CCS is a technology that allows us to produce electricity through the conventional fossil-fuel based processes, but with the added task of capturing and storing all the carbon dioxide that is emitted to the atmosphere. Such a solution is certainly convenient if it can be made reality; it allows us to use electricity generation technologies that we have used for more than 100 years. Conventional power also is more flexible in its ability to vary its output compared to nuclear, which makes it more compatible with variable output renewables.
All the individual steps to make CCS technologically feasible already exist, and are used in a variety of industries for various purposes. However, bringing them all together in a commercially competitive manner is still a worryingly distant goal. The cost uncertainty is not as much as an issue as for nuclear – we know CCS will be expensive!
A number of demonstration projects being attempted, (the Global CCS Institute reports 74 large scale demonstrations around the world) , but in Europe the CCS movement has stalled, with demonstrations both in the UK (Longannet in Scotland) and Germany (Vattenfall Jänschwalde) cancelled due to funding and regulatory issues respectively.
A drawback of this technology is that the storage aspect of CCS is surrounded by uncertainty. Many novel techniques have been proposed to store carbon dioxide, but the most proven are those already used by the oil and gas industry; namely to pump CO2 back into gas and oil fields. Historically, this has been used to enhance oil recovery rates, but the goal of permanently storing the CO2 is more challenging. Even if carbon can be stored in such a way, we need to be certain that it will not leak out over time, for example by escaping through cracks in the impermeable geology we are trying to trap it in. We will be doing the climate no favours if we adopt this technology and merely delay the rate of carbon escaping into the atmosphere by a few decades.
The main concern, at least for me, is that the added energy input required to capture the carbon reduces the efficiency of the power plant. This means more fossil fuels have to be burned at an even greater rate to sustain the same amount of electricity production. With a growingly scarce resource, this seems like a foolhardy approach.