Fossil fuel-fired electricity is widespread in Canada, relatively inexpensive and reliable. The most common fossil fuels used for electricity production are coal and natural gas. However, burning fossil fuels emits greenhouse gases.
For instance, using coal accounts for 70% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from electricity production in Canada, while natural gas accounts for approximately 35%.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is the only currently available technology that can reduce emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants.
While innovations in renewable energy are exciting solutions, we do not yet have the technology and infrastructure to make a complete switch. In the meantime, we must seek ways to reduce emissions through familiar electricity generation sources.
CCS allows our economy to strike a balance between emission reduction and economic growth. Clean coal technology — using CCS to prevent CO2 from entering the atmosphere — has the potential to remove up to 90% of CO2 emitted from burning fossil fuels for electricity.
Likewise, as we move toward a lower GHG-intense economy, CCS may find applications in natural gas-fired electricity production, as well as in other sectors, such as petroleum extraction and processing.
How CCS works
CCS is a process that extracts and collects the CO2 emissions created from a gas stream in a power plant to compress and inject the emissions into deep geological formations. These emissions would otherwise go into the atmosphere during electricity production and fuel processing.
CCS is a technological innovation that can be retro-fitted to current fossil fuel plants or incorporated into new designs.
Risks with CCS
There are risks associated with CCS:
- Transportation and storage of CO2
- Dissipating CO2 could potentially contaminate existing resources, or move up to the surface
A key factor to mitigate CCS risk is how we choose and manage storage sites.
A carbon price, whether it is a tax or part of a trading system, increases the cost of carbon-emitting operations, making investment in lower-emitting technologies more attractive.
Pricing carbon pollution can reduce emissions, drive innovation, and encourage people and businesses to pollute less.
However, relying on a carbon price alone to achieve Canada’s international target is not enough.
Reducing our contribution to climate change
Although Canada generates electricity with more than an 80% GHG emissions-free electricity mix, we must continue to seek ways to reduce our contribution to global climate change.