A decision by four of Europe’s largest utilities to opt out of a decade long carbon capture and storage (CCS) project is "a matter of great concern" according to a leading academic and advocate of the technology.
Germany's RWE, France's Electricite de France , Sweden's Vattenfall AB and Spain's Gas Natural Fenosa have announced their withdrawal from the Zero Emission Platform (ZEP), which advises the European Commission about CCS technologies.
They say the technology behind the project, aimed at tackling global warming, is too expensive, according to a letter obtained by Reuters. Dr David Reiner told Power Engineering International that the announcement shows that for certain countries, support for CCS is "more rhetorical than real".
"The utility group has decided to stop its engagement in the ZEP," according to the letter dated Jan. 12 to Graeme Sweeney, chair of the ZEP advisory council.
The ZEP is a coalition of companies, scientists and environmental groups seeking ways to capture and bury heat-trapping carbon emissions mainly from the exhausts of coal, oil and gas-fired power plants.
While Saskatchewan Power opened the world's first coal-fired power plant retrofitted with CCS in October, the European body has largely failed to enable a proliferation of the technology.
"We currently do not have the necessary economic framework conditions in Europe to make CCS an attractive technology to invest in," the letter also stated. It added that CCS would play an important role cutting greenhouse gas emissions in future.
"It's a matter of regret ... but it also presents us with an opportunity to reinforce our membership," Sweeney, a former advisor to Shell, told Reuters. New members could include companies from energy intensive industries.
The letter said that the utilities had "restricted time and budget" and that ZEP had focused more and more on lobbying.
Senior Lecturer in Technology Policy at Cambridge University, Dr David Reiner told PEi, that ultimately companies will respond to strong signals at the national and EU level.
"The withdrawal of several major European utilities reflects the fact that EU support for CCS has been more rhetorical than real and that in certain countries, notably Germany, the likelihood of CCS happening is low."
"EDF and Gas Natural Fenosa have never really engaged on CCS and have largely kept a watching brief on the technology. The fact that Vattenfall and RWE have withdrawn is more serious since they have been involved in developing CCS projects, but Germany is now unlikely to move forward with CCS, which has undoubtedly affected the enthusiasm of companies with large German operations."
"Indeed, Vatenfall stopped its CCS R&D programme last year and this was followed by an announcement that it would be seeking to sell all of its coal operations in Germany."
"Nevertheless, although it is easy to explain away individual corporate decisions, taken as a whole, the fact that four major European utilities are leaving the main institutional focus for CCS in Europe has to be seen as a matter of serious concern if one is to believe the EU's commitment to the technology."