks concedes that if we do not develop a way of capturing and sequestrating carbon emissions from power stations all would be lost, and by that I assume he means our way of life and possibly our survival as a race.

Let us then see what priority his Government gives to finding a way for capture and sequestrate carbon. His colleague, John Hutton organised a competition! I shall repeat that in case you felt that you might have misread it. Yes, he organised a competition. For some reason 90% sequestration was demanded. I would be happy with 50% now, working towards 100%. Why 90%?  

The terms of the competition were such that only nine very large companies could bid and nine of them did. Out of those nine, four were short listed, one of which was e.on. The “prize” is a small amount of taxpayers’ support to fund a project where they will try to capture 90% of the emissions of a coal burning power stations producing 300 MW. Kingsnorth will produce 1,940 MW.

The prize of the competition is that taxpayers will pay for the carbon sequestration and storage technology, but not the power plant. That was why there were only nine entrants in the competition. The winner will be announced this time next year (two years after the idea was conceived) and the project is aimed to start in 2014.

Now if I were in charge of the Government (which I am not) and believed (as I do) that carbon capture and storage was absolutely essential to the survival of our way of life I think that I might be persuaded (quite easily) that

·        Organising a competition is not the best way of getting the technology. We are not designing something from known science but stepping into the unknown.

·        Committing a few dozen million pounds as a prize to the winner of a competition to enable the winner to experiment with carbon capture and storage might not be the best way to get the technology.

In fact, I would probably consider the person who made that suggestion as not being fit to advise me. I would think that investigating carbon capture and storage should have billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money put into it. I would put the billions into a research institute and hire the best brains in the world to solve the problem.

You cannot solve life threatening problems with competitions in the free market, especially where there is an immediate need for the solution. When we needed nuclear energy (both for a bomb and for power) in the middle of the Second World War, we did not organise a competition, but conceived the Manhattan Project. It worked. The competition will provide a winner of the competition, not a solution.

One Response

  1. I actually enjoyed reading through this article.Thanks.

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