Abstract

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) for fossil-fuel power plants is perceived as a critical technology for climate mitigation. Nevertheless, limited installed capacity to date raises concerns about the ability of CCS to scale sufficiently. Conversely, scalable renewable electricity installations—solar and wind—are already deployed at scale and have demonstrated a rapid expansion potential. Here we show that power-sector CO2 emission reductions accomplished by investing in renewable technologies generally provide a better energetic return than CCS. We estimate the electrical energy return on energy invested ratio of CCS projects, accounting for their operational and infrastructural energy penalties, to range between 6.6:1 and 21.3:1 for 90% capture ratio and 85% capacity factor. These values compare unfavourably with dispatchable scalable renewable electricity with storage, which ranges from 9:1 to 30+:1 under realistic configurations. Therefore, renewables plus storage provide a more energetically effective approach to climate mitigation than constructing CCS fossil-fuel power stations.

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Data availability

All data used in this analysis were based on published studies that are duly referenced in the text and the related tables. Any assumptions, adjustments and normalizations are described in the captions or the text. The annotated code used to run the analysis and develop the figures can be openly accessed on Github (http://nbviewer.jupyter.org/github/csaladenes/sustainable-energy-transitions/blob/master/ccs/eroei-ccs-workbook.ipynb). The corresponding author will make available any additional information upon reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the organizers and participants of the ECI CO2 Summit for their comments and discussion, and especially J. Wilcox and N. McDowell for their feedback on the original idea. We also thank Masdar Institute for supporting our participation. M.C. acknowledges the support of the Arctic Center for Sustainable Energy (ARC), UiT Arctic University of Norway through grant no. 310059.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Masdar Institute, Khalifa University, Abu Dhabi, UAE

    • Sgouris Sgouridis
    •  & Matteo Chiesa
  2. Clemson University, Clemson, SC, USA

    • Michael Carbajales-Dale
  3. Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK

    • Denes Csala
  4. Department of Physics and Technology, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway

    • Matteo Chiesa
  5. University of Florence, Florence, Italy

    • Ugo Bardi

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Contributions

S.S. conceived the research idea, conducted the initial analysis, collected data and authored the majority of the text. M.C.-D. authored parts of the text, reviewed the analysis, proposed changes and contributed to data collection. D.C. developed the sensitivity analysis models and the code for the figures, and checked and contributed to the analysis. U.B. reviewed and edited the manuscript and contributed parts of the text. M.C. reviewed and edited the manuscript and proposed changes for its organization and structure.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sgouris Sgouridis.

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    Supplementary Tables 1–5, Supplementary Note, Supplementary Figs. 1–3, Supplementary References

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https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-019-0365-7