The climate change challenge for gas-powered energy

Burning gas in UK power stations released 39.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2014 (DECC Energy Trends, Table 5.1). As North Sea gas reserves decline, we must import more gas, via pipeline or by sea, from regions such as Scandinavia and the Middle East.

The problem

We estimate the carbon footprint of a new build gas-fired power station – how much greenhouse gas it produces over its lifetime – to be about 350 grams of carbon dioxide-equivalent for each kilowatt-hour of electricity it generates (gCO2e/kWh).

The solution

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a new technology designed to capture the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by fossil fuel power stations and store it underground, rather than release it into the atmosphere.

In theory, CCS projects may capture up to 90% of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel power stations, which we estimate could reduce the carbon footprint of a new build gas-fired power station to about 35 grams of carbon dioxide-equivalent for each kilowatt-hour of electricity it generates (gCO2e/kWh).

CCS technology is not yet proven to work on an industrial scale. It is also expected to increase construction costs and to reduce the efficiency of a gas-fired power station.

In April 2012, the UK government opened a £1 billion capital funding ‘Commercialisation competition’ to support the development of CCS. In December 2013 and February 2014, two projects were awarded multi-million pound contracts to undertake Front End Engineering and Design (FEED) studies. One of these projects is an existing CCGT at Peterhead (Scotland). It is hoped that the FEED programme will help enable the projects to proceed to a construction phase. The Department of Energy and Climate Change hope that through this work and other developments, CCS will be cost competitive in the 2020s.

In North Dakota USA, one gas-fired power station has already been fitted with CCS. Each year, some 2.8 million tonnes of CO2 are piped from the power station to Saskatchewan in Canada, to be stored indefinitely in depleted oil fields.