Friday, December 5, 2008

Rubbishing Clean Coal Research

I know it may take three times to make a trend, but when you speak to two informed individuals in the energy industry, then we almost get to three. So I'll take the two discussions I had with these two people and extrapolate to suggest that people are rubbishing the idea of investing any thought into seeing the future implications of carbon storage for coal.

For these two individuals the need to commit any resources into understanding the regulatory and infrastructure needs that will be required seemed a waste of time and money. I however, would have to argue the opposite. First there is no doubt that the technology still has be proven. But it is also undisputed that there is serious amounts of money, both from governments and from industry that are being put into the technology. Billions of Euros and Dollars. Some would say not enough, but regardless there is significant interest that is backed up by real money. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), offers a significant savings for companies and countries that are heavily reliant on coal, or have large deposits.

So the question that comes out is why actually invest any human thought, labor and money into exploring the regulatory and infrastructure challenges if the technology is not proven? Because there isn't much time. If you think about how long it took to create local, then national and then regional power systems, the infrastructure and regulatory framework that these operate within, it is apparent that the deployment of CCS infrastructure, if built along these historical time lines will not be realized until 2060 or beyond.

I make this time line calculation off the top of my head. Think about it, when did the FERC get control over interstate commerce of electricity? 1970s/80s? And not just administrative control but real control that is able to shape the direction of the infrastructure and its regulatory functioning, then it would be 1995. Then if you think about the infrastructure - transmission lines and how long it has taken to create interconnections between states and countries, then a further 10-20 year time frame (if not longer) is talked about.

Thus if as much planning as possible can go into finding out the locations for CCS, the pipeline routes that need to be built and the regulatory hurdles that need to be done, then does it really make sense to wait until the technology is proven to begin the process of fighting over infrastructure routes and regulatory power? If we need to have an established path towards 80% CO2 reduction by 2050, and even the deployment of clean coal technology in the next 10-15 years, does it make sense to wait? For me it doesn't.