Renewables beat carbon capture and storage, researchers find

17. September 2013 | Global PV markets, Industry & Suppliers, Investor news, Markets & Trends | By:  Max Hall

Australian researchers say renewables offer better prospects than coal and gas-fired carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems and argue against investment in CCS development, citing rising gas prices and pipeline distances.

Carbon sequestration graph

Focusing on carbon capture and storage is a costly mistake, according to UNSW researchers.

An associate professor at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) says gas and coal-fired power stations will not be able to compete with renewables in future, even if carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology becomes commercially viable.

Professor Mark Diesenberg and colleagues from UNSW's Institute of Environmental Studies modelled a variety of scenarios to compare conventional plants with CCS technology with a mix of solar, wind and biomass generation.

Using Australian hourly electricity demand and wind and solar data from 2010 together with government predictions of the costs of competing technologies by 2030, Diesenberg and his colleagues concluded renewables offered the cheapest, most risk-free form of electricity generation.

The modelling scenarios included a range of estimates for a carbon price in 2030 and for the expected costs of commercial CCS.

Coal-fired plants need long distance CCS pipelines

Diesenberg and his colleagues concluded coal-fired generation with CCS would only be able to compete with currently available renewables in a small number of scenarios where power plants were near potential CO2 depositories in New South Wales and Queensland and the carbon price was low.

But most of Australia's power plants are some distance from the two CCS-friendly areas and the rising cost associated with transferring the compressed CO2 to the carbon sinks would leave coal-fired CCS uncompetitive with renewables.

The researchers concluded such technology could only be commercially viable with a zero carbon price, which would mean no incentive for developing CCS on a commercial scale in the first place.

Diesenberg adds that with climate change having escalated by 2030, the chances of a low carbon price would be remote.

Regarding gas-fired power generation, with commercial CCS, Diesenberg and his team concede the technology could compete with renewables at current gas prices but point out the gas price is rising as more gas from eastern Australia is exported.

The researchers concluded that with a gas price at parity with export prices, the technology again falls short when compared to renewables.

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