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IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme

Last week, there was a debate in the UK Parliament on the cancellation of the proposed Longannet CCS plant, and what this means for the CCS industry in the UK. Firstly, don't be under any illusion that the matter is closed and that the decision on CCS in the UK is made; far from it. Having read the transcript of the debate, I was struck by the depth of argument on both sides, and the level of awareness of the place that CCS could take in our future energy mix.

The point was raised that following the Longannet decision, what was to become of the £1bn of funding that was ring-fenced for the project? Will this be subsumed into the other energy infrastructure development that is proceeding? Or would this funding be retained for a future project? The good news for proponents of CCS in the UK, is that it would appear that this level of funding remains, albeit in a state of limbo. The current fund may be redistributed, but it will be replaced if it is spent elsewhere. It appears that the government remains positive about CCS, just not at Longannet.

The debate addressed concerns over what place CCS has in the UK's energy mix, and concerns on our reliance on foreign gas supplies, as well as the view of some that all of our power should be generated by wind and tidal means. The advantages and drawbacks of these schemes was debated, and this moved the discussion onto the impact of CCS investment; on a local level there was a great deal of hope that the development of the Longannet site would generate employment and opportunities for local people to find employment, and learn new skills, and now these hopes have been scuppered.

The juxtaposed views of proceeding and withholding were debated, with one side postulating that spending £1bn of investment on a single project was unfeasible in the current economic climate, and the flip side of the argument suggesting that the UK stood to potentially lose out if investment was withheld, in a similar manner as that of the wind generation market some years ago. The UK is one of the windiest countries on the planet, but a lack of firm leadership and a lack of investment from either public or private funds resulted in the UK playing catch up, and as a result other countries pioneered the technology, and the UK now imports the vast majority of equipment and technology for our wind generation projects. To invest now in CCS could make the UK the world leaders of such technology, and the investment this would bring into the country would more than offset the initial cost. It is suggested that CCS could create up to 13,000 jobs in Scotland, and an additional 14,000 in the rest of the UK. BY 2025 it is estimated that the sector could be worth more than £10 billion a year to the UK economy. It is conservatively estimated that the global market in technology alone is $10 billion, and this is a technology which the Institute of Mechanical Engineers are very clear about, stating that it is 'perfectly practical'.

So what will the future of CCS in the UK be?

Where will the investment land?

Will we be world leaders in this exciting new technology?

Or will we be left behind again?

Only time will tell.

Toby Aiken, IEAGHG