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Update blog on the Scottish carbon capture and storage cluster

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This post is linked to a blog from March 2023, on carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology and policy in Scotland – and should be read in conjunction with the earlier blog. This post updates on some of the key developments that have taken place since then.

Contribution of CCS to climate targets

In May, the Scottish Government released the annual Climate change monitoring report. These reports are a statutory requirement under the 2019 Climate Change Act and assess progress in terms of emission reductions and various other indicators. In the section on Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs) the report states that with respect to CCS:

  • ‘Scotland can deliver at scale in due course but not at the pace assumed in the CCPu (Climate Change Plan 2018-32 update)’

This stated change in assumptions is important due to the implications it has for emission reduction planning in Scotland. In the CCPu, negative emission technologies (in Scottish Government policy these currently rely on CCS) had been assumed to reduce overall emissions by 16% by 2030 and 24% by 2032. Without this level of contribution, if the 2030 interim target is to be achieved, greater emission reductions will be needed in other sectors e.g., transport, agriculture, heating buildings etc.

The change in expectation for CCS is due to ‘various shifts on the evidence’ including:

  • ‘The UK Government’s decision not to allocate the Scottish Cluster as a Track-1 cluster for delivery in the mid-2020s, impacting on when carbon storage underpinning NETs will be available, and industries’ appetite to invest in NETs technologies’ and
  • ‘No public commitment to date by a commercial operator to employ a NETs model for a single large power station in Scotland.’

UK Government support for the Scottish CCS cluster

A Scottish CCS project, called Acorn, was put on the ‘reserve list’ when the UK Government announced support for two UK CCS clusters in 2021, as part of a ‘Track-1’ support programme. The Scottish Government has been very supportive of a Scottish CCS cluster and viewed the decision to not award a Scottish project Track 1 status as ‘illogical’. See the previous SPICe blog for more on the history of government policy towards CCS in Scotland.

The Acorn project is a joint venture led by Storegga Ltd, with Shell UK as another project partner. It is a transport and storage system which plans to use existing oil and gas infrastructure to transport captured CO2 emissions from the large emission sources in Scotland, to permanent storage under the North Sea.

In March 2023, the UK Government stated that it believed the Acorn project was currently best placed to deliver on government objectives (alongside the Viking project in the Humber). The UK Government’s Under-Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero gave evidence to the NZET committee in April and when questioned on the timeframe for a further announcement of support for CCS stated that there would be ‘an update for all parties in the summer’.

On the 31st of July, the UK Government announced support for the Acorn project in the North East of Scotland. This support comes from what is termed the ‘Track-2’ process, with the ‘Viking’ cluster the other project to receive support. It appears the principal difference between Track 1 and Track 2 projects is when they are expected to begin operation, with Track 1 in the mid-2020s and Track 2 by 2030.

The UK Government has an ambition to deploy at least four CCS clusters by 2030 and the Spring Budget of 2023 included a commitment of up to £20billion of funding support for CCS over two decades. CCS is sometimes positioned as an existing technology that has been in operation for some time (for example on some oil rigs) but that its application at the scale necessary to decarbonise some industries is unproven (in particular economically). Its potential has been the subject of analysis for many years and it has been recently highlighted that for CCS projects to become economic the price of carbon in the UK must be much higher than it is currently.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) view CCS as a ‘necessity, not an option’ when it comes to meeting net zero targets. The announcement of support for the Acorn project was coincided with a commitment to ‘hundreds of new oil and gas licenses’ , a move that the CCC does not think is justified.

The announcement of support for the Scottish CCS cluster will be welcomed by supporters but it may not do anything to address the view of the Scottish Government that CCS cannot contribute to emission reductions as previously assumed. The forthcoming draft Climate Change Plan (expected late in 2023) should provide more information on the current assumptions for the contribution of CCS to Scottish emission reductions targets.

Niall Kerr, Senior Researcher, Climate Change and Net Zero