Carbon capture and storage technology certainly has potential. If such a system could be made to work, the result would be fossil fuel power stations where as much as 90 per cent of climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions was pumped into underground caverns rather than the atmosphere.
The Government's decision to relaunch the competition offering £1bn of public funding for CCS trial schemes is, therefore, the right one. It is also more likely to prove effective, now that eligibility is no longer restricted to just one technical approach and the tricky issue of pay-back on the investment has been addressed.
The sceptics' argument – that all efforts should be focused on carbon-free developments, such as wind turbines, rather than on enabling the continued use of fossil fuels – underestimates the scale of the challenge. With developed economies' appetite for electricity only increasing, it would be irresponsible to leave any option unexplored.
Neither are environmental concerns the only motivation. CCS also has considerable economic potential. According to some estimates, the industry could be worth as much as £6.5bn by 2030, creating as many as 100,000 jobs. And that is just in Britain. With China already emitting more carbon than the US and India combined, and still building coal-fired power stations at a ferocious rate, the global market for successful CCS technology is vast. Britain is not the only country with designs on a sector that could be worth £5trn by 2050.
For all its stellar prospects, however, it would be as well not to get too carried away with CCS. Thus far, the technology is both hugely expensive and untried on anything like a commercial scale. The biggest mistake of all would be to expect results too soon. Although the Government claims that all eligible projects must be in place between 2016 and 2020, in reality the pilots are so groundbreaking that any deadlines are largely meaningless. Nothing short of an industrial miracle will see CCS established in time to help meet our 2020 carbon reduction targets. There is vast potential in carbon capture; but at this stage, potential is all it is.