How I “missed” The Call on Energy Companies of the Future back in 2015, while identifying all the key metrics and underlying trajectories that were bring them to a future fruition – plus how I failed SEO & Marketing 101 calling them something insightful to me, but no mass appeal to our industry or media. Time to back-up, re-read the tea leaves and welcome in… The Energy Companies of the Future. Continue reading Oil, Tar Sands, Coal, Natural Gas & The “Energy Companies of the Future”
Before the natural gas tsunami came ashore of the U.S. energy sector in 2014/2015, it was little more than a rogue wave at sea. This is a story of its impacts on one energy technology while it was still barely discernible from the surrounding waves in which it lurked as it gained momentum and mass.
In 2008 through 2010 I worked with a small diversified “solar” company in Colorado as a Project Manager – “Jack of All Trades.” At the time, we focused on distributed solar thermal at the municipal and residential scales, while engineering a more versatile racking system than that on the market out of Europe.
Within the context of South African energy development, and less so within the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), I often find myself being misunderstood as to the role coal plays within the energy economy.
I recognize, on the surface, many observers and colleagues alike, may gather an impression I am advocating for the unequivocal closure of all coal assets and the direct economies they support. Nothing could be further from the truth, and although my knowledge and experiences tell me, coal’s impacts on the global climate are negative, with dire human and economic consequences, I have long since passed the days of being an ‘environmental crusader’, motivated by heart, not facts and reality.
Ending all coal fired electric generation tomorrow, if this was my position, would be pushing for the closure of currently operational power stations and ceasing the capital flow of hemorrhaging new builds under construction, struggling to meet project deadlines and cost projections. My pragmatism steers me clear of any designs that risk a near certain economic collapse regardless some “ideal energy world” I may dream up.
We have 3-4 billion in a rush to get energy (China, Africa, India, SE Asia & less so South America), while a billion or so already have it (USA, Canada, a decent part of Europe, South Korea, select Middle Eastern countries, and up until the Tsunami, Japan). The latter fell into the trap of needing to refurbish legacy plants (coal & nuclear) while bringing on national gas (NG) and renewable energy (RE). While the former are building whatever they can, maybe at a 10 to 1 ratio (fossils/nuclear/large hydro to REs).
There is currently much “buzz” about methane releases from Natural Gas Exploration & Production (NG E&P), especially with regards to the buzzword friendly “Fracking” dominating all discussions. The NG industry is clearly “green washing” the public through slick advertisements, as it knocks off its primary competitor Coal, and has already surpassed Nuclear for electrical output in the US.
The fact of the matter is, there are currently NG “Peaker” plants associated with almost all existing Coal and Nuclear plants, often on the same properties, owned and operated by the same generation company. This is really no different than many of our most famous hydroelectric dams being built with coal plants just out of view of the sweeping and magnificent concrete arches. Glen Canyon Dam, on the mighty Colorado River, and the 2,225 MW Navajo Generation Plant were paired in construction under the CRSP (Colorado River Storage Project) to mitigate water storage requirement priority over hydroelectric generation.
My use of the word “competitor”, when we discuss Natural Gas in contrast to Nuclear or Coal, becomes very much a gray area once we dig into the numbers of overall electrical production. But back to the topic of methane releases.
I recently responded to a post on LinkedIn in the “Energy Innovation by Statoil” group about wind turbines being “unappealing” visually within the discussion brought about by a completely wide-open question “How do you feel about wind farms?”
Obviously, that is a subjective question, setting the stage for far ranging arguments lacking substantiated reasoning. This being akin to the common misunderstanding of billowing exhaust plumes at power plants thought to be laden with green house gases, pollution and toxic chemicals. The reality being, most of the visible “offenses” are waste heat removal through water evaporation cooling, not the invisible fossil fuel combustion effluent as commonly believed.
It was also stated, wind farms can be the cause of drought, which initially caught me off guard as I have lived and breathed water issues the past 20 years and it is a major determinant in my self assessed classification as “A Westerner”. Water is in our blood, both figuratively and literally. A transplant, to the western US, can be easily identified based on their lack of understanding and comprehension of where their water comes from and exactly how precious it is to maintaining our lifestyles. “Water Wars” are not just some future post apocalyptic scenario, they have been fought for over a century here in the United States.
I will be traveling around Europe for 3 months starting August 6th. So it is not all “fun and games”, I plan to dedicate substantial time to a personal project focused on energy supply and need, Europe as a case study.
It centers around a theory linking the successes [and shortcomings] in the transition towards more balanced energy portfolios; including renewable sources, as fueled by a home grown cultural “energy awareness”.
This may seem a “no-brainer” to Europeans experiencing it, however it is a significant departure from the realities present in the US and struggling to be realized around the globe.
I also see commonalities in regional scarcities experienced historically throughout the EU, as significant limitations & realities to developing/under developed nations worldwide.
In “Ending Energy Ignorance – Part I” I introduced us to my primary concern, the general ignorance or apathy of the U.S. populace in understanding energy on the basic levels. You do not have to take my word for it alone, the famous oilman and land speculator, T. Boone Pickens has claimed the same for years, and outside his Picken’s Plan there are no other national figures championing for a greater awareness of energy understanding.
Years ago, I was in full agreement of his message, in particular I was in love with the potential of wind energy and it was one of his key selling points. But a grain of salt was required. Extremely successful or not, T. Boone’s reputation was not established in philanthropy.
In order for us to forge forward, we need to look at our past. It does us no good dissecting the mistakes and ills of the past, the results are with us today. However, understanding our history and what lead us to the problems we are facing today, is key to minimizing those short comings in the future. Hind sight is twenty-twenty, and we would be wise to learn from it.
How did we get here?
In the U.S., the abundance of domestic coal has made it the de facto “King of the Castle” for electricity production, doubling nuclear energy’s consistent 20 per cent national production since the 80’s.