By Karin Rives
S&P Global Market, Aug. 29, 2022
An estimated $1.6 trillion price tag for decarbonizing the U.S. power sector by 2035 could be reduced by $300 billion if some natural gas-fired plants paired with carbon capture technology remain in operation and offsets are available, a recent study by the Electric Power Research Institute found.
The paper from the think tank, known as EPRI, suggests that if about 200 GW of flexible natural gas capacity remains on the grid past 2035, the country would need to deploy about 1,000 GW of new renewable and nuclear generation over the next 13 years — down from 1,300 GW if all natural gas plants were idled. About 44 GW would come from plants equipped with carbon capture, the rest from unabated plants using offsets from direct air capture or carbon capture for blue hydrogen.
The study could bolster utility arguments that some natural gas, including new plants, will be needed as the sector pushes toward net-zero emissions.
But the EPRI scenario comes with a big caveat: Nascent investments in carbon capture on natural gas-fired power plants and geologic sequestration, known as CCS, would need to ramp up at a dizzying speed and advance beyond the early pilot stage where most such projects are today.
“There’s no reason, technically, why it can’t move quickly,” said John Thompson, technology and markets director at Clean Air Task Force, a group supportive of the technology. “People have been doing gas capture for a long time, they just haven’t done it at this scale.”
The first few projects will be slow, with investments picking up after 2030 as the traditionally conservative utility industry watches for lessons learned, Thompson predicted. Lenders must become more familiar with the technology, permitting agencies will initially need more time to ensure pipeline and storage projects are safe, and developers may want to conduct extra studies.
“There are real-life constraints that slow things down that tend to disappear with time,” Thompson said. “I’m optimistic.”