Global climate and energy system models often deploy carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies to address the challenge of cutting CO2 emissions. One can see the appeal: first, CCS technologies make it possible to use existing infrastructure, avoiding the need to construct new energy systems. Second, they can complement renewables as part of a broad portfolio of low-carbon power generation assets. Third, although decarbonization means massive electrification, for non-electrified sources CCS could prove vitally important. Fourth, many visions for the future of natural gas in a deeply decarbonized world hinge on CCS.

Those points are now well documented, and thus it is particularly inconvenient that the global CCS industry remains stillborn. Especially for the power sector—where CCS is pivotal—about 95% of the projects proposed globally die. For the last three years, with support from The Sloan Foundation, Professors Abdulla, Schell, and their colleagues have been looking at why. The results of their research have just been published in Environmental Research Letters.

They perform the largest systematic analysis across the totality of CCS experience in the U.S., showing how factors like the credibility of revenue from off-take agreements (itself a function of policy), regulatory approvals and the credibility of policy incentives are as important to CCS success as factors like capital cost. In addition to developing statistical models, they sit down with experts from industry—people who are in the room when CCS projects are designed and when boards green-light them—to show how these factors affect project outcomes and how policy reforms in future could lead to improvements.

One goal of this research is to advance analysis around deep decarbonization by showing that the policy, political and institutional factors are not just important—but they can be studied systematically. In turn, this might lead to interesting extensions, by integrating these factors in our energy models in future. This kind of awareness can help us demonstrate how failure to solve some of these policy problems leads to higher costs.

Another goal is to identify clusters of near-term CCS projects that are more likely to be successfully deployed. With luck, it will also help decision makers better structure future investments in large energy infrastructure projects more broadly.