Will the UK’s Reliance on Carbon Capture Pay Off?
Amidst the announcements in the Spring Budget last week was the decision to put funding into carbon capture, utilisation and storage, or CCUS. The idea of capturing carbon emissions and burying them underground is a relatively new concept, one that is costly and has unproven scalability. Although it could be an important part of being able to reach net zero goals, many critics believe it won’t work effectively.
As countries like the UK look for more solutions to get towards a target that’s 27 years away, the time to put the infrastructure in place is now. That is why Jeremy Hunt has agreed to set aside £20 billion towards CCUS, also as a way of making sure energy prices in future don’t skyrocket as much as they have in recent months. Will CCUS provide the energy security the UK needs though?
Critics of the move have suggested it’s a way of shifting the focus away from tried and proven methods of energy security. Renewable energy reduces our reliance on fossil fuels, whereas CCUC allows us to cling onto its dominance over our energy generation for a longer period of time. The overuse of fossil fuels makes us susceptible to extreme price shocks that we’ve seen since Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Even though we can’t rely on renewables 100% of the time, further investment in energy storage is crucial. On windy and sunny days, for example, a lot of electricity can be generated, but if it’s not used straight away, it is wasted. Many turbines are even turned off if the electrical grid can’t cope with the demand. With battery facilities, this would enable large quantities of energy to be used at times when renewables can’t create power.
According to some sources, 81% of carbon that has already been captured has been used to extract more oil from existing sites. Despite being a technology that is meant to help speed up a reduction in carbon emissions, it’s being used instead to continue our reliance on fossil fuels and produce more.
The other “eco” announcement was in the revisit to nuclear power. Like George Osborne in 2015, who wished to have a nuclear plant built by the 2020s, Jeremy Hunt has announced something similar. More money is being put into the development of nuclear power, which takes decades to build and much more expensively than cheaper renewable alternatives.
Despite the government wanting to push nuclear as environmentally sustainable, the fact remains that while it produces no emissions, nuclear waste is still an issue. The most hazardous waste is usually buried underground to decay away for thousands of years, but can we solve all our problems by burying them? If we’re to seal caverns with liquid carbon on a regular basis, will we also have room for the additional nuclear waste we will be producing?
The real announcements in the Spring Budget were largely political manoeuvres as critics say renewables were completely absent. Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, believes real change could have been implemented if renewables were headlined instead of delaying action. As nuclear power takes decades before any energy is produced, the ban on onshore wind farms could have been lifted and legislation could have been announced to fit all new houses with solar panels.