CCS plays role in meeting demand in era of GHG reductions
Q: Is carbon capture and sequestration a magic bullet to curb emissions or is the technology a bunch of hype?
Is carbon capture and sequestration a "magic bullet?" No, but it may be a partial solution, one of many challenging things that will be necessary if we are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
Climate change legislation -- in whatever form it goes forward -- is expected to pass. The likelihood of carbon emission restrictions, however, does not translate into the abandonment of coal as a source of energy.
Coal currently produces about 50 percent of our country's electricity. Natural gas, another fossil fuel that emits CO2, provides about another 20 percent of our energy needs. Perhaps in 50 years or so conservation, energy efficiency measures, solar power, wind power and other new sources of electricity might -- and that is a big might given present projections - be able to produce 70 percent of our energy needs as coal and natural gas do now.
For example, in my home state of Virginia, legislation enacted by the General Assembly in 2007 projects that a 10 percent reduction in electric use by 2022 is achievable and cost effective. That effort would save about 3,900 megawatts. Yet my employer's study shows our customers will demand 8,900 additional megawatts by 2024. We only serve about two-third of the state's population, so total demand needs for all of Virginia will be even higher.
I am not belittling efforts to save energy or increase the use of renewables. Along with an increased emphasis on clean nuclear generation, they all have an important role in meeting what is expected to be a nationwide 40 percent increase in demand over the next 20 years. My company is investing heavily in all those areas, but we cannot expect them to displace coal as a vital part of our energy mix.
So, given that we are going to have carbon legislation and that we are going to need coal, the equation is clear: We need to find a way to use coal more cleanly and dramatically reduce its carbon impact.
At the moment, carbon capture and sequestration offers the best opportunity to accomplish that goal. While we may be many years away from CCS technologies that are commercially viable, the research so far is promising. Increased research spurred by federal dollars, growing contributions from the energy sector, entrepreneurship and the need to succeed will result in making coal a cleaner and more carbon friendly resource.