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Supported by the RCUK Energy Programme and the EPSRC.
Cross-Cutting Issues: CCS in Social/Political ContextsResearch Area Champions: David Reiner, Simon Shackley & Sam Holloway.
Developing and deploying CCS brings many challenges beyond the narrowly technical. Understanding the innovation processes for CCS requires inter-disciplinary studies drawing on natural science and engineering, as well as social science, economics, law, etc. Understanding socio-technical innovation processes can shed light on many relevant practical problems for policy makers, companies and other interested parties.
For example, we can learn from historical examples about the speed with which technologies can be scaled up and deployed, and how that was determined not only by factors internal to the technologies themselves, but also by how the relevant expertise is transferred between sectors and countries and distributed across organisations, how information was disseminated, how policy was designed, and governance regimes and other factors.
Of interest is also how to manage the establishment of the new knowledge needed, about the performance and impacts of CCS technologies. This can be a complicated process, especially when a technology becomes politicised, which is already happening to CCS. For the societal acceptance and support for CCS, it is also crucial to understand how the general public, local communities, NGOs and other groups perceive the technology.
Public perception is one of the key barriers to deployment of CCS. Local opposition has derailed experiments and some of the first projects aimed at storing C02 in the ocean (Hawaii and Norway, see de Figuerido 2002) and onshore in underground storage (Barendrecht in the Netherlands, Schwarze Pumpe and Beeskow in Germany; Greenville, Ohio in the United States).
Research on public perceptions is, therefore, a vital aspect in the development and potential roll-out of CCS. Understanding public perceptions will depend on key drivers such as the source(s) of the information, the form(s) the information takes and the framing of policies to support CCS. Identifying the arguments concerning CCS that publics and stakeholders find most engaging and challenging and also the issues about which they are likely to be concerned and most interested is an important early step. Clarifying at the start of a project what publics and stakeholders think about CCS helps to develop inclusive engagement strategies and allows any potential concerns or issues to be addressed at the earliest stage.
A critical element in public engagement is developing research techniques that allow both stakeholders and the lay public to talk freely about CCS, whilst also, where appropriate, giving them the materials they might need to form an informed and considered opinion. Qualitative research techniques from the social sciences such as interviews and discussion groups allow us to explore how people think about CCS in relation to related policy issues as well as their broader life contexts. Representative national surveys (with 1000 or more respondents) also provide an important tool in framing CCS in the context of other low-carbon technologies and allows for collecting quantitative data where hypotheses can be tested for statistical significance. Qualitative and quantitative methods also allow us to gauge what kinds of information people find most engaging or useful in helping them to form an opinion of CCS.
Members of the UKCCSRC (such as David Reiner and Simon Shackley) have been working on the public perceptions of CCS for over a decade and the research community and the knowledge base in the UK has grown with recent projects funded by the European Commission (such as NEARCO2, ECO2 and ACCSEPT), the Global CCS Institute and DECC.
UKCCSRC will have a dedicated facility for carrying out research into public opinions which will include a programme of annual national surveys on public attitudes towards CCS and other energy technologies.
Image of a Large Group Process investigation on Public Perceptions of Low Carbon Technologies in Edinburgh. Work was carried out by Rhys Howell, Simon Shackley and Leslie Mabon with funding from CSIRO and GCCSI.
Regardless of the technological advances, CCS cannot be viable without a policy framework to support the technology, which would allow the technology to be economically competitive and attractive to investors. By increasing the capital and operating costs of unabated fossil-fired electricity generating plant, CCS inevitably will need some form of support or regulation, not just for the first plant(s) but thereafter. That support could take the form of: (i) a technology mandate, such as an emissions performance standard or requiring that any new coal or natural gas be fitted with CCS, or (ii) a subsidy to cover the additional costs of building and operating a plant equipped with CCS or (iii) a carbon tax/emissions trading scheme that would improve the economics of CCS (and other low-carbon technologies) relative to unabated fossil generation. Different approaches carry different implications in terms of the incidence of costs and benefits and legal liabilities for the governments supporting such schemes, taxpayers or ratepayers and CO2 emitters such as the electric utility industry.
There are many uncertainties that impinge on CCS economics ranging from technical configurations to institutional design and energy market policies, which could potentially undermine full-scale commercial deployment of the CCS technology. Such analysis can also assist in making decisions about the RD&D portfolio, such as which carbon capture technologies should be researched further and supported taking into account various uncertainties in the performance of a power plant and associated cost of electricity generation. To help promote both fundamental research and pilot-scale capture projects with an aim of lowering costs, DECC, Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and Research Councils UK (RCUK) recently launched a £20 million (DECC 2012) innovation fund through 2015.
Research at UKCCSRC has a role to play in informing policy choices. A shifting UK energy policy in general and uncertainties posed by reforms, such as the Electricity Market Reform (EMR) in particular (DECC 2011), might substantially change the risk profile for investors and coal power plant owners to invest in CCS RD&D or other pre-commercial investments (DECC SAG 2012). Various techniques can be used to address these challenges. For example, real options valuation offers a rational basis for investment decisions, which differs from standard investment valuation by taking into account managerial flexibility in investment decisions and various uncertainties associated with such decisions (Liang et al 2010). As recently observed by the National Audit Office, there are important lessons to be learned from the first UK CCS Competition (NAO 2012). Auction design can play a role in considering how a CCS Competition can be designed most effectively at the UK or EU level (Newbery et al 2009).
Another technique, widely used within the energy economics field, is mathematical modelling, which can simulate real world electricity markets. This approach can assist in answering macro level questions such as where one might expect, from economic and financial perspective, to have a power plant with CO2 capture and associated CO2 pipelines taking into account spatial characteristics of electricity markets and inherent market uncertainties.
Employing these techniques in combination with technical and engineering studies of CCS as well as intuition from social science and public perception analysis of CCS technology can significantly improve our understanding of pathways for CCS deployment, its total cost to the society and its competitiveness vis-à-vis other schemes for decarbonisation of the UK economy.