SCOTTISHPOWER chief executive Nick Horler has revealed plans to develop a series of carbon capture hubs across the UK as he steps up moves to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
Horler says the company and its partners in developing the technology – Shell and the National Grid – want to install the hubs in factories, foundries and refineries in the Forth Valley, Teesside and on the Thames.
He says the plan could remove 500 megatonnes of carbon dioxide from the environment annually for more than 100 years – roughly the equivalent of taking 275 million cars off the road.
"If you look at the Forth Valley it emits about 15 million tons of carbon a year. You are talking about refineries, steel mills, foundries. Stretch down to the north-east of England, Tyneside and Teesside, it is even more," he said after addressing an audience in Aberdeen.
"Imagine if we took it further and linked up the steel mills, the paper mills and the cement manufacturers too. That's possibly up to 500 megatonnes of CO2 every year for the next hundred years. So if you can start to create capture hubs, we are talking about a vision whereby we can decarbonise a lot of UK industry."
Horler intends to exploit the "wonderful accident of geography" which makes the North Sea so suitable for burying carbon. He cites a study carried out by the Scottish Centre for Carbon Capture which said the "unique geology" of the central North Sea would be suitable to accommodate all of Europe's CO2 until well into the next century.
He also sees a use for the existing networks of pipes and wells to tuck away extracted carbon.
The plan is currently dependent on ScottishPower winning a 1 billion government grant to test carbon capture technology at its coal powered plant at Longannet, in Fife. ScottishPower is heading up one of two bids to win the funding. The scheme involves retro-fitting carbon capture technology, capturing 20 per cent of the station's carbon emissions. If the plan goes ahead, it will be the largest carbon capture scheme in the world.
"There are about 70 projects running around the world but nothing of this scale or ambition," said Horler.
The government has set a deadline for the scheme to be up and running by 2014. E.on, which is competing with ScottishPower for the funding, recently announced a delay in the building of its Kingsnorth coal-fired power station in Kent, which is now not expected to be up and running until 2016.
ScottishPower has brought together a team of companies to get the project off the ground. The technology will be provided by Norwegian firm Aker Clean Carbon, while National Grid will transport the carbon and Shell will bury it in the North Sea. Consultancy Accenture will work with ScottishPower to make the technology available to other coal-burning stations. Horler estimates there are 20,000 such stations around the world that could use its carbon capture system, ushering in "clean coal" use on an international scale. He insists coal remains an essential part of the mix required to meet growing energy demand in the UK. ScottishPower and its parent company Iberdrola of Spain are currently pursuing projects across the spectrum of power generation.
It has established a joint venture with Perth-based Scottish & Southern Energy to develop nuclear power stations in the UK. It is working with SSE to build the controversial Beauly to Denny power line that recently received government backing. It is also currently one of the largest windfarm developers and operators in the UK and is testing a Norwegian wave power device off Orkney.
"Coal has an important part of the mix so long as we can do something about the CO2," said Horler.
"Coal-powered stations are flexible, so the performance can be flexed to meet demand. It is a source of fuel that is indigenous to the UK and therefore we aren't subjected to the price volatily that might be associated with international supply and demand of gas. It has its place."