The Energy Collective Group

This group brings together the best thinkers on energy and climate. Join us for smart, insightful posts and conversations about where the energy industry is and where it is going.

10,029 Members

Post

Europe’s Climate Change Fail

climate change emissions

Despite its green credentials, Europe has ramped up its consumption of coal. Ironically, the very policies that the continent has built its environmentalist reputation on — vigorous support for renewables — may be crowding out its best chances for reducing emissions, given its return to coal: carbon capture and storage.

A few years ago, carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology was seen as the best way to clean up coal and cut carbon emissions. And Europe was seen as the expected leader in the field. But instead, reports the science journal Nature, Europe has fallen behind North America in the race to create systems that separate carbon dioxide from exhaust gases.

And what’s worse, Europe is increasingly turning to coal, the most polluting of all sources of electricity. In some European countries, reports The Economist, the amount of coal-generated electricity is rising by up to 50% a year, at annualized rates. Ironically, some experts say CCS is the only way to eliminate coal emissions.

What’s going on Europe? The continent associated with being greener than green, at least during climate change talks, is suddenly looking, well, a little dirty. Here’s what’s happened.

A few years ago, carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology was seen as the best way to clean up coal and cut carbon emissions. And Europe was seen as the expected leader in the field. But instead, reports the science journal Nature, Europe has fallen behind North America in the race to create systems that separate carbon dioxide from exhaust gases.

And what’s worse, Europe is increasingly turning to coal, the most polluting of all sources of electricity. In some European countries, reports The Economist, the amount of coal-generated electricity is rising by up to 50% a year, at annualized rates. Ironically, some experts say CCS is the only way to eliminate coal emissions.

What’s going on Europe? The continent associated with being greener than green, at least during climate change talks, is suddenly looking, well, a little dirty. Here’s what’s happened.

Four years ago, the International Energy Agency (IEA), an independent organization that promotes reliable and affordable clean energy, called for 100 CCS projects by 2020. CCS technologies capture CO2 from fuel combustion or industrial processes, transfer it via ships or pipelines, and store it underground. The IEA says CCS is a “vital” and “least-cost” way to meet a fifth of the emission reduction target for 2050 set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Yet to date, there are no large-scale projects operating anywhere, and a European Commission fund to finance CCS announced before Christmas it would give €1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) to renewable-energy projects instead.

Part of the problem is money. Outfitting power plants with CCS jacks up the price of electricity by as much as 100%, while full subsidies, granted to more popular projects in Europe such as wind-farms, are not offered to CCS projects. While grants are available, utility companies with CCS technologies are supposed to also raise money by selling carbon credits through emissions trading programs. But last year, the recession curbed industrial emissions and the carbon-credit market collapsed, slashing that source of funds.

Nature reports that even so, 10 CCS projects were identified last summer, but required co-funding, which six European countries had promised. Five of those six—Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania and the UK—backed out, while a project to outfit a steel plant in France with CCS technology flopped after the plant’s owner, ArcelorMittal, pulled out. Meanwhile, in the US and Canada at least two large CCS projects are underway and are due to start operating in 2014.

Here’s the second, and more alarming twist to Europe’s not-so-green story: the rebirth of coal in Europe. According to The Economist, American utilities have moved to shale gas, leaving American coal miners in search of new customers. With both US and Chinese demand dropping off, coal prices have fallen. Although coal is still not exactly cheap, it is when compared to gas in Europe.

There’s little sign that European demand for coal will wane soon. Partly it’s because coal is cheaper and more profitable than gas, but it’s also, ironically, thanks to the rise of renewable energies such as solar and wind that get priority on electricity grids. Renewables have been grabbing market share and undermining utility company profits. Last November, Moody’s warned that the “rapid increase in renewable energy capacity in many European markets could seriously damage the financial prospects of coal and gas-fueled power plants in the near to medium term.”

And so, to cut costs utilities are replacing gas with coal. And at a worrying rate: In the first half of last year, European purchases of American coal jumped by a third. So much for Europe’s green reputation.

 

Originally published at Quartz, a new kind of business publication.

Breakthrough Institute's picture

Thank Breakthrough for the Post!

Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.

Discussions

Randy Voges's picture
Randy Voges on January 16, 2013

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!

Paul O's picture
Paul O on January 16, 2013

I suspect that Germany (and its famous anti-nuclear stance) is way ahead in the coal race. Why don't they just build more windmills?

Alain Verbeke's picture
Alain Verbeke on January 16, 2013

1. why should europe be more catholic than the Pope, when seeing that the US, China, India and basically the whole world is increasing their own fossil fuel consumption manifold, while refusing euh blocking any attempts at curbing CO2 emissions in any legal international forum ? Europe represents less than 1/7th of the world population, after all.


2. Europe is still investing MORE in renewable enrgy than any other area of the world and will continue to do that, since it depends too much on the goodwill of other fossil fuel suppliers, most of them not from europe.

 

3. has any other area in the world put similar legislation in place as this one ? 20% renewable energy supply by 2020 in europe, 20% reduction of CO2 emissions compared to 1990 by 2020 in europe, 20% cut in energy consumption by 2020 in europe, demanding that by 2020 all new buildings being built be near zero energy buildings in europe, increasing average car efficiency form the current 43mpg to 50mpg by 2020 in europe ?  Not as far as I know, so let above nuthead pontificate about CCS, while we will continue sweep before our own door, watching the rest continue on their own roads to perdition.

 

 

 

Ronald Weedbaum's picture
Ronald Weedbaum on January 17, 2013

The anti-shale gas insanity has taken hold in Europe. You can at least in part blame Gasland, the New York Times, Robert Howarth, the Park Foundation and others for increasing GHG emissions there.  Europe has some excellent shale gas potential but they have fallen for the fear mongering going on here in the US. Hopefully they wake up at some point and realize that these people have no idea what they are talking about.

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »