Energy emission challenges from COVID and conflict – Do not forget CCS works on coal power also


By Tim Dixon

16 March 2022

Our colleagues from the IEA produce extremely important information on CO2 emissions from the energy sector, and their latest update is very sobering. For all the massive behaviour change we saw due to COVID, CO2 emissions fell by only 5.2% in 2020, and then rebounded by 6% in 2021 to their highest level ever, to 36.3 Gt. This increase was due to economic growth and largely down to the increased use of coal; even with renewable power generation having its largest ever growth, the share of power generation from coal increased to 36% globally. This was driven by higher natural gas prices making coal power more attractive even with its higher CO2 emissions. It seems that the COVID sustainable economic recovery packages called for by IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol were not yet delivered, they will take time to be implemented.

In 2022, this pattern of emissions from the energy sector is compounded even more by the shocking events in Ukraine, the repercussions of which are changing energy markets and making countries revisit their energy security policies, and increasing further the use of existing coal power capacity in Europe. The IEA has since released its 10-point plan on reducing European reliance on Russian gas, which focussed on short-term measures and acknowledges that short-term emissions may increase even with its recommendations on using more dispatchable low carbon power from bioenergy and nuclear and fast-tracking wind and solar projects. The last the IEA’s 10 points is to diversify and decarbonise sources of power system flexibility. CCS on coal power provides this and we know how to do it. There has been much good work on this application of CCS by many organisations, including IEAGHG for example see IEAGHG reports 2016-04 on Operating Flexibility of Power Plants with CCS and 2017-09 on Valuing Flexibility in CCS Power Plants. Also we have the full-scale demonstration of capture on coal power stations at Boundary Dam (IEAGHG 2015-06) and Petra Nova (IEAGHG Information Paper 2020-IP11).

As energy markets and energy security are shaken by the appalling events of 2022, we should not let climate become another casualty. We have the technologies and the knowledge to use CCS on coal power as well as on industrial sources.

For more information from IEA see Global Energy Review: CO2 Emissions in 2021 – Analysis – IEA and A 10-Point Plan to Reduce the European Union’s Reliance on Russian Natural Gas – Analysis – IEA 

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