UK Decarbonisation and Carbon Capture and Storage — [Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:47 pm on 24th January 2017.

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Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 3:47 pm, 24th January 2017

I was going to say that the debate had been characterised by a mighty cross-party alliance in favour of CCS, which I heartily concur with, but obviously there is this afternoon one exception to that. I want briefly to address that exception: Sammy Wilson.

The issue is basically about the imperative to decarbonise our energy supplies, and it is an unashamed imperative because we know that climate change is real and that, if we do not do anything about it, that will be disastrous overall, for us all. Indeed, we can go back, in terms of alternative costings, to the Stern report. Stern said that doing nothing on climate change would probably consume 5% of our GDP, whereas doing something about it might consume 1% of our GDP. It is a very substantial investment for the future and rather a good bargain overall, in terms of what we might put in and what we might get out.

Of course, the same applies, in the context of the energy sector, to CCS. The question is really how we decarbonise our energy supplies, using different potential scenarios, and what would happen if we did not take CCS into account as far as decarbonising our energy supplies was concerned. It is not that we cannot, but it is about the relative costs of doing that with different technologies. It is not me saying this: it is the Committee on Climate Change in setting out its scenarios for the fifth carbon budget, which, of course, the Government have now adopted as a way forward over the next period.

We have basically adopted a scenario for energy decarbonisation that has at its centre, and as part of that fifth carbon budget, that energy emissions should be below 100 grams of CO2 per kWh by about 2030. The Committee on Climate Change says that the investments we have at the moment give us an emissions intensity of about 250 grams of CO2 per kWh. If we close remaining coal-fired power stations and replace them with gas-fired generation in the short term, that would take emissions marginally further down to 190 grams of CO2 per kWh.

Of course, if all the existing nuclear power stations were also replaced by gas, and gas met new demand subsequently, emissions intensities would rise to over 300 grams of CO2 per kWh by 2030. The Committee on Climate Change goes on to say:

“Commercialisation programmes for CCS and offshore wind alongside lowest-cost investments in the 2020s in a mix of new nuclear, onshore wind, solar and offshore wind rather than expanding gas generation would bring emissions intensity down to below 100 gCO2/kWh.”

That is a very straightforward and exact road map for where we need to go in terms of energy decarbonisation.

Of course, if we did not have CCS in that scenario, we would have to do a lot of different things to replace what CCS would have done by physically taking the carbon dioxide out of the process and putting it into the ground. We would have to do something else to take that carbon dioxide out of the process. That could be a lot of additional energy efficiency or it could be or a lot of new, different low-carbon plant. We come to the question of what the alternative costs might be if we did not have CCS in the process. Indeed, the NAO report on the carbon capture and storage pilots, which hon. Members have mentioned this afternoon, clearly sets out that meeting the 2050 target for decarbonisation of our whole system, without CCS, would

“cost up to £30 billion more in the power sector alone”.

Hon. Members have mentioned what that means in terms of an annual basis, but that is the overall cost. Interestingly, the NAO cites where that particular figure comes from: of course, it came from the Department of Energy and Climate Change in 2015.

We are clear about the ends, but we are not currently clear about the means. That is where the scandalous cancellation of the two pilot projects—which, by the way, had already been included in those Committee on Climate Change estimates I just mentioned, so we are even further back from the starting line than we would otherwise have been—puts us in terms of having, at the moment, the possibility of ends.

We have agreed the fifth carbon budget. The Government are due to produce their low-carbon plan some day soon; I think it was supposed to be last year and then it was supposed to be this spring, but I see from the industrial strategy announcement yesterday that the target is now some time in 2017. I am interested to know from the Minister whether that low-carbon plan is going to be published in the early part of 2017, as I hope. If it is, I would be extremely surprised if it included no mention of the key role CCS will have to play in making that plan a reality. That is the truth of the matter: without CCS, it is very difficult to envisage a lot of the systems that we talk about in terms of low-carbon energy as a whole—not just low-carbon electricity—working very well.

My hon. Friend Tom Blenkinsop mentioned, among other things, the possible role that hydrogen might play in the future heat economy. Hydrogen can be made by electrolysis of spare electricity but it is more likely that, during the earlier period, it is going to be made using existing infrastructure by steam methane reformation. That gives us a potent fuel in terms of sorting out the decarbonisation of our heat structures, and possibly the substantial decarbonisation of our transport structures, but CO2 is a by-product that needs sequestering in the process, otherwise it is not low-carbon at all.

The essential role that carbon capture and storage will play across the board in our decarbonised, low-carbon energy economy is without question. The question is: what do we do about it? We have heard mention this afternoon of the estimable Oxburgh report, which was essentially commissioned by Government after the closing down of the pilot schemes. Without wishing to repeat some of the details of the Oxburgh report that have been mentioned this afternoon, I would say that the report does not talk about pilots and does not talk about ways of trying to introduce bits of CCS here and there. It talks about a very practical route forward, which is costed and relatively low-cost, for what Government need to do—exactly in line with what we think we are doing at the moment about industrial strategy and how we move that forward—to make carbon capture and storage a part of our energy landscape over the next period.

I commend anybody who has not read that report to look at exactly what it says. That is exactly what it does: it sets out how we move forward over the next period to integrate carbon capture storage with various measures as part of our processes. I ask the Minister whether the Government intend to respond to the Oxburgh report in the near future. If they do intend to respond, what form is that response likely to take? I hope that when the Government decide to respond, they respond in a very positive way because that is what we need right now. Undoubtedly, we need to decarbonise radically. Undoubtedly, carbon capture and storage has to be a part of that decarbonisation. Setting out a way forward for making carbon capture and storage a reality in our energy firmament is, it seems to me, a very high priority for Government at the moment.